Lets start off with a huge thank you to Tiger Tail Archery for supplying this bow for assessment. The rumor mill has it that this is the best of the breed, the Manchu replica to rule them all, the benchmark. What better place to start then?
First impressions upon release are, actually, pretty underwhelming. Given that you're shooting 1200 grain spear shafts, borrowed from our Manchu Arrow Project, out of a massive bow you're expecting armageddon. Instead, the release is clean, free of handshock, and the spears zip down range apparently unaware that they're about three times the mass of a normal arrow. Seriously. The arrows don't slowly trundle along, you're not desperately fighting form to prevent fishtailing, and there is no handshock. Granted these arrows are 40", and we all know forward mass helps with flight, at ~20GPP there is mass to spare to keep handshock at bay. The big surprise, and the one I still can't get over, is just how fast it is. How can arrows this heavy possibly fly this fast out of a bow this childishly light weight? The flight is beautiful and shots are easy to control. Lets talk more in-depth qualitatively and quantitatively about the bow, and how it accomplishes this.
Straight out of the gate, this bow is physically heavy compared to the shorter Asiatic bows we're used to, .830 kilos to be exact. That is a lot next to a .365 kilo Hwarang that draws >100 pounds. Amusingly though, it's reflex is such that when unstrung it isn't terribly long. A Hwarang is 42" unstrung, a Kaya 39.5", and a Grozer Turkish 37". This JZW Manchu is only 53.5" tip to tip when unstrung, due to pretty aggressive reflex. If one were to place the tips of an unstrung bow on the ground and measure from the ground to the belly side of the handle as a standard for unstrung reflex, this bow ranks quite highly. An AF Turkish is 7.5", Hwarang 10", AF Tatar 10.25", Grozer Turkish 12", and the JZW Manchu a whopping 13.75" of reflex. The other thing to note is the sheer thickness and poundage of the limbs. While the Grozer gains its visually large limbs through a covering of very very thick leather, the JZW uses far thinner leather and simply has massive limbs. Pulling them below the siyahs, you'd expect them to belong to a bow easily in excess of 100 pounds. Puts the use of those big levers into perspective.
Details seemed to matter to the bowyer. There are a lot of nice little details. The two colors of leather on the limbs, the tip inserts masked for different finishes, the obvious roughing for surface prep under the string bridges, the ray skin above and below the grip, thicker than normal serving, perfect fit of all the different leather pieces, and the double serving on the string at high wear points just to name a few. One nit to pick though if I may, and I must, is the serving around the arrow. It is symmetrical, centered, which is fine but there simply isn't enough of it. Shooting 1100 grain 1/2" diameter nocks, the nocking point is almost off the end of the serving. Over time, the lack of serving above the point means serving will inevitably drift upward, and of course it means I'll be handling unserved string above the arrow with my index finger. Could be just a fluke on this string, and re-serving a string is hardly the end of the world, but on a bow where so many of the details were clearly noticed and mattered to the bowyer, it is a bit out of place.
first draw was a little scary, because of crackling sounds. It isn't uncommon for bows to make a few cracking sounds the first time they're drawn, and I suspect this was from glue used in the addition of the leather limb coverings, but staring up at that massive siyah as you haul the bow back to 36" and hear crackling is sobering. Blissfully, it was a first-draw-only phenomenon, and the bow now silently, and impossibly smoothly, reaches 36" as the limbs go parallel with your arm. The siyahs are also noticeably further forward at brace, and generally run a more aggressive forward angle, than any other replica I've seen so far. This likely contributes to high early draw weight and late draw smoothness. The two metrics we use for that are percentage poundage gain of the last 2", and the slope of the last 2". Higher poundage bows necessarily have a steeper slope, but at 59#s full draw we're right in the middle of the pack so a slope of 1.5 is still quite good next to second best, the much lower poundage AF Tatar of 2.5. Gaining only 6% of it's total poundage in the last two inches of draw is also quite good, next to the second best AF Turkish which gains 10%. There is another interesting element to this though mentioned by the imitable Peter Dekker, in THIS article:
"Manchu bows are unique in that they have the highest initial tension of all bows, and thus are harder to pull at a given high draw weight than other types of bows. They typically are at 75% of their max draw weight at 20" pull already, where a longbow would pull around 45% of it's max draw weight there."
So how does this bow match up, given significantly less reflex than a horn-sinew composite? No dramatic buildup, it manages a respectable ~61%. That said, most of the bows we've tested were in the mid 50s, the AF Tatar being as high as 59%. While I'm out on a limb here, I'd posit that the Mughal bow, the other long siyah-extreme reflex design out there, might well also manage comparable high early draw weights. It is worth noting here that every bowyer places their point for draw length a little differently. We measure it as if it were an arrow, so 31" draw means a 31" arrow could be drawn this far. (middle of the handle) Given that this bow was sold as 55#s, I suspect the bowyer measures from the back of the bow.
With a minimum of 12GPP, notably 1 less than the Mariner, and a recommended 15GPP, this bow is overtly not for normal arrows.... even long normal arrows. 885 grains is more akin to a small spear than a typical arrow.
The Force Draw Curve yielded just about what one would expect, or maybe even better. The first 10" aren't terribly remarkable, the pack is all too bunched up to tell the difference and it is muddled by varying brace heights, but from 13 to 17 inches draw force is as high or higher than all the other bows excluding the 106# Hwarang. Given that the Gukgungwon is going to finish 12 pounds higher 4 inches sooner, that seems pretty remarkable. The slope from 17 to 35 inches is a meager 1.39, which is not only remarkably flat and smooth, convincingly makes the argument that this bow really doesn't stack given that the slope the last 2" is only 1.5. All good things. How does this compare to other Manchu bows? I don't know, we'll have to get others in to find out. The closest we have is an under-drawn example, once again pulled from Peter Dekker's website, which at a maximum of 82 pounds at 32" has a slope of 1.93. Lets remember though that higher poundage bows necessarily have steeper slopes, and if that slope were held the 35" draw weight would be a ~88 pound bow.
The Stored Energy Curve again yielded good results, allegedly typical of the breed, storing over 82 foot pounds of energy, the second highest of any bow here, again despite a poundage disadvantage. The closest in poundage is the AF Turk, at just 1 pound more, which stores a 25% less energy by full draw.
Now we get to the fun part though, Stored Energy over Poundage. All bows are rendered equal, irrespective of draw weight, under this measurement. Here that high early draw weight, after a slow start, begins to make the bow shine and from 23 inches onward it solidly leads the pack. Even if you were to under-draw the bow to 31 inches, you'd be storing 1.28 foot pounds of energy for every pound draw weight, about 15% better than the next best bow. By full draw though it is storing almost 1.4 foot pounds per pound , which is about a 30% advantage over most of the other bows tested.
This post has dragged on long enough, so catch us next time for results off the chrono.