We peel our own to see if banana junkies are really on to something…or just off their rocker.
Sequim, WA – There’s some crazy stuff going on up in Washington State. First comes the notion that a snowboard’s edge should resemble a crinkle-cut French fry, rather than a traditional curve. The dust on crust had barely settled from that outburst when next came the idea that camber was old news, and that rocker — yes, wakeboard-like rocker — was the wave of the future.
The originator of both ideas, snowboard manufacturer Lib Tech, clearly deserves the respect it has in snowboard circles. Still, purists dismissed both ideas as little more than gimmicks when they first came out. It’s like Lib Tech had been taken over by some mad scientists bent on overturning 20-plus years of tradition.
Turns out, they had. After experimenting with the new technologies, Lib Tech dubbed that French fry edge “Magne-Traction,” the rocker “Banana,” and announced they were ready to change snowboarding forever. The first marriage of both technologies came out of Lib’s experi-MENTAL division and was dubbed the Skate Banana, in homage to its reported skate-like feel, and banana-like curvature.
But would this bright yellow board actually work? We peeled away the hype and put one to test where it counts — on the snow — to find the answer.
As Lib Tech readily points out, the Skate Banana design begins with the premise that a snowboard is not a ski. Rather than camber under foot, the Bananas opt for rocker (that banana-like curve) between the binding inserts. When a rider stands on a banana board, their weight presses out that rocker, applying pressure away from the tip and tail and redirecting it to the edge area at, and between, the feet. The board now turns much more underfoot, and is far less “catchy”, as the rocker naturally keeps the tip and tail from digging into the snow. Lib trade show reps not so jokingly claim that banana technology will decrease the chance of Scorpions by 90%. To increase the board’s pop, as well as add stability (particularly on big landings), that relatively soft flex pattern is stiffened at the tip and tail.
Banana technology works hand in hand with Magne-Traction, the wavy-edged innovation that Lib introduced in 2004. It further enhances the feeling of control underfoot, as now seven points of contact are waiting to bite into the snow on turns, rather than the typical two points of contact at the tip and tail. For that same reason, Magne-Traction is advertised as “turning ice into powder.”
Other benefits of the two technologies? According to Lib Tech, they’re everywhere. Banana, combined with Magne-Traction, makes the boards looser and catch free, great for pressing boxes, rails, or jibs thanks to the rocker between the feet, pop well due to the stiffened tip/tail combo, and turn excellent on icy, or hard-packed runs when the board’s natural rocker is put up on edge. Lib also claims this jack-of-all-trades will float well in powder thanks to its natural curvature.
Weird science? Both technologies seemed so at first, relegated to little more than a gimmick. Once people started to get some time on the boards, however, both technologies took off. Magne-traction was well established by 2006-07 season. This year, banana technology has also won over its share of the boarding public. Snowboard Magazine gave the Skate Banana an Excellence in Design award, Magne-Traction garnered nine wins in Transworld Snowboarding’s Good Wood Test, and SIA Snowpress deemed the Skate Banana the Innovation of the Year.
Which is why I was so desperate to try one this winter.
That was easier said than done. Skate Bananas quickly sold out of my neighborhood Park City stores, as they did in shops throughout the country. By February, ‘Bananas were getting well over retail on sites like eBay and craigslist. Finally I just plunked down the money on a demo. As many banana owners suggest, I actually sized down, choosing a 152cm rather than my customary 154-156. With the board’s reputation for float, I was assured that the shorter size would not hinder my riding in powder.
My first reaction was that the board didn’t look all that different. The Magne-Traction edges are noticeable, but subtle. The same went for the rocker, until I put the board on the floor and gave it a spin. What’s most noticeable is the yellow. It’s everywhere. Inspection done, I mounted a pair of Burton Cartel bindings, and cleared my calendar for a full day of playing, er…testing at The Canyons in Park City.
Excuse the obvious bias, but by lunch I was scheming ways to never give that demo back. Rider preference naturally comes into play with any review, but I think it’s safe to say that banana technology delivers on its promise. Turns are initiated under foot as advertised, which, once you get used to the feeling, feels far more natural and intuitive than traditional camber. I also noticed myself carrying far more speed in sketchy conditions once the fear of catching an unexpected edge was taken out of the equation. Here, both banana and Magne-Traction pay big dividends. The Magne-Traction eliminates much of the slide you’ll get with a traditional board, allowing you to maintain control on iced up groomers. The banana curve, meanwhile, offers a degree of forgiveness should you get sloppy.
It also gives the board a unique ability in powder. As the rocker naturally floats the board on the snow, rather than lets the tip dig, I actually found myself comfortable riding that short board with a centered, freestyle stance, rather than longing for something big and tail heavy. And though my skills in the park are relegated to the low-altitude hits, I noted the board felt just as confident on the man-made stuff. Thanks to Magne-Traction, park rats are reportedly filing their edges dramatically, as the multiple contact points retain traction even with a drastically dulled edge.
No, it’s not perfect. Some riders will likely find the Skate Banana itself rather soft, or feel banana technology makes the board feel almost too loose. In fact, early reviews had me waiting for it to wash out unexpectedly, making my first few runs along the very edge of The Canyons’ Apex Ridge a little nerve-wracking. For me, however, control was never an issue. Most other reviewers have said the looseness is not a problem, or a very acceptable tradeoff considering the overall advantages. My only gripe revealed itself when skating into position for the lift, where I found the rocker-happy board wanted to spin sideways as I stopped to board, occasionally bonking the boards or skis of fellow chair occupants. Sorry guys.
In the end, the final determining factor for me was just how much fun I found myself having. In fact, it might just have been my most enjoyable day of the season. I was charging through areas that would normally have me holding back slightly, spinning through the flats off the lift purely for grins, and just generally buttering my banana every chance I got.
Sorry, that sounded pornographic, but hey, this whole “going bananas” thing is contagious. All day long, I was either getting shouts from the other occasional banana pilot, or being asked repeated questions about the board. It seems the buzz about banana technology is reaching a fever pitch. Of note: Not a single rider I spoke to who has tried the board voiced a negative reaction. Lib Tech will undoubtedly be riding a big wave of anticipation heading into 2008-09.
BUNCHES AND BUNCHES
As a result, bananas are growing seemingly everywhere in the line. BTX, or Banana technology, what Lib now dubs the combination of banana and Magne-Traction, will be offered as an option on nearly every Lib Tech board for 2008-09, including Travis Rice’s pro model. Gnu, the other Quiksilver/Mervin-owned brand, has also licensed the technology, and will offer it on the majority of their line, including Danny Kass’ pro model and perennial Good Wood winner the Rider’s Choice. Roxy, Quiksilver’s women’s board line, will also feature the technology. Roxy’s Torah Bright has already been winning pipe contests with Magne-Traction for the last two years.
Yes, I ultimately, reluctantly gave my Banana back and returned to my trusty Burton Custom. It’s slightly stiffer than the Skate Banana, and I was reminded that I appreciate that feeling at times. I was also reminded immediately, however, that I’ll miss Magne-Traction’s surefooted bite on early morning, icy groomers, and the fun, playful feel of a board that never seemed about to catch an edge. My Custom held up fine, but skidded noticeably more through the turns. It also gave me a few moments of pause in the flats.
I’ll keep that board for now…but I’m adding a Banana board, whether it’s the Skate Banana or Gnu’s Rider’s Choice, before the snow flies next winter.
In short, banana technology is for real. Peel one if you can.