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UKC Gear, Nov 2012
Well, the almighty capitalist machine chugs on, engulfing new continents and finding ever more ingenious ways to prize the last coppers out of our wallets that the Bankers didn't get. In my opinion, one of its latest wheezes is that prices are going up, but quality is dropping. Oh dear!
Thankfully, against this prevailing wind, I think there are still one or two bastions of craftsmanship alive and kicking in the UK that care about quality. For example, Hope Technologies of Barnoldswick, Lancashire, who make bike components of the highest quality, come to mind, as do DMM of LLanberis Gwynedd, Wales. Here I will review DMM Dragons size 00 and 0, the latest additions to DMMs range of Dragon cams.
Since their introduction in the late 1970's spring-loaded camming devices have revolutionised climbing - period. As the story goes, on the seventh day Ray Jardine came up with the 13.75-degree constant radius and on the eight day he created what came to be known as Friends and the rest is history. No more did you have to worry about whether those opposing hexes in that horizontal break were a little bit iffy; just plug in a Friend and cruise to victory. Over the course of time, patents have lapsed and technologists have fathomed a myriad of variations on the spring-loaded camming theme. Today, like baked beans, the choice of camming devices is relatively large. I hope in this review to be able to convince you that although cams may look more or less the same, there are cams that stand out in terms of manufacturing quality and functionality.
The Dragon cam units are finely engineered, single stemmed, double axle camming devices similar in some respects to Black Diamond Camolots. They utilise the tried and extensively tested constant 13.75-degree cam angle that is by all accounts still the best balance between holding power and camming range. Out of the box they are shiny and look very much the part. No sharp edges or burrs, just the finest craftsmanship.
Yes, they have four cams and a single stem, as opposed to being hooped. The stem and trigger are deigned for maximal ergonomic efficiency, making placement and removal smooth. The stem has a sleeve that can rotate made of a super tough material that serves to reduce stem abrasion and prevent damage to the all important stem and trigger wires. The thumb grip is colour coded so even when totally frenzied one can discern size. The stem design places the thumb in an optimum position so the fingers can grab and work the trigger. In use they work well in that I found the DMM set up allowed me to get a really positive grip on the trigger assemblage. It's a matter of preference, whether you like the thumb loop as features on Wild Country, Helium Friends, or the loopless design as featured on the Dragons since I found both designs worked equally well.
The new Dragons have an 8mm Dyneema sling that extends to a massive 23cm, so no need to extend these babies. As a side, Dymeena is very tough and abrasion resistant. If - and this is a big if - the sling does wear out or get damaged DMM offer a resling and overhaul service. I found the springs in the Dragons strong, which meant that the cams were resistant to being pulled out of slippy placements which is worth bearing in mind when you climb your next limestone roof cracks. The strong spring also meant that the potential for 'walking' was reduced.
All in all the Dragons I tested worked very well and I found myself reaching for them with confidence. One thing I did notice was that the trigger wires did not get caught up in the cams, as sometimes happens with cams from other makers. This can be rather worrying if you are trying to get a piece in quick.
As far as range and weight go, the smallest two Dragons are slightly lighter than their equivalent Wild Country Helium Friends and have more or less the same camming range. Interestingly, the larger sized Dragons are slightly heavier than Wild Country Helium friends. However, it takes 9 Wild Country Helium Friends ( sizes 0.0-4.0) weighing 1127g to cover more or less the same camming range* as 8 DMM Dragons (sizes 00-6) weighing 1101g, which may give some folk food for thought.
DMM Dragons are very nice and trustworthy cams that are entirely made in Wales with no compromise on quality of materials or manufacture. In fact you can rest assured that the DMM workforce have 25 years experience of making cams. Now there's a claim that few manufacturers still active today can claim!
* The total ranges are Dragons sizes 00-6 = 13.6-114mm compared to Wild Country Helium Friends sizes 0.0-4.0 = 14-102mm
"All in all DMM Dragons are very nice and trustworthy cams that are entirely made in Wales with no compromise on quality of materials or manufacture."
Craig Smith on a new route near Hebden Bridge this weekend (22nd July). Climbed ground up and graded XS.
© Michael Ryan - UKC and UKH, Jul 2012
About Craig Smith
Craig has climbed on and off for more than 30 years. He has established many new routes at home and abroad that have become recognised as major classics including The Great Flake at Caley, Gin Palace at Vivian and Conan the Librarian at Gogarth to name but a few. He was one of the UK's first sponsored climbers and a frequent magazine cover boy, renowned for his extensive wardrobe of Lycra. These days he earns his money lecturing physiology at the University of Manchester and dabbles in fell running, mountain biking and climbing.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Craig Smith: