Bow speed – when hunches and bias get a reality check

It’s a good thing that out and out speed is not the most important characteristic of a bow in the pursuit of traditional archery. But everyone gets a bit of a thrill out of a fast bow – don’t they?

It’s also the case that perceptions about bow speed are captive to a number of completely subjective factors. Which bow is the current favourite? What is the draw experience like? Why is it that some bows just feel faster than the others?

Spoiler alert – some of these subjective perceptions can be even more wrong than you imagined …

A little while back I bought a relatively inexpensive ballistic chronograph. A ballistic chronograph is a device which measures the speed of projectiles – like bullets out of a gun, arrows from a bow, or even pellets from a paintball gun, by calculating the time interval as the projectile passes over two fixed optical sensors. This one is either ‘new old stock’ that was made in China but not shipped and sold before the Chrony company in Canada went bust, or it’s just a really faithful knock-off. I can’t tell, but it seems to do all the things that a Chrony Beta should do, in the way in which a Chrony Beta would do.

Chrony Beta – ballistic chronograph, front display

So, time for the reality check. Reality checks, plural.

I have two related pairs of bows, about which I have preconceived notions as far as speed goes.

Left to right: Chrony Beta, a sheaf of Goldtip Trad carbon arrows, Szimeiszter Hungarian bow, Szimeiszter Tatar bow, VLBB Tabs stalking quiver
Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian bow (the long one), Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short bow (the little curly one)
  • Two laminated bows from István Szimeiszter in Hungary – a Tatar #43@29 and a Hungarian #45@29. [#43@28 means 43 pound draw weight measured at 28 inches of draw, etc.] To me the Hungarian seems faster, but István believes that on design principles the Tatar should be faster. Both have a lovely smooth draw, and I only draw to 29” most of the time, but if you’ve long enough arms they’re rated for a 32” maximum draw.
  • Two biocomposite laminated bows from Csaba Grózer, also in Hungary – an Assyrian #45@28 and a Turkish Short #48@28. The Assyrian has a reputation for being very fast, and I have the delusion that I can shoot it at around 195-200 feet per second (fps) with a light enough arrow and draw closer to 30” (it’s maximum recommended draw is 32”). The Turkish feels fast, but at 29” or thereabouts I can also feel that I’m right up against the maximum recommended draw of 30”.

NB: I have not tested the bows to see if the draw weight claimed by the bowyers is accurate. It may not be.

So under controlled, repeated conditions, which Szimeiszter is faster, and is the Grozer Assyrian faster than the other three? Let’s put my preconceptions to the test.

Test conditions:

  • Mild, windless weather conditions, 18-19°C, blue sky.
  • Chrony Beta ballistic chronograph, no light diffusers fitted, mounted on a tripod.
  • Draw each arrow to 29”, thumb release with bronze Bozhur thumb ring.
  • Add 2.5 pounds to the nominal draw weight of the two Grozer bows to allow for drawing them to 29″ like the Szimeiszters.
  • Standard set of 7 x Goldtip Traditional carbon arrows with field points, approximately 440 grains in weight.
    • This equates to:
      • 8.8 grains per pound (gpp) for the Grozer Turkish,
      • 10.2gpp for the Szimeiszter Tatar,
      • 9.8gpp for the Szimeiszter Hungarian, and
      • 9.3gpp for the Grozer Assyrian.

I shot the Szimeiszters on 24/4/2022 and the Grozers on the following day. I used 7 arrow shots as sample data for analysis. I shot more than that in each case, but the numbers stayed in the same range, so I stuck with the first 7 for each bow.

Results:

Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29Szimeiszter Hungarian #45@29Grozer Short Turkish #48@28Grozer Assyrian #45@28
170.9173.2172.5178.1
169.1178.0175.4174.6
164.5169.1174.1179.3
173.3179.5172.0175.5
177.0175.7172.8173.9
165.5169.3174.1177.5
173.3180.1174.2174.8
Raw speed results in feet/second (fps)
Szimeiszter Tatar #43@29Szimeiszter Hungarian #45@29Grozer Short Turkish #48@28Grozer Assyrian #45@28
170.9175.7174.1175.5Median
4.54.61.22.0SD
170.5175.0173.6176.2Mean
Summary data

So the Szimeiszter Hungarian is faster than the Tatar when considering either median or mean. The Grozer Assyrian is faster than the Grozer Turkish by either measure.

The overall fastest of the 4 is the Szimeiszter Hungarian by median value, but it’s the Grozer Assyrian by mean value. The fastest arrow in the whole test was 180.1fps from the Szimeiszter Hungarian. “In my hands” I should add – someone with a longer or better draw form might get a few more fps out of these bows.

Interesting. They are really not that far away from each other as a group, but the order of things is not consistent with where I started. Let the data speak! … and I stand corrected.

The other really interesting feature for me is the much tighter consistency from the Grozer bows. (In a boxplot the centre line across the box is the median value, the whiskers show the highest and lowest values, and the box contains 95% of the values. Smaller box, tighter spread of numbers.)

Boxplot – summary statistics for the 4 bows

I discussed these numbers briefly with an archery buddy. Wayne took it all in his stride and then asked me “How was the draw experience by comparison?”. Good question. Taking these numbers into account – adding to that my recent attention to draw length and consciously getting it back up to 29-29.5” – it’s a very good question. The two Szimeiszters are fabulous to draw – that’s what István is best known for. The Grozer Biocomposite Assyrian is likewise, always a total delight to draw. All 3 are still a bit over a couple of inches away from their maximum recommended draw at my draw length.

On the other hand because I’m coming hard up against the maximum recommended draw length on the Grozer Biocomposite Turkish Short, it feels a bit uncomfortable at the end – it’s not meant to be drawn longish, and I now realise, I really don’t enjoy that sensation. It might be partly to blame for my bout of short drawing!! 😉 Look at the data spread though – that hard stop at the end probably aids in drawing more consistently.

The surprise package overall though is still the Szimeiszter Hungarian. Not made for speed they say, but on some measures it’s the fastest of the 4. Nice.

Published by MikrokosmFotos

Dad | Ecologist | Photographer & longbowman every other chance | Here I mix snapshots with intentional fine art. Landscapes, buildings, dogs.

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