Pictures from Neris Moscow
For a few years Ukrainian kayak manufacturer Neris have been making folding kayaks based (afaict) on the old, all-wood framed East German Pouch (itself based on the Klepper). We paddled the Spey with a Pouch one time.
Thanks to Rick for pointing out Neris have recently brought out what they call a hybrid IK: the Smart range of lengthy 1-, 2- and 3-seater kayaks (405cm, 485; 570) with inflatable side tubes, an alloy ladder-frame on the floor and end-frames including birch plywood bow/stern pieces to give the kind of prow you can’t get with an all-air IK.
This description is based on looking at pictures.
The hull is made of German Mehler PVC with rubber (hypalon?) protection strips along the vulnerable prows/keel. The inflatable side tubes follow the European convention of being sealed ‘tubeless’ chambers – no removable bladders. That means quick and easy drying. And PVC in IKs can mean it’s stiffer than synthetic rubbers like hypalon. That in turn can make it harder to pack when cold and, I believe, less durable to punctures, but aids rigidity once inflated. My Incept K40 had all these characteristics.
Can’t find any details on what pressure it runs, but from the footpump photo I assume it’s and ordinary 0.2 bar / 3 psi. There’s talk on Neris catarafts with PRVs either incorporated in the inflation valve or alongside them. Can’t see or tell what the Smart IKs use, but let’s assume they’re the same.
Metal frames came from heavier folding kayaks which themselves were based on the original skin-on-bone or wood qayaks of the Eskimos.
The rationale of using them in IKs is in combining rigidity with lightness without the tricky assemblage of full folders (below right) – or the need for high pressures whose greater hull integrity perhaps increases manufacturing costs or complexity.
The recent development of kayaks made entirely of high-pressure drop stitch panels has made the idea of metal frames a little redundant, but what a metal or wood element can do is support sharp prow forms to cut through the water better, and also perhaps eliminate the need for a grounding-prone skeg or a complex rudder system (although Smart sailing rigs are pictured with a rudder). A downside of a non-inflated IK floor is it’s flatter and so less good at tracking, but there’s no sign of a skeg in the photos. You also wonder how it will perform in the swell – more like a raft than a boat.
Some Advanced Elements IKs use similar prow frames, but I’m told are far from rigid unless you insert the optional drop stitch floor panel and the optional backbone ‘keel bar’ which always sounded like a poor original design to me. My old Feathercraft Java (right) used alloy poles for support, but I can’t say it improved rigidity with me on board (right). Their later Aironaut (also discontinued), as well as Grabner and some Gumotex IKs like my Seawave achieve rigidity purely with high pressure, and my short, 0.3bar Grabner Amigo (for sale by current owner, fyi) was as stiff as a plank.
These Smarts seem to improve on both the frame ideas by using what looks like a chunky, alloy ladder with oval-profiled tubes for the floor which supports subframes for prow pieces as well as the splash-decks and cross ribs for the side tubes.
You do wonder if that ladder frame sitting right on the floor sheet could pinch the floor on striking a hard submerged obstacle. That happened in my packraft once when my heel stuck concrete through the thin floor and cut a nick. After that I made sure I used a foam heel pad (left). Doing the same in the Smarts’ ladder-frame contact area may be a good precaution, unless those protective rubber strips mentioned are there too.
Being long for a two-seater, the 4.85-metre Smart 2 would need all the help it can get with rigidity, but it comes in at a claimed 19kg which is pretty good when you look at all that metal, even if it’s only 1mm thick. The boat packs down to a metre long (left), but as always with frame kayaks, there’s a worry of damage during transportation. I recall that anxiety when I smuggled my Java back from the US.
Note the way the side tubes are supported in sleeves by the cross ribs (right) so that should one tube got flat, it will still be propped up by the ribs and probably keep the boat from swamping. Good thinking, as buoyancy will be a little reduced without an air floor. Single or double detachable decks are an option, too, as above left.
This non-inflated floor ought to mean you sit a bit lower in the boat. That aids stability if not visibility (and thigh straps appear to be included), but it’s a real shame to see the width of the 4.85-m Smart 2 at no less than 95cm. That is 15cm (nearly 6 inches) more than the widest IK on the ‘recommended’ table (right); only the Amigo has a lower Length/Width Index or ratio (see table). Of course rigidity and prow forms contribute to speed and efficiency too, as does a backwind and a second paddler, and width creates stability which is important to recreational users with young families. At 6.55 the Perched-on-Top, the Java was on the tippy limit for me, but the Smart-2 seems too far in the other extreme. Their comparable folding/frame two-seaters may be 50% heavier, but have LWIs (my new thing!) matching the Java’s figure.
With the pound so low against the euro, UK price for the big and spacious Smart-2 is a hefty £1010. The other Smarts were TBA and in Ukraine or Russia the Smart 2 goes for nearer £600.