Complete Guide to Pedal Kayaks

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 a multitude of reasons; whether you’re a hobby fisherman, thrill-seeking whitewater rider, racer, camper, or recreational river or coastal explorer — kayaks are a 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 and 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 type 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 regular kayaks but there are downsides too. This article will discuss the history of the pedal kayak, the different types of pedal kayaks out there, as well as 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 oars 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 a company named Hobie Kayaks introduced a brand new kayak named the Mirage Drive. The Mirage Drive took foot propulsion technology that was already being utilized in other aquatic devices and watercraft and applied it to kayaks. The pedal kayak was born. 

When this technology was first 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 being used. 

This propulsion technology remained the standard in pedal kayaking for about 10 years, until which time a new company Native Watercraft came up with their own brand new foot propulsion system and used it on their own 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 own 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 very enjoyable and relaxing experience. Becoming one with nature and the open waters is one 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. 

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 over the course of a few fishing trips. 

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. 

This pedaling is also much easier on the body as the legs have a lot more endurance and strength than the arms do. 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 is going to have many advantages over the paddle. When paddling, a person’s hands are completely out of commission for anything other than the paddle motion. 

When the kayak begins to shake or lose balance, it can be quite difficult 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 a multitude of tasks as well as maintain and manage the position of the kayak with both the person’s hands and their feet.

The First Pedal Kayaks

The main advancement in kayaks came in 1997 when a company named Hobie Kayaks introduced a brand new kayak named the Mirage Drive. The Mirage Drive took foot propulsion technology that was already being utilized in other aquatic devices and watercraft and applied it to kayaks. The pedal kayak was born. 

When this technology was first 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 being used. 

This propulsion technology remained the standard in pedal kayaking for about 10 years, until which time a new company Native Watercraft came up with their own brand new foot propulsion system and used it on their own 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 own 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 very enjoyable and relaxing experience. Becoming one with nature and the open waters is one 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. 

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 over the course of a few fishing trips. 

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. 

This pedaling is also much easier on the body as the legs have a lot more endurance and strength than the arms do. 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 is going to have many advantages over the paddle. When paddling, a person’s hands are completely out of commission for anything other than the paddle motion. 

When the kayak begins to shake or lose balance, it can be quite difficult 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 a multitude of tasks as well as maintain and manage the position of the kayak with both the person’s hands and their feet.

Other Considerations

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 that kayak enjoy hearing the soft sounds of the paddle in the water and all the nature around them. A foot pedal propulsion system makes quite a lot 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 normally 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 to owning and fishing in a pedal kayak are worth the price for most enthusiasts, and they are a very good 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 own 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 (sort of 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 turns 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 are being used which is easier on your body than using a few muscles in your ankles and feet. 

Benefits of Pedal Kayaks

Compared to normal kayaks, pedal versions have a number of key benefits over their rowing powered cousins. Here are at least six advantages to using pedal-powered kayaks. 

Speed

Speed is important 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, so to speak. Building momentum is great if you’re a racer too, as you can use that momentum strategically to gain you’re your strength when fatigued. 

Hands-Free

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 easier. 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 easier to use. 

Quieter

Splashing about whilst paddling can be noisy, which sucks if you’re a fisherman, and electric kayaks are even noisier. 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. Whilst 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 the power of a paddle and the arms of those inside the kayak. This was by design. 

Kayaks allowed for a more economical, more environmentally safe, and more 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 being used and some design modifications. The main idea of using hands and oars seemed to not 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 actually 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 that has occurred 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 that are 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 huge boost in power and endurance, as the legs contain far larger and more powerful muscles than the arms. The legs are used to 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 backwards. This also allows the driver to have their hands free for the most part. At some point here and there, hands will be needed to balance the kayak, but aside from that, 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 by the name of 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 their 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 does. When the pedal is rotated, 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 as well as 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 is rotated, the faster the propeller will move, and the faster 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 of course much faster. In fact, even the Mirage fin is faster than this propeller based method. 

The benefits to this technology are mostly 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 faster in case of an emergency. Anglers can also move their boat around as they fish, which just is not possible on a paddle kayak. 

There is no longer any worry about losing an oar due to a huge 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 instead of the arms. 

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 is going to be a much larger investment than a paddle kayak. 

There is also the issue of sound. For those that are 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 to fish or just to enjoy nature, a pedal kayak will certainly increase their level of enjoyment.