Gnu is a company attempting to challenge the growing success of the “rear-entry” style binding made famous by Flow. I had a chance to demo a pair of 2011/2012 Gnu Agro . I hadn’t ridden a rear-entry since the very early flows in the 90’s so I was intrigued to see which advances had been made since then. Gnu boasts that the Agro is “the world’s most technical binding” (http://www.gnu.com/bindings/agro/), which isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes simplicity and the traditional two-strap with a fixed high back binding are the way to go. On first sight, the Agro looks pretty slick and innovative. It not only features a swinging highback, like all Flow models, but also a traditional ankle strap and Burton-esque toe cap. The straps can be adjusted with the quick-fit micro adjusters to fit your boot, however, one cannot enter this binding in a traditional step-in fashion, all entries must be via the lowered back. It was surprising how long it took to actually adjust the straps to fit my boot properly, but I guess that the idea is that once they are adjusted the rider would seemingly not have to change them again (except for perhaps some fine-tuning), so the time it takes to do so doesn’t matter all that much. The ankle strap has a nice feature that allows the rider to quickly loosen it to have some relief on the chair ride up the mountain; a perk that could come in handy on a long day on the slopes. The footbed is said to feature a “triple dampening system” (http://www.gnu.com/bindings/agro/) that absorbs shock and makes the ride more comfortable.
The first thing I noticed upon strapping in was how tight of a fit the binding was to my boot, both in terms of strap placement and binding width. I wear a size twelve but have never had this problem with any of my Burton or Ride bindings that I have owned. I spent some more time adjusting the straps but they still held really tight no matter what changes I made. The highback pushed my leg at a weird angle and after only one run my calf was really sore. The responsiveness was slow and the bindings simply felt cheap despite the bulky design. It did feel that if I rode them hard all day something was going to break. It was difficult to bring the board up to do grabs and I felt like I was lacking a lot of control in the trees and on the bumps. I liked a number of features this binding had to offer and appearance wise they looked rather attractive, but in terms of function I was very disappointed.
The Bottom Line:
I think Gnu had a good idea trying to compete with Flow, but like the K2 Cinch (http://k2snowboarding.com/bindings/cinch-cts) it fell short of providing any competition with the company that invented the rear-entry style. I honestly don’t think it is a good idea to try and combine a dropping highback with more traditional binding straps. The only thing this product got me to do was to take it off quickly after only one run down the mountain. Oh, and it made me love the ol’ two-strap binding just a little bit more than I already did. Why change a good thing?