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 Post subject: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Mon Dec 16, 2013 1:36 am 
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Joined: Sun May 08, 2011 9:57 pm
Posts: 62
Location: Christchurch, New Zealand
It’s an exciting time in the world of splitboarding at the moment with numerous board and binding designs being introduced. While there already seems to be a few reviews about the Spark Tesla binding system I thought I would add another perspective anyway. It turned out a bit longer than I originally anticipated so skip to the summary at the end if you can't be assed reading all of it...

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to get on a pair of Spark Afterburners (medium) for a two week glacier trip in Mt Cook National Park in New Zealand and give the bindings a good go in NZ conditions.

On this trip I used the bindings on a Furberg 167 Split wearing Fitwell Backcountry boots (11.5 USM). In typical New Zealand fashion we experienced powder, rime, ice, rain, corn etc within the two weeks we were on the glaciers (it would be a lot nicer if we just got powder here but unfortunately for us that's not the case).

First off, as most of you will know, Spark have finally found a way to remove the pin from the binding with a simple yet elegant touring mechanism that uses two short pins attached to the binding which slide in sideways into the touring bracket. The bindings are held in place in both touring mode and ride mode by a ramp that wedges in between the two short pins. This all adds up to a simple, robust design with very little moving parts. Gone are the days of pins flapping about when carrying your board in ride mode and during transitions!

The Afterburners are a slightly more beefier version of the Magnetos with slightly heavier duty straps and a stiffer highback. Spark’s deal with Burton appears to have paid off (no pun intended) as the straps are plush and fit my boots particularly well. The toe/cap strap wrapped well around the toe of my boot and there was no way it could slip off, which happens occasionally on my Blazes with the old straps. The ladder straps and adjustors are also of better quality compared to the Spark Blaze bindings I normally ride. Setup of the bindings is the same as for any Voile puck compatible binding and straight forward if you are familiar with this system.

Ride mode is responsive as expected from a base plate machined from a single piece of metal and equates to a solid connection between the rider and board. The biggest changes in the Tesla system over binding systems that use the Voile puck system is the touring mode and transitions between ride mode and tour mode. Transitions are noticeably quicker and easier with no pins flapping about or getting in the way. Touring is smooth and there is no slop in the touring bracket while touring. I did notice a bit of wear in the brass bushings during my time on the bindings but I imagine that replacing these shouldn’t be too much of an issue if some play develops in the touring mechanism. The range of movement in my boots while touring is adequate and didn’t experience toe bump from the front of my boots hitting the board while touring unless I really tried.

Spark have also included dual heel raisers as part of the binding on the Afterburners. The heel raisers require a plastic bracket to be attached to the board for them to be seated in and will not work without this bracket. Deploying the heel raisers is straight forward and can be done using the handle of your pole. To deploy the lower heel raiser, both risers have to be deployed and the taller one retracted which does take a bit more time if you’re used to traditional heel risers. I unfortunately had a section of the plastic bracket that seats the heel risers on the board break off which meant they wouldn’t seat correctly and eventually bent and wouldn’t stay up.
Personally I still prefer the traditional heel risers as they simpler and easier and faster to use, although this just maybe due to myself being more accustomed to them.

With the range of conditions we experienced, I expected icing of the toe ramp to be an issue when trying to close the snap ramp for both ride mode and touring mode. However, it only played a minor problem and any ice and snow build up could be easily removed using a glove or a soft tap of the binding with a pole/ice axe. Icing of the smooth metal baseplate between boot and binding occurred but wasn’t too much of a problem and could be managed by chipping it off using a pole or axe. One issue I did experience with the bindings was during a transition from carrying my board in ski mode to ride mode on a relatively steep slope (at least I thought it was steep!). After digging a platform to stand on, I took the board halves off my pack with the bindings attached in tour mode and pressed each board halve into the snow with the binding at 90 degrees to the board. When I picked up one of the bard halves, snow had built up at the touring bracket and when I had pushed the binding toward 90 degrees to the board, it had popped the ramp up leaving the binding unsecured. Not a particularly nice thing to notice on a steep slope! From then on I was a bit more vigilant about keeping the area around the touring bracket and toe ramp clean of snow and ice.

Summary:
Overall the Spark Afterburner is a solid binding. The beauty of these bindings is their simplicity which makes extremely reliable. Ride mode remains similar to Sparks previous models, however transitions are now faster and easier with the removal of pins. Touring is smooth and efficient although I did notice wear on the brass bushings after only two weeks of riding.
Be sure to remove any ice and snow build up around the toe ramp to ensure it can lock down properly when carrying the board in tour mode as the bindings can potentially fall off your board. It pays to get into a good habit of clearing snow and ice from any binding setup anyway (something I need to get better at myself).
Personally not entirely sold on the heel risers being attached to the base of the binding and would prefer traditional heel risers attached to the board as I find them quicker and easier to use but this maybe just personal preference.
I am sure Spark will continue to refine a few minor things on this design, but it definitely seems like they have finally found one of the ultimate designs for softboot bindings using the Voile puck system. It was hard to give these back at the end of our trip!

Hope this is useful for someone in the market for new bindings. Take it as you will.

I unfortunately never really got round to taking any photos of the bindings in use except this (average) shot just before a fun run down a wee chute near Tasman Saddle in Mt Cook NP.
Image


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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2013 5:59 pm 
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Joined: Wed Dec 15, 2010 12:29 am
Posts: 28
how in the world did you fit size 11.5 boots into the medium bindings


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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Sat Jan 04, 2014 9:27 pm 
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Joined: Sun May 08, 2011 9:57 pm
Posts: 62
Location: Christchurch, New Zealand
petersami wrote:
how in the world did you fit size 11.5 boots into the medium bindings


I have a suspicion that the Afterburners I spent some time on were a prototype model, although I had no trouble fitting my boots into them. On closer inspection the bindings did appear to be on the larger than my medium Blazes.

In so saying, my Spark Blaze bindings are medium and I have no trouble with fitting my boots in them. I have also used a pair of the 1st generation Spark Deluxxe in size US 11.5 in my pair of medium Blazes with no sizing issues.


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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Sat Jan 25, 2014 12:58 pm 
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Joined: Sat Mar 19, 2011 6:48 pm
Posts: 675
Location: Kodiak, AK
I have had one day touring on my Afterburners now. Our snow pretty much blows right now so I just skied a long, rolling tour and basically never took my skins off. Once the bindings are on the pucks and in ride mode they are basically indistinguishable from the Spark Burners, so giving feedback on that seems sort of pointless. The tour mode and toe snap ramp are the real difference relative to the pre-Tesla pin system.

We had a pretty long trail hike in, so I put my split on my pack in an A-frame carry. One of the bindings fell off the touring bracket right at the car. I somehow bumped the toe snap ramp with a pack strap, it opened, and the binding immediately fell off. The snap ramps use a plastic piece that offers an interference fit to keep the ramp 'locked' down. Even when new, there is very little friction, and the ramp has a pretty mild 'snapping' action. I would strongly recommend running a Voile ski strap around the ski and binding, either across the base plate or over the ramp itself, when you bootpacking to keep from losing the binding. On the old Burners, as long as the pin was inside the toe strap and the strap was closed, there was no way for the binding to come off the touring bracket. While the conversion from tour to ride mode and back is indeed incredibly quick and easy with the new Tesla system, there is a possible downside in having the binding pop loose. Just keep this in mind if you are doing a conversion on a steep slope and think you have things locked in place. Watching a binding go skittering down the mountain when you thought it was secure to the ski is a bummer.

Once your boot is in the binding, things are totally solid and there is no way the binding could release. The conversion is super slick and about as easy as you could hope for. The wide touring bracket offers a very stable platform for edging the ski (soft boots are a different story :roll: ) and offers a buttery smooth and completely slop-free pivot. Going back to ride mode is similarly slick. Shove the bindings on the pucks, snap the ramp down (this, ironically, offers a far more positively locked feel), and you are done.

I did use the Sabertooth crampons for a while too when my skins weren't quite enough for the steep, icy surface I had to climb out of the brush. You need to pivot your binding very far forward to get the clearance you need to slide the crampon pin into the touring bracket receiver. You basically need to be able to kneel on the top of the ski. If you have boots that stick very far out the toe of the binding, you could hit the top sheet with your toe before rotating the binding out of the way enough to get the crampon on. Definitely practice this before getting in a spot where you NEED the crampons. The crampon/touring bracket interface looks a little underbuilt, but I assume they were heavily tested before finalizing the design, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

I did use the heel risers a bit too. Before leaving the house I took the low rise bar off completely and just toured with the high rise bar only. I did not miss the low one at all. When I measured the effective binding base plate angles with the Voile dual height heel risers, and compared that with the new Afterburner binding angles, I found that the low Afterburner was lower than the low Voile, and that the high Afterburner pretty much split the difference between the low and high Voile. So using only the Afterburner high riser is like having a riser that is halfway between the old Voile high and low. This seemed about perfect to me. The Afterburner riser is really easy to deploy and retract with the pole basket, and not having to flip both down and then the high back up in order to use the low one (which seemed too low anyway) seemed like a no-brainer to me.

So far, I totally dig them. I will offer updates if it ever snows in Alaska again.

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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Sun Jan 26, 2014 2:05 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:59 am
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Location: Amsterdam
Good points. I agree the Voile risers are higher than I needed most of the time. I will take of the low one on the Sparks too, don't really need it IMO.

A pic just to compare the Afterburner and the Magneto, they feel pretty similar to me. I prefer the Magneto I think.

Image

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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Mon Jan 27, 2014 5:34 pm 
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Joined: Fri Feb 26, 2010 10:38 pm
Posts: 156
Location: PNW
So, do you have to buy the Sabertooth crampons for the Tesla or could you get away with the originals?


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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Mon Jan 27, 2014 5:47 pm 
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Location: Altadena SoCal
Yea you gotta buy new ones. Whereas Sabertooths slide into a groove like Dynafit cramps, Chomps rely on a pin. I'm not positive, but there might be some heel rest compatibility issues. Even if you got it working somehow, depending on the year of your Chomps, there will be clearance issue with Chomps' climbing wire poking and scuffing up your new binder bottoms and bend the Tesla climbing bars.


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 Post subject: Re: Not another Tesla system review..
PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2014 3:48 am 
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Mr. Chomps flat out won't fit.

Another thing regarding the new Sabertooth crampons, they are a lot harder to carry than the old ones. The old ones clamped together with the touring risers, and you could then hang them on a carabiner on your pack without them rattling all day. The Sabertooths are a lot lighter because they don't have the risers anymore, but I need to do a modification now to snap them together like the old ones. Or carry them in the bag it comes in, but that's just not practical.

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