Issue 46: REVisions: Bicycle, Bicycle!

Like riding a Bike…

One of the big mysteries for new quad line fliers is how to pinwheel (rotate) the kite in one position without losing height off the ground. It seems like it’d be a pretty straight forward maneuver, since you simply push one thumb forward and it will start to revolve, but your early efforts will usually result in the kite descending with each successive rotation.

Here’s a way to rotate without losing altitude, broken down into the specific parts. The sequence of events is commonly known as “bicycling” and it’ll become obvious how this name came about once you get through this brief tutorial.

To start off, the first thing to get under your belt is to simply hover the kite, with the leading edge oriented vertically. Which vertical direction you do this with isn’t important at this point. When you are teaching a friend the basics of flying a quad line kite, the usual point that is made, and often repeatedly, is to keep your wrists down in front of your torso, your elbows against your sides and your hands, basically parallel. This can prove challenging for a kite flyer who has predominantly only flown dual line kites, as its nearly the exact opposite of what is required for a dual. Sometimes, its can be such a strain to overcome, that we’ll loosely put a belt or strap around a person’s wrists to try and drill the difference home. But, once you get the very basics of flying down, you’ll notice that there ARE times when your hands will move back and forth.

To hold a quad in a leading edge vertical position, whichever lines are controlling the highest side of the kite will move back towards your body and the lowermost lines will be moved forward, away from the flier.

From here, if you move your uppermost lines (on the kite) forward, the kite will move down and if you pull them back further, the kite will rise. Spend some time simply moving the kite up and down in a vertical line slowly. Your hands will generally not need to move a whole lot when you are doing this, nor will the motion resemble a dual line’s hand movement for turns. you will simply slow pull the uppermost or lowermost lines back and forth. What you are doing here is getting a feel for controlling the kite’s height by pushing or pulling one hand.

One of the keys to consistent quad line flying is the ability to be able to do anything in any direction, so make sure that you also practice this with the leading edge facing in the other direction. Up and down, landing softly on the leading edge tip and then climbing back up. You will begin to get a feel for how much, or how little you’ll need to move your hands to change the vertical height of the kite.

Once you are comfortable with moving the kite up and down, move it up to about 20 feet off the ground. Once it’s there, simply hold it in that position. Take a look at how your hands are, as the idea now is to swap top and bottom to have the kite’s leading edge pointing in the opposite direction. You want the kite to simply rotate on its center so that it’s facing in the other direction. Stop once you’ve switched sides and then hold this position. Now, repeat this, just moving the kite back and forth. You’ll notice that that as you do this, your hands will move in and out from your body, with whichever side of the kite is high side, the corresponding hand will also be closer to your body.

Now when you take this motion further, you’ll notice you run into a problem. You can’t keep rotating your hands unless you are some manner of octopus, so, you need to find a way to rotate the kite around in a complete circle while leaving your hands where they are.

At first I thought the last step in this was going to be easy to describe until I started trying to think it through in my head, but, after you have been doing it for a while, it becomes very much second nature, thus I had to head out to my local park and work out the precise steps.

Essentially, what you will now do is to start the rotation as I talk about at the start of the article, i.e., with one thumb pressed forward, but, now, use you new found skills in maintaining height with one hand, to keep the kite in one place as its revolving. Whichever thumb is forward will dictate which direction the kite will be rotating. Once you have started this, with each rotation, one hand will act as the height control, the other is going to power the kite through the turn (you can see this a little more clearly in the video included with this article). Whichever hand is controlling the height will come in, and move back out, and the other will act as the power to get you around. By the time the leading edge is pointing towards about 4 o’clock, your lower thumb will push forward, providing the momentum to power the kite around the lower half of the circle, and your other will be pulled back. As you come around to 11 o’clock, your thumb has released back and the other hand is now forward. You’ll find as you get more comfortable with this, both your hands will be involved in height control and it is at this point that it becomes very apparent why this is referred to as “bicycling”.

Picture how your feet work as you pedal a bike, your hands will start to do the same thing and voila! Your pinwheel quad line kite will now magically stay in one place in the sky.

Experiment with rotating at different speeds, since it will be harder to manage your timing when the kite is spinning rapidly, and easier to apply your timing in slower rotations.

While you will find your own way to be comfortable with this as you experiment, what works well for me is if I am rotating to the right, my right hand is on top, with that hand acting as height control, and my left hand is below, pushing the thumb in and out to power myself through the bottom of circle. If I intend to rotate counterclockwise, my hand position will reverse. Again this is the kind of thing you will want to work on in both directions and within any spot of the wind window. Note to the new learner, you’ll spare yourself a few ugly crashes if you start working on this technique 30 feet or higher off of the ground.

While the rods on Revs can be very durable, one thing leading edges (not so much the thicker SLE) don’t tolerate well is high speed ground hits while diagonal. You can amaze your friends with how close to the ground you can rotate on you have a better grip on it.

At first, you may find you will need to keep a mental count of how many times the kite has revolved around, so that when you go in the other direction, you’ll do the same amount of times around in order to unravel, but this will become second nature very quickly as you get used to the line tension. The more you wind it up, the tougher its going to get as the line wraps around itself. As a starting point, try and stay under 4 in one direction, then switch, unwind it 4 in the opposite direction. Personally, I find once you get past 8 wraps, its becoming a bit unmanageable. And as a final step, start increasing the speed of your revolving, resulting in lightning fast spins, but, also work on doing this as slowly as you can as well. An afternoon spent down on a flying field and this will become an easy thing for you to perform.

Quick tip: When winding up your lines, be consistent. You can either use a larks head knot to pair the top lines to the bottom lines (right top to right bottom, and the same for the left) or the bottom to the top, which leaves you with two pairs to wind up. If you do this consistently, you’ll spend much less time sorting out your handles during set up.

Now that we’ve gone through the technique, you can review the video below for a visual reference… It starts with the hand motions, showing which wing is coming over the top as each hand is pulled back, and then conversely it shows the kite and tells you which hand to pull back.

Visual Aid (1.92MB)

For other descriptions and techniques for maintaining altitude with a quad line kite, see John Barresi’s light wind article (Milking the Breeze 2) found in issue 40 of Kitelife.

May the wind be at your back,

David Hathaway