What Is a Pedal Kayak?
Kayak fishing and recreational use of kayaks have grown a lot in recent years. It is a far more economical and ecologically safe way to traverse the open waters. It allows the user to get a great workout and improve their health, and it is much cheaper and more affordable than a boat.
Kayaking is a popular water-based hobby all over the U.S. and the world. It’s popular for many reasons; whether you’re a hobby fisherman, thrill-seeking whitewater rider, racer, camper, or recreational river or coastal explorer — kayaks are the number one option for many when experiencing the water masses of the world.
As kayaks have become more and more popular among water sports enthusiasts, kayak technology has become more advanced. Gone are the days when there was simply one type of kayak (paddle kayaks). Paddle kayaks are still around and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but a new kind of kayak is now dominating the scene.
Because there are so many uses for kayaks, the designs have changed over the decades. Now there is a multitude of sizes, shapes, designs, and functional add-ons. It’s hard to choose what’s right for you, but it all boils down to what you need your kayak to do.
One more recent addition to the kayak family is the pedal-powered kayak. This article looks at pedal kayaks compared to other kinds and the advantages of pedal kayaks.
Pedal kayaks are now available as an alternative to regular paddle kayaks. Pedal kayaks offer several advantages over traditional kayaks, but there are downsides too. This article will discuss the history of the pedal kayak, the different types of pedal kayaks out there, and some of the pros and the cons when deciding to choose a pedal kayak over a traditional paddle kayak.
Two Types of Kayak Propulsion
There are so many types of kayaks. Narrow designs are great for racing, and stubby lightweight designs are better for whitewater rapids. But when it comes to propulsion, there are two main types to consider:
- Paddling/rowing — this method uses a paddle to create stability and propulsion in the water. Using a long and wide blade in the water, you push water out of the way to move forward.
- Pedal-powered — this uses the legs and feet instead of the arms and hands to operate mechanisms under the boat to move it forward, similar to traditional fuel/electrically operated boats.
The First Pedal Kayaks
The main advancement in kayaks came in 1997 when Hobie Kayaks introduced a brand new kayak named the Mirage Drive. The Mirage Drive took foot propulsion technology that was already utilized in other aquatic devices and watercraft and applied it to kayaks. The pedal kayak was born.
When this technology was introduced, both kayak fishermen and recreational kayak enthusiasts quickly jumped on board and enjoyed the new method of experiencing kayaking.
This type of kayak utilized foot propulsion technology that caused the fins to move back and forth and sideways when the pedals were used.
This propulsion technology remained the standard in pedal kayaking for about ten years. Until that time, a new company Native Watercraft, came up with their own brand new foot propulsion system and used it on their kayak types, which they called the Propel. The Propel used a type of foot propulsion technology that uses rotational pedals with a propeller.
Since that time, many companies have decided to come out with their pedal drive kayaks, including Old Town with their Predator PDL kayak. Many other brands such as Feelfree Kayaks, Cabela’s Kayaks, Wilderness Systems, and Perception all have foot propulsion kayaks in the works.
Advantages of Foot Propulsion Kayaks
There are many advantages to having a foot propulsion kayak over a traditional paddle-driven kayak. The most striking differences that people will notice are the increased speed and control.
Spending time in a kayak can be a gratifying and relaxing experience. Becoming one with nature and the open waters are some of the main draws for recreational kayak users.
However, not everyone using a kayak is doing it for relaxation. Many people use kayaks for a form of fishing. Paddle kayaks can be very slow, and while fishing does not require a lot of speed, finding the right fishing spot can become quite tedious when moving at very slow speeds repeatedly. In fact, fishing in a pedal kayak is one of our favorite things to do.
A pedal kayak with foot propulsion technology is much faster than a paddle kayak. This saves time and can potentially save an angler a lot of money throughout a few fishing trips. I’m typically a bass fisherman myself, but the bass is located further away from the launching dock. The pedal kayak allows me to reach the fish faster.
The speed of a pedal kayak can also come in handy if some type of emergency should occur when the kayak user is out in the ocean. Instead of having to paddle their way back to shore, they can simply pedal there at a much faster speed.
Outside of an emergency, the speed allows you to plow through weeds and choppy water without much difficulty, as discussed in our post on how to avoid weeds in a pedal kayak.
This pedaling is also much easier on the body as the legs have a lot more endurance and strength than the arms. This will allow a person to pedal faster, harder, and longer than they could do with just a paddle and their arms.
When it comes to ease of control, the pedal kayak will have many advantages over the paddle. When paddling, a person’s hands are entirely out of commission for anything other than the paddle motion.
When the kayak begins to shake or lose balance, it can be quite tricky for the user to drop the paddle and grab hold of the kayak to rebalance it. This is not a problem when using a pedal kayak. Both hands are always free to do tasks. One can maintain and manage the position of the kayak.
As with any technology, there will be downsides, and pedal kayaks are no different. One of the biggest problems with a pedal kayak is that it requires a much bigger space than paddle kayaks.
The pedal system extends down the bottom of the kayak, meaning shallow areas can become dangerous and even damage the kayak when the driver is not careful enough. This damage over time can lead to maintenance issues that simply would not occur with a paddle kayak.
- The cost of purchasing a pedal kayak can be hundreds of dollars more expensive than a simple paddle kayak.
- Sound can also be another downfall of a pedal kayak. Many people enjoy hearing the soft sounds of the paddle in the water and all the nature around them. A foot pedal propulsion system could make a bit more noise than a paddle in the water. However, in some cases, pedal kayaks can be quieter than other available options.
- Space can be considered a downfall of the foot pedal kayak. The free open space that would be available with a paddle kayak is replaced with the foot propulsion system, and this means that a person can carry less on board than they usually would have been able to.
Pedal kayaks have come a long way since their invention, and they continue to become more and more advanced. The advantages of owning and fishing in a pedal kayak are worth the price for most enthusiasts, and they are a perfect way to save the environment and improve upon one’s health at the same time.
Two Types of Pedal Kayaks
Not all pedal kayaks are made the same. There are two basic designs of pedal kayaks, each with their unique modes of operation, with benefits and disadvantages.
Push Pedal Kayaks
Push pedal kayaks operate in a more “biological” way that traditional boats do. They work by pushing your feet down on each pedal, moving your body very little, and utilizing your feet/ankles to pedal. Usually, these types of pedal kayaks use underwater flaps to move the kayak forward (like how fish fins move fish through the water). These aren’t too fast to move but require little space and increase stability.
Rotational Pedal Kayaks
This method of operation is similar to riding a bike. You use your whole legs, feet, and ankles to pedal a bicycle-style mechanism, which in turn drives a propeller beneath the kayak. This requires more cabin space but is faster than a push pedal kayak. You can also pedal for longer because all of the leg muscles used are easier on your body than using a few muscles in your ankles and feet.
Benefits of Pedal Kayaks
Compared to standard kayaks, pedal versions have several key benefits over their rowing powered cousins. Here are at least six advantages to using pedal-powered kayaks.
Speed is essential for some types of kayak. We have big muscles in our legs because they’re used to carrying large amounts of weight regularly and running long distances — it’s how humans evolved. Compared to rowing using our much less powerful arms, leg-powered propulsion provides much more of a kick. Building momentum is excellent if you’re a racer, too, as you can use that momentum strategically to gain you’re your strength when fatigued.
One main reason hobbyists enjoy pedal kayaks is you don’t need to put your equipment down to paddle, meaning if you’re fishing, you can move about much more comfortable. You can use both hands (unless you’re steering) to take photos, eat, or do whatever other activity you need to do.
Not Energy Intensive
As mentioned before, it’s easier to pick up speed with pedal power, but it’s also less strenuous too. You use less energy to move any given distance, especially when using the rotational variant of pedals. Building up more momentum also means you’ll be able to glide for further on the water, so your legs don’t have to do as much work. That makes pedal kayaks more relaxing and more comfortable to use.
Splashing about while paddling can be noisy, which sucks if you’re a fisherman, and electric kayaks are even louder. If you’re sneaking around in your kayak for the perfect fishing catch, the last thing you want to do is spook them with even the slightest water movements at the surface from a fishing kayak with a motor. Pedal-power kayaking makes that easier.
Easier to Use
Paddling isn’t as straightforward as it looks. While it isn’t too difficult to pick up, it requires more concentration and practice. There’s technique involved when maneuvering via paddling that you simply don’t need with a pedal-powered kayak. Pedaling comes much more naturally than using your arms to move.
Again, this makes it much more relaxing. You can simply push yourself out into the water and get moving in any direction with the rudder without having to use complicated moves to orientate yourself.
On top of that, pedal mechanisms make you more stable. Therefore, if you’re worried about leaning around too much when paddling and flipping over, then using a pedal kayak, to begin with, could be a great way to find balance on the water first.
Stop Getting Wet
Another benefit that comes with the increased stability and ease of use is you’re less likely to get wet from the paddling. Big splashes can be a problem when trying to move around and adjust yourself quickly, which isn’t good news if you have valuable equipment on your person (cameras, smartphones, etc.)
The bottom line you have to ask yourself when deciding to get pedal-powered or not is what will the purpose be? Shallow waters and rocky rift riding activities aren’t best suited for pedal-powered, but oceans, slow-moving rivers, and lakes are where it outshines paddling. If you’re a fisherman, especially, then pedal power is the superior option.
Pedal Kayak Propulsion Technologies
Kayaks have generally been considered a very peaceful and beautiful form of aquatic travel. They are used for recreation as well as fishing. For a long time, kayaks were powered only by a paddle and the arms of those inside the kayak. This was by design.
Kayaks allowed for a more economical, more environmentally safe, and physically fit way to fish and enjoy the ocean. There were no loud noises, no horrible smells, just the sounds of the water and the open air. Not many changes occurred to the kayak for a long time, aside from materials used and some design modifications. The main idea of using hands and oars seemed not to be going anywhere.
Recently, however, things for the kayak have changed. The most significant changes have been in the fundamentals of the kayak. How they move has been modified and upgraded. Motors were added to kayaks to make them high speed, but this certainly takes away from the peaceful nature of the kayaking experience.
The most significant advancement to kayaking in the past several years has been the invention of the pedal kayak. The pedal kayak allows for high-speed travel without losing the spirit of what kayaking is all about.
The way that pedal kayaks differ the most from paddle kayaks is in the muscles. Specifically, the muscles used to pedal a kayak are the legs and the feet, while the muscles used to power a paddle kayak are the hands and the arms. This allows for a considerable boost in strength and endurance, as the legs contain far more extensive and more powerful muscles than the arms. The legs transfer force to the fins or the propeller located underneath the craft. The fin or the propeller essentially becomes the oar in this scenario.
This is very similar to the mechanism of pedaling a bike, only on a bike, the force from the legs pushes down. On a pedal kayak, the force is pushed backward. This also allows the driver to have their hands free for the most part. At some point, hands will be necessary to balance the kayak. While the driver is pedaling, their hands can be doing whatever they please.
The two main types of this propeller-based technology are Mirage Drive and Propeller-based.
Mirage Drive Technology
In 1997, a company named Hobie Kayaks created a kayak with their Mirage Drive technology. This technology allowed a kayak user to pedal the kayak with their legs, which caused two identical fins to move forward, backward, and sideways to make the kayak move forward or backward.
Mirage Drive technology remains the same on most kayaks, at least in function. There can be a difference in fin size. The different fin sizes can make the kayak more efficient and faster on the water. It allows the rider to use less energy to create even more force.
Propeller Based Technology
In 2008, Native Watercraft introduced its Propel Drive technology to create an alternative pedal type of kayak to compete with the Mirage Drive.
The propel drive uses rotational pedals that work with a rotating propeller instead of push pedals like the Mirage Drive. When the pedal rotates, the propeller will also rotate.
Because the propeller is underneath the kayak, this rotation causes the kayak to move. This rotation can go in a clockwise motion and a counter-clockwise motion, and thus, the kayak can easily be moved forward and backward by doing this.
Because the propeller is small, it is not difficult to rotate it through pedaling. The harder and faster the pedal turns, the faster the propeller will move, and the quicker the kayak will go.
This is quite an efficient method, as it is the same method used in a motorized kayak; however, motorized kayaks are much faster. Even the Mirage fin is faster than this propeller based approach.
The benefits to this technology are: the speed at which the kayak can travel and the efficiency of energy expended to get the kayak where it is going. This allows anglers to get to their fishing holes much faster and not waste so much of their fishing time traveling, and it also allows people to get back to shore much quicker in case of an emergency. Anglers can move their boat around as they fish, which is not possible on a paddle kayak.
There is no longer any worry about losing an oar due to a massive wave or an accidental capsizing. Hands are free to balance the kayak at all times, and much less energy is expended due to the utilization of the leg muscles.
How to buy a kayak that suits you?
The cons to a pedal kayak is mainly the cost compared to a basic kayak. A pedal kayak will cost significantly more than a paddle kayak. The cost of purchasing and maintaining a pedal kayak will be a much larger investment than a paddle kayak.
There is also the issue of sound. For purists and enjoy the sound of nature and water, a pedal kayak can disrupt from that due to the noise caused by the pedal drive system. There is also the issue of clearance. A paddle kayak can be placed on even shallow waters, while a pedal kayak needs some space for the propeller system at the bottom. This can also get damaged by rocks and other underwater objects if the driver is not careful.
Pedal kayaks are by far the most creative and significant change to happen to kayaks since their invention. Both the Mirage Drive and the Propel Drive offer kayak users hands-free use and increased speed and efficiency. Whether a person is using their kayak for fishing or savoring nature, a pedal kayak will undoubtedly increase their level of enjoyment.
Read our Ultimate Buying Guide to Pedal Kayaks for details on which specific kayak we recommend for you.
See you on the water!