Disc Evaluation: The Objective View
by Blake Takkunen
Many players have asked me about how I evaluate discs and whether or not some discs are better than other discs. While there is a use for every disc and each disc has its target flight paths and characteristics, I believe that for certain types of shots some discs have inherently superior flight characteristics for those shots.
Each shot type has an idealized flight path that corresponds to a combination of flight characteristics. While several models of discs may meet those characteristics well, generally they will vary slightly in their distance, predictability, ease of throwing, and ideal launch angles. All discs have stable cruise speeds, which is a range of velocity given a disc's nose angle and RPM's where the disc will fly straight. When the disc's velocity falls below the minimum cruise speed, the disc will begin to fade. Even the most overstable discs have stable cruise speeds; often they are just well above the range that most players can generate on a disc.
Stable discs are designed to fly straight. That is to say, the idealized flight path of a stable disc is to have very little if any high-speed turn and minimal low speed fade. Under these criteria, the “best” stable drivers are the discs that are the most high-speed stable (without being overstable at high speeds) with the least low-speed fade.
Also to keep in mind that this does not mean the discs have to fly straight when thrown flat. Some of the straightest discs on the market fly best when thrown with a bit of hyzer angle and flatten and “lock in” at flat without turning over. These discs generally fly understable when thrown flat, but I consider them to be stable drivers since they do hold the idealized stable flight path (often better than discs that must be thrown flat).
Finding the best stable disc for your own power level can be more difficult. I believe with advancements in disc technology there must be a second category of stable drivers, which I call “pro stable.” These discs generally fly at high speeds and have a stable flight for high-powered players but fly overstable for low-powered players. Only a few discs on the market fly stable for players of all power levels above 225' of average distance.
What separates pro stable drivers from overstable drivers is that pro stable drivers are generally designed to hold their lines much longer in flight and generally fade very late (~90% mark). True overstable drivers usually are designed for maximum predictability and will fade earlier in their flight (~75% mark).
The minimum power levels for throwing pro stable discs is usually in the 350-425' range of average power, depending upon the disc.
For overstable discs and a focus on a combination of predictability, high speed stability, low speed overstability, and distance yields an idealized overstable flight path of a straight flight path for the first part of a disc's flight followed by a hard left fade during the latter part of the flight. The order I have listed those characteristics is the order in which I weigh them for disc evaluation. First off, the disc must fade predictably every time. If the disc will not always fade if it gets slightly turned over, it does not make for a very good overstable driver (within reason, i.e. an 80 degree anhyzer into a 70 MPH headwind will likely have an understable flight path with any disc). Secondly, the disc should be stable or overstable at high speeds and not turn to the right unless thrown with anhyzer or into an extreme headwind. Aside from a predictable fade, the disc should also have a strong and pronounced fade. Lastly, given the first three characteristics, the disc that gives the greatest carry is generally my front-runner for “best” overstable disc.
While there are many discs that are high speed understable, many of these have fade characteristics that land the disc in approximately a straight line from the thrower while only a few really hold the idealized understable flight path. To me, a good understable flight is one where the disc banks from left to right and holds a turn for the majority if not all of its flight. While I believe that this path is most conducive to throwing broken in discs that were once stable or throwing a moderately stable disc with anhyzer, many players want a disc that is understable out of the box or within a week's worth of use. For these discs I evaluate them in order of: Will it hold a turn for 95% or more of its flight? Is it easy to turn over? How much carry does it have compared to other discs with similar characteristics? If the answer is yes to the first two questions, I usually favor the longest flying of the bunch.
Versatile Control Discs
A few discs fall into that category of “jack of all trades, master of none.” I believe these discs are often over-looked by many players as the discs simply do not have any stand out characteristics. These discs are often older in design and make the best choices for players that only wish to carry one disc of each type. While disc technology has advanced to make many types of discs fly farther, it has also made each disc more one-dimensional and there are very few “workhorse” discs that can be used for every type of shot in its distance range. These discs are generally slightly high speed understable and moderately low speed overstable. When thrown with a slight hyzer they will hold a fairly stable flight path. When thrown flat or with slight anhyzer they will turn a bit and fly with an S curve flight path. When thrown with moderate anhyzer whey will hold a turn their entire flight. When thrown with a moderate to significant hyzer angle they will hold an overstable flight. I value these discs very highly but they are often discs that are not very popular amongst the majority of players.
Putt & Approach Discs
I have a fairly strict view of what characteristics a putt & approach should have. I view putt & approach discs not only as putters, but also as 7 through 9-irons, and wedges. First off, I believe a versatile putt & approach disc should be able to hold a stable line at least 250' without turning over (assuming the disc is thrown properly) or having a great deal of low speed fade. With that in mind, it should also be able to hold a hyzer line and anhyzer line with at least moderate success. Most putters behave very similarly on putts inside 25' if there is no wind, so given the flight characteristics on drives and approaches I look for putters that will also hold their line on putts when condition are windy.
I hope that after reading this article you come away with at least a little insight on how to objectively evaluate discs and seek out the discs that are the best choice for your bag. It is within this framework that the “best discs” truly separate themselves from the rest of the pack and will hopefully make the strongest contributions to your game.
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