What is more important: the riser or the limbs?

On this blog, I often recommend experimenting with different gear to find out what gear fits you best. But. of course, this costs money and since we have limited funds we have to prioritize. Recently a fellow archer asked me this exact question: ‘’What is more important the riser or the limbs?’’. To be honest that is quite a difficult question to answer. But in this article, I will explain what I find the most important and why some archers might disagree.

No time to read this article. Here is a quick summary: In, general, limbs are more important than the riser. Limbs are more fragile and more complicated to make because they have to be both flexible and durable. Therefore, it’s recommended to spend more on limbs than on the riser. Risers tend to last a lifetime even if you buy the cheapest option available.

The actual answer is a lot more complicated than that. You could also say that because risers last a lifetime, you might as well invest in a good one. Therefore, I will discuss this in a bit more detail and explain why I think spending more on the limbs is a good idea. I will also discuss some things you should consider when buying both the limbs and the riser.

Why both are important

Alright, let’s get the obvious answer out first. Yes, of course, you need both a riser and limbs for your bow. Without it, you won’t shoot an arrow. I will, therefore, discuss what piece I would spend more money on.

You shouldn’t take it too extreme though, spending $700 on limbs and putting it on a $50 riser just doesn’t make sense. You can compare this to a car. If you would buy a very expensive engine, it would not work well to place it in a small very cheap car. It’s a lot better to spend the $750 on a good set of limbs and a good riser.

Why some archers find the riser more important

As discussed in the intro, a riser lasts a lifetime. Although many archers switch between risers, in most cases it isn’t necessary. Since risers don’t have (and shouldn’t) bend, they are made out of strong materials, such as composite or metal. The riser I am currently shooting with is the one I started with 6 years ago. Limbs, however, are less durable and can break after years of usage. Therefore, you probably get more use out of your riser than a set of limbs.

By far the most variance is caused by the archer and not the gear he or she is using. Therefore, it’s very important that you feel confident while you shoot. Some archers on the forum Tradtalk.com mentioned that they, therefore, believe that the riser is more important. Because the riser should fit nicely in your hand.

This is one of the pitfalls when first archers buy a riser. They don’t look at the technical features but focus on how it feels in their hands. All target archery risers have adjustable grips. Therefore, you can completely customize the feel of grip and experiment without having to change between risers. Additionally, the grip on expensive risers doesn’t seem too different to me than inexpensive risers. Making a decent grip is just not that hard.

I am still using the same cheap riser I started with 5 years ago because I am happy with its performance and overall durability

Why I find the limbs more important

Although risers look more complex, limbs are much harder to make. The limb should have the right amount of resistance but should also be durable. The first set of limbs (Core Bamboo) broke four times. I never dryfired or dropped the limbs, but within 6 months they broke. The first set of limbs even broke within the store. Meanwhile, I am still using the Core riser that I bought in that same store.

Another reason why I would invest more in the limbs is that you can genuinely feel the difference between a cheap and an expensive limb. Most more expensive limbs are made from carbon fiber while most cheap limbs are made from wood. If you would compare the two, you will find that the carbon fiber limbs have a much smoother pull.

Another reason to prefer carbon fiber limbs over wooden limbs is the durability. Wood is more likely to break under tension than carbon fiber. In general, a good set of carbon fiber limbs should last a lifetime. The last benefit of carbon fiber limbs is that they have a higher energy return. In other words, your arrows are shot a tiny bit harder. The only negative of carbon limbs is the price. They tend to be quite expensive.

When you see a crack in your limb you should stop shooting immediately because it can be quite dangerous when the limb fully breaks

Some things to consider for the riser

Many archers that are reading this article are probably looking for a new bow. Therefore, I would like to mention the two most important features that many people forget when they buy a riser. You can also read my in-depth article about risers, using the link below:

How to choose the right riser for your bow

Weight of the riser

As we discussed in this article, vibration causes inaccuracy in your shot. Therefore, archers use stabilizers and dampeners to remove vibration from the bow. Another way to remove vibration is to use a heavier riser. Since heavier objects are more reluctant to move, they will vibrate less. Therefore, a heavier riser will transfer less vibration than a lighter riser.

This doesn’t mean that heavier is always better. The heavier riser also requires more muscle power to wield, thus it will tire you out faster. Therefore, you should balance these two evils and consciously decide whether you want a lighter or a heavier riser.

Tuning mechanism

I always recommend archers to learn how they should tune their bow. Some archers always let people in pro-shops tune their bow, but I am not a fan of that. Because every time a locknut goes loose, you have to immediately visit a pro shop.

There are three popular tuning mechanisms, and all have their advantages and disadvantages. Most cheaper risers have a setup that is more difficult to tune. Therefore, highly recommend reading about the different tuning mechanism and decide which one you prefer. I discuss the different tuning mechanisms in more detail in the article below:

How a modern bow limb is tuned

Some things to consider for the limbs

When you decide to buy (new) limbs, there are three main things to consider. I assume that you already figured out what draw weight and limb size you need. If you are still on the fence on these technical details, I would recommend reading my dedicated buying guide on limbs, by clicking the link below:

Buying the right limbs for your bow

How long you intend to use the limbs

The first question you should ask yourself is: ‘’how long will I even use these limbs?’’. Although many archers shoot years with the same riser, the limbs are often exchanged. The biggest reason for it is to change the poundage of the bow.

Especially if you expect to change limbs within one or two years, you might want to consider buying a cheaper option. Starting archers or archers that train a lot, might want to switch to a higher draw weight within the first year. Buying expensive limbs doesn’t make sense in these cases.

You can of course always sell your limbs to other archers if you want to switch. But expensive limbs will always lose more value than cheaper limbs. Buying expensive limbs is, therefore, only really a good idea if you want to shoot one draw weight for at least a few years.

The smoothness of the draw

We already discussed that carbon limbs tend to have a smoother draw than wooden limbs. In general, I think the most important aspect you should consider is the smoothness of the draw. Granted that you choose the right size and draw length.

Some archery brands mention that their bows have the smoothest draw, but I also see a lot of cheap brands claim that. Therefore, I would always try the set of limbs, before you buy it. You can either ask a fellow archer or visit an archery store.

If you are just getting started with archery, you might not feel a difference at all. Even if you would compare a set of high-quality carbon limbs with a cheap set of wooden limbs. It takes years to develop this feel. In those cases, you might as well stay with some cheaper limbs.

Warranties

The last thing you should consider is the warranty on your limbs. Some manufacturers only offer the minimum warranty mandated by your local regulator, but some offer an additional warranty. This is especially popular within traditional archery (because traditional bows are more prone to breaking).

Most expensive target limb manufactures have some sort of warranty. In some cases, you have to register your product first, so make sure that you are informed about the terms of your warranty. Especially when you are buying a set of expensive limbs, good warranty covers can give you peace of mind.

The verdict

So, in general, I would recommend spending more on the limbs than on the riser. Mainly because I see more variation in the quality of the limbs than the riser. But it all comes down to your situation and preference.

Luckily, cheap archery gear is getting better. Therefore, it will not have a big influence on your shooting experience if you decide to buy some cheaper gear. As long as you don’t buy obvious beginner gear (such as wooden riser), I think you will be fine. I discuss the difference between cheap recurve bows and what I deem beginner’s bows in this article I have linked below. Many archers make the mistake of buying a beginner’s bow and have to buy a new bow within a year. Therefore, it is well worth a read:

Are cheap recurve bows any good?

I hope this article was helpful. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below this article. I will respond to your question as soon as possible and send you an e-mail with my reply!

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