[Photo: Head/Daniel Tengs]
Getting the optimum combination of weight, strength and control is pretty much the holy grail of snowboard building. You want your deck to be as light as possible to throw it around easily, yet strong enough that it won't snap like a toothpick when you land. Equally, making sure this sandwich of fancy materials responds quickly and correctly to your body's input is vital in ensuring the board performs as best it can.
Recently Head Snowboards has been integrating an interesting material called Graphene into some of their boards, which is both super lightweight and extremely strong, and furthermore is able to transfer energy with minimal loss. We hit up Head's product development chief, Michael Schuster, to break it down... [scroll to the bottom for the full, tech-tastic interview]
"Scientific research has shown that Graphene has a stiffness that's five times the amount of regular steel, with significantly less weight," he says of this one-atom-thick layer of structured graphite carbon. In many ways it works like the carbon fibre that's been in boards for years – in fact regular carbon fibres are still used, it's just that adding Graphene to the mix markedly increases strength with effectively negligible weight gain. "It means we can use lighter core materials in certain areas," Schuster continues. "At the moment we use it in the tip and tail areas to reduce the weight and therefore the swing mass. Less swing mass is less rotational force that a rider needs to redirect a board or to spin it."
But turbo tech-speak aside, what we really want to know is how it affects a board's performance in real life shredding. We hit up Tom Klocker and Sina Candrian for the lowdown on how the Pilot and Hope (both of which have Graphene in them) perform in the field.
[Below: Putting the Pilot's edge grip through its paces in NZ. Photo: Head/Daniel Tengs]
Head Pilot - €399.95
"I rode that board the whole time past season and to be honest it was the best board I've ever had," says Austrian powder freestyle fiend Tom Klocker.
The Pilot utilises honeycomb in the nose of its directional twin shape to markedly reduce weight, add float and shift the power distribution more towards the tail with a layer of Graphene added to bolster strength and add stability without any excess weight.
"Normally I prefer camber boards," says Klocker, "but I wanted to try that new board with the Graphene in it and I found the Pilot is truly thinner and lighter. The new shape is called Hybrid Camba POP and I really enjoy that because it's more aggressive and has a bit more pop. It also has a real good flex – not too stiff and also not too soft – and has become my favourite board for everything."
And if you're thinking, yeah, well, he gets paid to say that then check out our thoughts when we reviewed the Head Pilot for the Whitelines product guide:
"The board felt light, no doubt something to do with the honeycomb and fancy Graphene they use in the construction. The latter also works to improve power distribution, and you could really feel this with the Pilot’s edge hold on hard-pack. I was even more impressed when I remembered it was just a 157."
It tallies pretty well with the thoughts of the Klockerling...
[Below: Sina Candrian takes the Hope for a spin above the clouds.]
Head Women's Hope - €399.95
This women's-specific all-mountain freestyle board has Graphene integrated into the central area, which shifts the board’s power distribution to the tip and tail thereby giving the rider more board control and edge grip, making for a progressive ride.
Sina Candrian has now spent two seasons on this Graphene-laced steed (Head introduced Graphene tech to a couple of their women's boards last winter). Much like Tom Klocker, she's quick to mention the blend of weight-saving, flex and response she feels from this technology: "It’s a very light board, flexible with a lot of pop," she says of the board she relies on to step it up in the park, "It’s a wonderful board for a girl who wants to ride any terrain. It’s stiff enough to hit big jumps yet smooth enough to jib around on the slopes, but I also did some powder turns with it as well. I really can recommend it."
This narrow-waisted directional twin also has Hybrid Camba DCT, a softer torsional flex and a sintered base. Not to mention that, coming back the the Graphene, Sina finds it tough as nails. "I never snapped one of those boards," she states, "because the Graphene makes it unbreakable. I’m sure you will have a lot of fun with this board on the mountain."
Interview with Lead Product Developer, Michael Schuster:
We read up the Wikipedia entry for Graphene and got quickly confused. Can you explain Graphene in a couple of sentences for idiot snowboarders?
First of all, who says snowboarders are idiots? I don’t think so! In simple terms Graphene is a single layer of a 2D structured graphite carbon material. If you looked at a single layer of Graphene through a very good microscope you would see a hexagonal-shaped structure (honeycomb-like) which has a very dense carbon-to-carbon bond distance – 0.142 nanometers – and therefore the material strength is quite high compared to other materials. Scientific research has shown that Graphene has an inner tensile strength of 130 GigaPascal and a Young's modulus, also called stiffness, of 150000000 psi, which is five times the amount of regular steel, with significant less weight.
How does it differ from the carbon that’s been added to improve lightweight performance for many years?
To explain you what is different, I'd better explain how we do it. Basically we add several single 2D Graphene layers to our regular unidirectional carbon fibers. Out of this we produce a so-called Prepreg, which are pre-cured carbon fibers with several layers of graphene added to the carbon/resin matrix. This pre-cured material is then added to our snowboard construction and then fully cured during our pressing process. So the total strength is simply said carbon fiber plus several 2D Graphene layers added, but since the Graphene is a 2D structure which is very light we increase the strength with minimal weight increase. Through this we can save significant more weight in the construction of the board. For example, we are able to use for example our lightweight HEXLIGHT core material in certain areas and reinforce this area with our Graphene structured fibers.
What are the real world implications of boards using this technology? How will it benefit a rider’s experience?
We can use lighter core materials in certain areas. At the moment we use it in the tip and tail areas to reduce the weight and therefore the swing mass. Less swing mass is less rotational force that a rider needs to redirect a board or to spin it.
How have Head managed to incorporate such advanced technology, yet still keep the pricing so good?
Since we are a part of a bigger company with other product categories where we share technologies in our products, we are able to share and benefit from these technologies. That is the case with Graphene. Our colleagues in other divisions use this material together with us and therefore we are able to purchase it in bigger quantities, which reduces the price, and also we have a team in our group which does nothing else all day long than trying to find new innovations.