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Submitted: 12-16-2002 by arkay

My wife and I each have a WildFire with Royalex hulls and vinyl trim. We use them primarily for day tripping in creeks and small rivers up to Class II+. The winding streams we paddle these boats in here in Appalachian Southeastern Ohio are often thin with gravel bars, stumps, beaver dams, deadfall, riffles, pools, small ledges and an occasional broken mill dam. We bought them this past summer specifically for exploring and messing around in these small streams and at this point we have spent about twenty days paddling them. I feel I know them well enough now to offer my two cents.

The Bell’s Royalex hulls seem tough enough to stand up to a fair amount of abuse. The reinforced vinyl gunwales are tough and durable, quiet and smooth. Unfortunately the vinyl decks that terminate these otherwise attractive and performance oriented canoes are thin and flimsy looking and do not have an integrated grab bar. Two of our four decks were fixed in place crocked by several degrees. Bell has two seat combinations available: ash frame with caning and metal drops (standard) or ash frame with webbing and wood drops. We bought one of each. As delivered the seats were uncomfortable and hard to get our feet under. They were built as essentially non-adjustable. We had to make adjustments and basically ended up replacing all the seating components. As to optional Bell equipment we have found “T” kneeling pads very comfortable and the nylon spray covers to be well made, easy to use and very functional.

As advertised the WildFire accelerates and responds to the paddle quickly, the differential rocker allows the canoe to swing its bow about quickly as needed, yet the decreased rocker in the stern allows for reasonable tracking. They won’t track straight on their own however so you’ll need some technique. They heel over well and firm up nicely on edge. They can be made to spin on a dime and side-slips are swift. A feature I’ve really come to appreciate in this model is its excellent response to back ferries; it seems to me that the less rockered stern catches currents very well. A curious characteristic of this hull design is that it “hits a wall” and becomes almost uncontrollable if paddled aggressively for straight ahead speed. At first I thought this was just my technique, but my wife has experienced the same thing and I have heard others say similar things about this canoe and the Bell FlashFire as well. Faced with this design imposed “speed limit” I would not characterize the WildFire as fast, but it really doesn’t feel sluggish unless it’s overloaded or you’re in the company of faster canoes. Sometimes in pools we cruise along with 10 degree bent shafts but more typically we enjoy moseying along with straight shaft paddles. This hull has a lively, playful feel to it when running empty and with a load up to about 200-220 lbs, at 250 lbs it isn’t quite as much fun and at 350 lbs it’s deep in the water, lethargic and well over its pleasurable weight limit.

I have paddled some other Royalex solos in this size range and am pleased with our decision to purchase the WildFires; performance-wise they fit our needs very nicely. In my humble opinion this would be an even nicer canoe if the seats were more comfortable and adjustable and if the decks were more useful and attractive.

Even with these relatively small reservations we are still very well pleased with the performance of the David Yost designed Bell WildFires for the conditions we paddle them in. They are in the end very maneuverable, enjoyable and playful little canoes for quick-water creeks and small rivers. In a word they are fun.

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