As previewed last time, this blog is going to address the tricky question of why the majority of pro dart players seemingly favour longish, straighter-sided barrels over more curved, bullet shaped ones, while also looking at why there are notable exceptions.
Firstly, I’m going to support the above contention with anecdotal evidence in the form of the above graphic showing four World Champions’ “Player’s Choice” darts from Unicorn’s 2016 range. As you can see, three of the four barrels are pretty similar, all being over 50mm in length and more-or-less straight, so how come John Lowe’s is markedly different?
One obvious reason is that John has a somewhat shorter “wheelbase” grip than does either Gary Anderson or Barney, both of whom can use their second finger as a stabiliser over the front of the dart rather than at the side like John’s. However, Bob Anderson also has a fairly short wheelbase grip, so there must be more to it than that.
On to the next factor – whereabouts they grip the barrel. Of the four, Bob has the most forward grip whereas John has the most rearward. With John’s bullet-shaped dart this means he is effectively partly pushing against an upslope whereas the others, if they used such a dart, would be pulling on a downslope. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to recognise which of those is liable to yield the more consistent results!
At this point it’s worth mentioning that Barney’s recent Phase 5 darts are rather “carrot-shaped”, which enabled him to push against an upslope even with his grip position. However, this inevitably involves the front of the barrel being fatter for a given weight and a forward balance which can feel wrong to players used to neutral weighting.
Having a maximum diameter greater than a straight dart of the same weight and length (assuming equivalent density tungsten alloy) is something that also applies to a bullet-shaped dart, and the fractionally reduced tendency to bed-block is another slight factor in favour of the straight, especially at the heavier end of the weight spectrum.
Now to the question of throw tempo. Whilst none of the four players are quite in the MvG, Adrian Lewis, Michael Smith, etc, mould, Barney is definitely a rhythm player and The Flying Scotsman can certainly loose his second and third arrows pretty rapidly when in pursuit of yet another 180. A straight barrel helps rhythm and quick-fire players in that marginally less time needs to be spent concentrating on registering the grip in exactly the right position. By comparison Old Stoneface himself, a more deliberate (although not slow) type of player, will have no trouble with the requirement for such precision.
So far, so “straight”forward; now it gets more complicated. As I’ve explained many times before, longer barrels tend to require bigger flights to stabilise them. For a lower standard player with a slightly erratic throw even Big Wing flights may not be enough to ensure straight-as-an-arrow flight and for them fatter, shorter, bullet-shaped darts can prove easier to control. Moreover, room in the treble 20 for three of them is liable to be less often an issue!
Meanwhile, as I’ve also explained before, for higher standard players with smoother throws there is a lower optimum level of stability. At board impact this can allow the dart to land flatter than the trajectory angle (a psychological aid to aiming) or help to minimise the deviation of the point caused by aerodynamic forces acting on the flights.
For the type of 50mm long barrels in the graphic, theory indicates this level of stability can be provided by larger flights such as those shown, whereas for shorter barrels such as John Lowe’s, smaller flights like the pear-shaped Xtras (or even the Sigma Pro prototypes) he actually used can do the job nicely.
Now for an interesting bit. The same theory also shows that, because of their higher inertia (to be scientific, moment thereof), longer barrels with larger flights will be less sensitive to minor changes in set-up than are smaller-flighted, shorter darts, even though the deviation causing aerodynamic forces they experience may be greater.
So, whilst lesser players may find straight, relatively long, barrels a bit hard to control in flight, better players, especially those with a faster tempo throw or more forward grip position, are quite likely to prefer them and find them relatively forgiving in terms of which shafts and flights (providing those aren’t too small!) give good results.
Nonetheless, for those whose grip and throw tempo suit bullet-shaped barrels and who are willing to work hard to identify exactly the right set-up for them (this is where Sigma darts and UniLab are designed to help), the fact that they work with smaller flights can give an aerodynamic advantage. Not much in terms of millimetres, maybe, but, as the guys whose darts are shown in the graphic will doubtless tell you, becoming World Champ can depend on “not much in terms of millimetres”.
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