The Dynafit Radical FT 12 is a serious step forward in making a lightweight, 12 Release Value (RV), tech-styled backcountry binding that accommodates fat skis and features an easy-to-use heelpiece. While the volcano twisty hasn’t (yet) been eliminated entirely, it is no longer needed for adjusting climbing bar height; instead, a series of easy-to-flip levers on the top of the volcano now provide climbing height adjustment — and that alone is a touring dream, and a welcome relief for those of you (like me) that kept twisting the volcano in the wrong damn direction and/or kept wondering whether that pricey carbon pole would snap in two trying to do so.
Not all is 100% peachy, but with a solid season behind the Radical, most of the production flaws — such as minor reports of heel piece breakage — have been sorted out for all models produced since April 2012. Likewise, the anti-rotation pin has been replaced with one that will snap upon impact (rather than breaking the tower). Dynafit now includes its own external stopper if you’d prefer to remove the pin entirely, which appears to be recommended for those riding hard and expedition members heading far from home. I’m not going to go into these details here — I will focus instead on the riding and usability characteristics of the Radical — and in any case I doubt I could do a better job than Lou Dawson’s epic dissection over at Wildsnow, so go check it out there.
Though there are a few excellent competitors in this field — notably the bomber Plum Guide and G3 Onyx — Dynafit’s offering has two advantages the others do not: it has brakes (still missing on the Plum Guide) and it is light (coming in at ~50 grams lighter than the Onyx). What kind of binding works best depends ultimately on your style, setup, and expected terrain. (Me, I get tired and stupid: I need those damn brakes.)
Skiing. How does it ski? In a word: awesome. The wider footprint of the binding is noticeable, with better edge-to-edge performance, and perhaps most noticeable, more smearing and weighting/unweighting ability on rockered skis. While the Vertical toepiece is 59mm with a baselength of 149mm, the Radical is 68mm wide with a shorter baselength of 125mm; there are now 4 screws in a squatter stance rather than 5 a little-too-close-together screws. It’s subtle, but it’s there, and instead of feeling pinned to the centre of the ski, I felt like I was simply on the skis — a feeling much closer to a wider-stance binding (the 6mm stack height remains the same between the Vertical and Radical). As for testing, I had a pair mounted on DPS Wailer 112RP Pures, Wailer 99 Pures, and Lotus 138 Pures last year (yes, full disclosure, I ride with DPS). Point being, the Radical handled both the width — up to 138mm underfoot on the five-point reverse camber Lotus 138 (I bent 130mm brakes) — and the increased torsional rigidity of a Pure carbon and titanal/woodcore construction ski (which places extra demands on the skier and binding, kind of like race car suspension). Of note, I kept the “stiffener” plate in the ON setting all season, so I can’t really say whether it did much or not (see Lou’s thoughts here).
As always, and like my Vertical FT12s, I felt safe and secure in the binding, with an extraordinarily low stack height keeping me close to the ski. Of course, there is no rigid foot bar underneath (i.e., like the Duke), so the ski flexed more naturally (even though the boot, ultimately, is a rigid thing). Now, I don’t ride switch or attempt to stomp anything greater than 20′ in the backcountry, but in steep situations or tight entrances where keeping a precise edge on tricky, rocky terrain was a must, I had no issues with pre-release or instability. The binding performed well (of note, I crank the Radical to 11 RV, going by the rule to never max out the spring, and generally, I don’t ski locked out unless sketching through you-fall, you-die terrain).
Skinning. Here the Radical demonstrated the many improvements to not only its rear heelpiece design, but subtle improvements to the toe. Let’s start with the toe, because it’s less obvious: it is now easier to line up the pins, thanks to some redesigning of the clamps, a.k.a the new side towers. Though I have since made the move to Dynafit boots (Titan Ultralights, which I’ll discuss in a future review), which help immensely thanks to their pre-fab pin guides, the toepiece is definitely easier to click into than the Vertical. It also features a wider clamp stance, and the struts are burly, with the baseplate now extending to cover the full width of the wings. Last but not least, the toe levers are now much easier to grab with gloves on, and I don’t feel like I’m going to snap them off accidentally.
As for the heel, while the rotational volcano remains, now one only needs to rotate between the up and the down. To adjust climbing bar height, simply flip the metal heelpieces, and voila! No design could be easier to use. I had no issue with the heelpieces (or any aspect of the binding) after a season’s use. I also found that the heelpieces could be flicked with either the basket or handle of the pole, depending on make/preference. For me, the heelpiece is the biggest in-your-face selling point of the Radical: if you like the style and performance of Dynafit to begin with, the new heelpiece all but eliminates the finicky, twisting maneouvres that only the blessed few ever got good at (not me).
Overall. The Radical is a top contender in the tech binding field, now with easier use and a redesigned footprint for fatter skis. With some of the production bugs worked out, it looks to be the A-list option for 2013.
** If you’re a techy, and are looking for a blow-by-blow rundown, check out Alpenglow’s solid review over on Unnofficial Networks here.
That said, some rumination on the future is necessary. Where is tech binding design going? Will we see the innovation of tech 2.0, i.e. a full rebuild of the concept of ski touring bindings to suit modern styles and demands, from fat skis to bigger drops and faster lines? Or will R&D be pushed toward TUV certification, which may prove ultimately meaningless, if not detrimental to actually touring applications? Can the two ever be reconciled? Will tech 2.0 stop global warming and will cats & dogs fall in love? Again, I direct you to Mr. Dawson: see Lou’s timely thoughts (and reader’s comments) here.