Why Use Stabilizers?
Here’s a nice labelled diagram showing a typical stabilizer set:
Almost all archers will have used at least a long rod before, and certainly seen the rest of it even if you’ve not actually used it. So what does it all do, other than look fancy? Stabilizers have three key purposes:
Balance By putting weight away from the grip of the bow, stabilizers help you to hold to bow steady (kind of like those long poles that tight-rope walkers use). This then makes it easier to keep your aim on the gold.
Damping Any worthwhile long rod will have a damper of some form (sometimes used on the end of short rods as well). This is usually simply a small rubber device that attaches at the end, between the weights and the rod itself. This is used to take vibration out of the shot, giving a nicer feeling shot, tighter groups, and less chance of things shaking loose on your bow.
Increasing bow mass Increasing the weight of the bow (mass weight, not draw weight) is useful for a few reasons. Firstly, it gives greater stability when aiming. Second, the bow’s movement will be less erratic after the shot, giving increased consistency. Finally, an increased mass weight can make the bow feel easier to draw, giving a smoother draw.
What does each part do, specifically?
Long Rod This is the most important component. The long rod improves stability of the bow both in the up/down direction as well as left/right. It is also responsible for most of the vibration damping. Crucially (and the main reason beginner’s move onto a long rod quite quickly) is that it moves the centre of mass of the bow forward. Without this, the centre of mass is behind the grip, which causes the bow to kick back when shot with a relaxed bow hand. And no one likes being smacked in the face by their own bow!
Short Rods These increase the rotational stability of the bow, reducing the chance of the bow tilting to the side. Also, with just a long rod the centre of mass is often too far forward, and short rods allow you to move the weight backwards to get the ideal position (more on this later!)
V-Bar Very simple this one, just a piece of metal (or carbon) that the short rods connect to. Has no real effect on performance.
Extender This is simply used to move the weight further from the centre of the bow. Its possible to not use one, but this is uncommon as you’ll get a better set up with it than without.
Selecting Your Stabilizers
Ok, so know you know why its important to use them, but one look at an archery shop and you’ll see there’s a huge range available; from the relatively cheap to the super expensive.
As you may imagine, the more expensive options tend to do the job better, but its not quite so simple. There are two primary types of stabilizer: Solid rods (as in the picture above) and multi-rods.
Solid rods are the straight forward choice since, quality aside, they’re all basically the same. There’s the cheap options (Cartel + SF Axiom), which do the job but have been known to fall apart over time. I’ve also found them to be a bit light, meaning you’ll need extra weight at the end to get a good balance, and their damping properties aren’t amazing.
Going into the more expensive realm you’ll get better intrinsic damping from the rod (due to whatever foam/rubber/etc that they’ve filled the rod with), as well as having a nicer balance to them. I’ll be totally honest, I can’t tell the difference between mid-range solid rods and the top end ones. Taking that into account, the best choice here is the mid-priced ones such as the SF Ultimate, Soma CEX5 or the Win & Win HMC.
However, lets not forget the multi-rod options. These are less common, but offer a different approach to your standard stabilizers. Firstly, the Beiter Centralizer system (pictured below). These offer the best vibration damping of any stabilizer out there, simple as that, you won’t get a more stable shot. So why doesn’t everyone use them if they’re so great? Well, they’re not cheap! They’re also much heavier than the alternatives, which may suit you depending on your preference, but its not for everyone.
There’s also the Merlin Triad system, which I honestly can’t recommend using (sorry Merlin!) They’re simply too light to offer any meaningful stabilization, and this combined with the multi-rod design makes them a nightmare in the wind. They’re not all that cheap either. I’m sure they have their fans out there, but I wouldn’t recommend them.
Of course, as with all things, the only way to know what’s right for you is to try out as many options as possible. If you’re out for a new stabilizer set-up, get asking round to club to try things or get to an archery shop and have a good play!
In case it doesn’t seem complicated enough yet, there are also different sizes to deal with. As a general rule the longer your bow length, the longer your long rod should be (i.e. a 26″ rod would be ok for a 66″ bow, but would probably be too short for a 70″ bow). However, really this is a matter of preference. Longer rods mean you can use less weight to get the right balance, whereas with shorter rods you may need to add more weight on.
A medium set-up is probably a good option if you’re not sure: 28″ longrod, 4″ extender, 10″ short rods.
V-bars also have two options, angled (where the short rods will point down) or straight. Go for straight! The angled ones offer no benefits, and shift the centre of mass further down, which is usually undesirable.
Lastly, and most importantly, how to set up your stabilizers. Many people think its enough to just buy them, stick them onto the bow and that’ll work fine. More often than not, though, this won’t work out and in some cases can actually make things worse than having no stabilizers at all.
The primary concern when setting up stabilizers is getting the right weight distribution so that, at full draw, the centre of mass is located at the pressure point of the grip. This way the bow will be most stable while you aim. In order to achieve this you want the centre of mass to be located a few inches in front of the grip position, as this will move backwards as you draw (due to the mass of the limbs moving backwards).
Checking Centre of Mass There are 2 steps to checking the position of the centre of mass. Look at the two images below
Put your finger at the points indicated by the arrows, the bow should balance about this point.
In the first case, the bow should be balanced either side of the pressure point of the grip. In order to achieve the correct balance it may be necessary to add a top rod to your bow (Something like this).
In the second case, the pressure point should be a few inches in front of the riser. Add/remove weights from the long rod and side rods in order to get this balance correct.