Pantheon of backcountry glisse, the mountain rises. Tiny gods and godettes swoop through crystalline fluff above as you prance strongly into your 4th lap, going on 5,000 vert. You don’t even feel it — or put correctly, all you feel is the joy of tech bindings that lift your feet as Cupid’s wings lofted him to the Roman equivalent of online dating. Only in this case, on your feet is the new Dynafit Radical ST or FT backcountry skiing binding, and any dating will have to wait till later because what you’re doing might not be better than dinner with a goddess (or god, as the case may be), but lasts longer and costs less.
Don’t tell boss Jupiter, but to pass time while skinning you are questioning Dynafit theology and wondering if the new Radical FT binding is much different from the older. Cupid swoops down. Between bow pulls the love god whispers in your ear, “Never fear, you can always log on to WildSnow.com.”
Yes, the new Radical bindings from Dynafit (for 2011/2012) are indeed a strong departure from numerous design features that defined Dynafit tech bindings for decades. Thus, questions. Aluminum instead of steel toe base? Heel lifters that flip instead of rotate? Funny little fingers on the toe unit called “Power Towers” by the cognoscenti? Read on.
First, weight. With added features such as the flip-up heel lifters and Power Towers, the Radical ST weighed in for us at virtually the same per binding as the ST model; 20 ounces, 566 grams, with 110mm ski brake. While we’d prefer Dynafit would loose a gram or two with each model iteration, the main thing is they didn’t gain any mass. One can imagine it is tempting for designers and engineers to rationalize an addition gram here and a gram there. Kudos to Dynafit for resiting seduction.
Moving along, we come to the most mysterious part of the new grabber, what Dyafit calls the “Side Towers” and what we prefer to call “Power Towers.”
Two functions for the ST and FT Power Towers. First, they make the binding practically a step-in by indexing your boot. You simply push your boot toe forward, step down, and click. While not totally brainless, this maneuver is really no more difficult than getting into alpine bindings. As I’ve always said, Dynafit bindings take more intelligence and athletic ability to use than other AT frame bindings. Now that statement is less true, thankfully. Secondly, the Towers are intended to keep your boot toe from moving to the side during unusual impact or stress, and thus opening the binding wings and causing inadvertent boot release. I document this rare but nonetheless real deal in video here.
Okay, the Power Towers do make the binding easier to enter, but do they really add more retention reliability when skiing downhill? To function 100% in blocking sideways pre-release (as demonstrated in vid I linked to above), the Towers have to be almost touching the boot sole. As you can see in the photo, space between boot and Tower is a couple millimeters. In bench testing, I found the Towers did make a side release noticeably more difficult to simulate on the bench, and the binding did not click completely open as do older models without the Towers. Nonetheless, I was still able to simulate a side pre-release during bench testing the Radical ST. My conclusion is the Radical ST and FT Power Towers help, and might even totally prevent the rare but all too real pre-release some skiers experience in the Dynafit toe unit. Field use will be the only way to know for sure, as this type of inadvertent release is poorly understood and difficult to test for.
As covered in previous post, the Radical toe’s base unit is quite a bit different from previous Dynafits. The lower portion is aluminum instead of steel, and it has four mounting holes instead of five. The rearward pair of holes are backward compatible with older Dynafit mounts, but the front pair are located 12mm forward of the legacy position. This meaning you’ll have to drill a new pair of holes to upgrade, but the holes are farther enough ahead to not overlap old holes. For those of you concerned about strength, the toe unit’s plastic base does extend out to the sides and support the aluminum base frame above. The whole unit appears beefy, but we of course have to wait for early adopters to abuse the Radical before we’ll know it is actually radical.
Next, the heel unit. Big deal with the Radical heel is of course Dynafit going to flip-up climbing lifts rather than the decades old rotation system. Loved by some and hated by others, fiddling with your ski pole to rotate the Dynafit was probably the binding’s Achilles heel. Enough, stick a fork in it, it’s done and something else has been cooked up by the gnomes of Munich.
The new system is quite simple. When going to touring mode you rotate the heel unit ONCE clockwise, past a mechanical stop that prevents return counter clockwise. You leave it in that position, and flick the heel lifters up and down with your ski pole basket. Doing this is just as easy as the old system, and more intuitive for newbies. It also eliminates binding breakage cause by frustrated skiers levering on the heel unit with their ski poles. To return to downhill mode, continue rotating clockwise until the binding pins are facing forward.
Dynafit dancers note that with your toe locked in the Radical binding you can still go from fixed heel to free heel by rotating the heel unit and popping your heel out (without brakes), but doing so is difficult because you don’t have the old style heel lifter to lever against. MORE IMPORTANTLY, going back to fixed heel from touring mode while in the Radical binding involves a mandatory and potentially awkward 3/4 turn of the heel unit. If you’re staying in the binding, this probably has to be done by reaching back with your hand. Those of us who enjoy staying locked in during the fur rip may find this tougher than reaching back with your ski pole and making a quick flick of the heel unit to return it to downhill mode. Preferences here depend on your flexibility and age, of course.
A few more things:
About the bump pictured above. All early Dynafit bindings (and some recent ones) were molded with a bump that reduced clearance between boot heel and binding. The idea behind this is the fact that as a tech binding equipped ski flexes, the rear binding pins slide in and out of the boot heel fitting; this in turn causes the binding release values to change. More, sometimes during ski flex, the release values may change so much they go outside the variation tolerance of the DIN ISO touring binding standard. At one point Dynafit attempted to obtain TUV/DIN certification, and the bump was added to reduce the range of movement and subsequent release value variation due to ski flex. Think it through, and you realize you do not want your boot heel bumping into the binding when your ski flexes, but the story I heard is that wasn’t a concern to TUV, they only wanted to see release values stay in range. So the bump was added, and rarely caused any problems since you had to be heavy, on soft skis, to hit the bump in any way that could be detrimental.
Nonetheless, common sense made it obvious the infamous bump wasn’t necessary in real life, and could even be detrimental (I grind it off all my bindings, for example). So it was eliminated on the Comfort/ST/FT models, along with using longer pins that allowed even more range for ski flex.
So why the return of the bump? Our theory: Dynafit wants to be the first TUV DIN/ISO certified tech binding, which is perhaps also the reason they added the AFD to the brake. Or perhaps they just didn’t want to spend the money to change their mold. We shall see.
A couple more things:
– Radical has slightly less ramp angle than previous Comfort/ST/FT due to taller toe unit. Difference is minimal (a degree or so, depending on length of boot, but nonetheless should be mentioned.
– Screws use Torx (star) 20 instead of Pozi, which I like in the shop for easy no-slip tightening, but groan, one more bit to carry in the field repair kit. I studied up on Torx and they are indeed intended to resist cam-out (slipping) of your screw driver, while Philips and I assume Pozi are actually designed to cam-out at a certain torque to prevent tool and work damage. There, more than you ever wanted to know about screw drivers.
After using the new Dynafit Radical ST binding for multiple days, as well as a complete tear-down, we are confident that the new rig will easily equal the performance of earlier FT/ST series bindings. While we see the Power Towers as a non-essential, we do view the heel lifter system as a major improvement for most users. Disappointing that the “bump” has returned, but perhaps the engineers have integrated that in a way that’s functional. Extended testing will reveal all.
(March 2012, please note that after being on the market for a short period, various durability problems occurred with the Radical series bindings. It appears these problems have all been resolved provided you end up with a current iteration of the binding, which is something any retailer can help you with. For more details, please use our search function to check out all our Radical posts.