Pedal Driven Kayaks In The Real World
This article examines pedal drive propulsion for common (mono hull, sit-in and SOT) kayaks from several technical angles, which are:
- Ergonomics – How does it feel to operate a pedal driven kayak, and what are the potential physiological drawbacks in this type of propulsion.
- Mechanics -How efficient are pedal drives’ pedaling systems.
- Hydrodynamics -How efficient are pedal drives’ propellers, and how effective is pedaling kayaks compared to paddling them.
- Real World Performance – How effective are pedal driven kayaks in applications such as fishing trips, stand up fishing, fishing in moving water, fishing in shallow water, launching, beaching, etc.
We’ve shown the Wavewalk kayaks paddled both with double-blade (‘kayak’) paddles and in the canoeing (single blade) style, rowed, and poled, as well as sailed, and motorized with electric motors, outboard gas engines, an air-jet motor, and mud motors (surface drives). And since we’re interested in showing our kayaks propelled by different means, we also tested pedal drives.
This article does not compare the performance of sit-in and SOT kayaks, whether paddled or pedaled, with the performance of Wavewalk kayaks.
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A kayak outfitted with a motor is safer, more reliable, and more convenient than a kayak that’s powered solely by its user’s limbs
Introduction – About Pedal Drives for Kayak Propulsion
Pedal propulsion for small watercraft has been in use since the 19th century, and it’s still commonly found in small recreational boats, often in a combination of rotating pedals with paddle wheel type propellers. Other types of pedal driven propulsion systems for small craft include rotating propellers, hydraulic pumps, sideways moving flaps, add-on systems, and more. Interestingly, the world speed record for a human powered watercraft is held by a catamaran equipped with a rotational air propeller activated by the user’s legs.
Present Days Pedal driven Kayaks
Currently, there are seven manufacturers offering pedal driven kayaks. Six of them, including four that joined the pedal driven kayak market recently (in the U.S. and Australia), offer pedal drives featuring a combination of rotational pedals with a rotational propeller. One manufacturer offers a drive featuring push pedals combined with flaps moving from side to side, in a back and forth motion. This article refers to the latter simply as ‘flaps’.
All five kayak pedal drives are fixed, which means they provide propulsion without steering, and therefore, the kayak operator is required to track and turn using a hand activated rudder.
All five pedal drive systems feature pedals located in proximity to each other, along the kayak’s center line, and at a higher point than the kayak seat. In order to activate the pedals in all five, kayakers have to relocate their feet away from the low footrests situated on both sides of the hull.
Part 1. Pedaling Kayaks’ Ergonomics –
How Does It Feel To Operate a Pedal Driven Kayak?
The first and main argument in favor of pedaling kayaks instead of paddling them, is that our legs are far more powerful than our arms are, and therefore it makes more sense to use our legs for difficult tasks such as propulsion, rather than using our arms.
While being generally true, this argument is not necessarily applicable to the propulsion of kayaks. This is because although our legs have the biggest and most powerful muscles in our body, and are best fit for hard, long lasting efforts, using them for propelling any vehicle must be done under certain conditions, which are dictated by our own built, and ability to endure certain types of effort –
Limbs that have bigger muscles are comparable to engines with bigger cylinders – They can burn more fuel, and thus generate more power. The legs of a kayaker pedaling their pedal driven kayak generate considerable force, and this force is transmitted from their body to their kayak through three points:
1. The kayaker’s two feet, which the kayaker’s legs push forward, against the pedals, and –
2. The kayaker’s lumbar spine and lower back, that the legs push backward, compressing them against the backrest of the kayak’s seat, so as to provide support for the legs’ pushing effort in the opposite direction.
The force each leg applies on a pedal when pushing it is equal to the force the leg applies on the kayaker’s lower back, and this creates a big ergonomic problem.
Pedaling in the L position (recumbent) is essentially different from pedaling in the upright position (e.g. biking). The difference being that in biking, our legs push against our own body weight, and its that weight which supports the legs’ downward push against the pedals, and allows them to move. Recumbent bicycles have been known to exist since the 19th century, but upright (riding) bicycles outnumber them at a ratio of more than a thousand to one, simply because recumbent bikes are harder to use, meaning that they present serious ergonomic issues that upright bikes don’t.
Pedaling common kayaks is done in the L position, which is similar to the recumbent position. The L position is kayaks is known to cause a variety of back problems starting from premature fatigue, acute pain known as yak-back, and other problems including one known as yak-ass, circulation problems in the legs. In extreme cases it may even lead to a painful, chronic condition called sciatica, caused by the vertebrae in our spine compressing the sciatic nerve, which is the largest group of nerves in our body.
These problems are accentuated by the fact that the driver of a pedal propelled kayak cannot switch positions. This means that the above mentioned symptoms tend to occur shortly after the kayaker starts pedaling, and their severity can increase rapidly.
That is to say that if paddling a kayak in the L position is highly problematic from an ergonomic standpoint, pedaling a kayak in that position is notably worse.
Kayak Pedaling vs. Kayak Paddling – What the Difference Feels Like
So far, this article discussed the issues of power generating, how this power is used to propel the kayak forward, and what the pedaling kayaker feels in their back and legs. But operating a kayak does not involve just propulsion – it is more complex and demanding than that:
Stability and Control
First of all, a kayak being such a small and inherently unstable craft demands that the person who operates it take care of balancing and controlling it actively, using their own body for this purpose.
It is important to remember that while pedal drives may be used solely for propulsion , paddles are useful for propelling as well as balancing the kayak. This is particularly difficult for kayak pedal drivers, since they are required to move their feet away from the footrests, located low and on the kayak’s sides, and place their feet on the pedals, located higher, and on the kayak’s center line. This repositioning of one’s feet severely reduces their ability to control and balance the kayak, and for this reason pedal kayak drivers are often seen holding the sides of the kayaks while pedaling them – By holding the kayak’s sides with their hands in such a way, they try to compensate for the loss in balancing capability as a result of their repositioning their feet to a less stable position, and no longer being able to use them for either balancing or control.
Tracking and Turning – Directional Control
Since the operators of pedal driven kayaks feel less stable than paddlers do, pedal driven kayaks must be made wider than average kayaks. Aside from the fact that such excessive width slows down the kayak, it also makes it track very poorly, thus presenting yet another challenge to its operators, especially in adverse conditions such as wind and current that are often present in real life.
Here again, pedal drives provide propulsion without contributing to the kayaker’s ability to steer their kayak. In contrast, a paddle provides its user with effective means for controlling both tracking and turning, while propelling the kayak at the same time.
A person operating a pedal driven kayak is compelled to steer by operating a hand activated rudder, a fact which presents a number of problems:
To begin with, rudders aren’t easy to use, and demand constant attention, and while paddled kayaks can be steered with a foot activated rudder, pedal driven kayaks must be steered with hand activated rudders.
Second, rudders slow down the kayak by 10% in average, making it harder to maintain good speed.
Third, when going in shallow water, rudders are prone to get stuck in underwater obstacles and scrape the bottom, as well as harvest seaweed that’s difficult to get rid of before the kayak is beached.
In sum, pedal drives present balancing, control, and steering problems that are better solved in paddled kayaks.
Push Pedals vs. Rotational Pedals – What Difference Does it Make for the User?
Pushing a pedal forward with your foot across a small distance is a very limited movement, far different in its range of motion from a full step you take when you walk. Performing such a limited movement repeatedly, and while using your legs’ full power is bound to result in unwanted physiological side effects. Such effects include early local fatigue, foot and leg cramps, as well as stress injuries in the muscles, tendons, and joints of your legs and feet that are directly involved in this extremely restricted, powerful and repetitive motion.
In comparison, rotating a pedal is a more complex, and therefore fuller movement of your legs and foot, which is more comparable to making a step while walking, and therefore it is less stressful for your legs and feet, and has fewer unwanted side effects than activating a push pedal does.
Part 2. The Mechanics of Kayak Pedal Drives –
Comparing the Efficiency of Rotating Pedals and Push Pedals
Any motor, or drive should be as efficient as possible, meaning that it should lose as little energy as possible. This is particularly important in human propelled systems, because the human body is capable of generating so little power in a sustained manner. In fact, the number commonly used for the sustained power output of an average individual is 0.25 horsepower (HP) – far less than the power of a small motorized lawnmower, or the electric garbage disposer in your home.
So How do Kayak Push Pedal Drives Compare to Rotating Pedal Drives?
When you turn the pedals of a rotational drive, you generate uninterrupted motion, which means that all kinetic energy you’ve generated (momentum) is preserved, and not lost. Simply put, your pedals are an efficient means for transmitting all the power that your body generates to the propeller, at a minimal loss in energy terms.
In contrast, when you push the pedal of a kayak’s pedal drive, and stop at the end of the push motion, you lose all the kinetic energy that you’ve created while accelerating the pedal. This means that the next time you push a pedal, you’d have to accelerate, and pay a high price in energy terms, since accelerating is difficult. Such total loss of all kinetic energy is repeated each time you activate a push pedal. One can hardly imagine a less efficient system, or one that wastes more of the driver’s energy, without achieving anything more than a rotational pedal system does.
Part 3. Hydrodynamic Performance of Kayak Rotating Propellers vs. Flapping Propellers
A boat’s propeller is the drive’s part that comes in contact with the water, and transmits the power created on board to this element, in order to make the boat advance through it. For example, the blade is the paddle’s propeller.
Most motorboats are equipped with rotational propellers whose axis of rotation is parallel to the boat’s direction of movement, although few still feature paddle wheel style propellers whose axis of rotation is perpendicular the boat’s direction of movement.
The motion of a rotating propeller in continuous, and therefore such propeller wastes little kinetic energy.
In contrast, stopping and accelerating a propeller makes it lose momentum, and demand that extra power be spent on accelerating it. Such loss is precisely what occurs when the flaps of the kayak flap-type drive move from side to side in the water, and stop each time to change direction and go back. It’s hard to imagine a less efficient propeller, especially since abrupt change of direction (back and forth) generates vortices in the water that further reduce the propeller’s efficiency.
In sum, a kayak pedal drive combining push pedals with side-to-side moving flaps is the least ergonomic, least mechanically efficient, and least efficient solution from a hydrodynamic standpoint.
Simply put, activating such drive for human powered propulsion is tiresome and wasteful, and does not seem to serve well the purpose of recreational boating and fishing. It seems however, that it such exercise may be effective for burning extra calories in a shorter time, for those who are willing to bear the discomfort associated with it.
Pedal driven kayaks use the power produced by the driver’s legs, and their manufacturers claim that this fact makes them faster. But does it really?
Let’s examine the facts:
1. Pedal driven kayaks are less stable than comparable, paddled kayaks. Because of this fact, pedal driven kayaks must be made wider than comparable paddled kayaks, and this extra width makes them slower, as it exponentially increases the residual resistance (Rr) of the water they move through, as a function of their speed.
2. Pedal driven kayaks must feature a rudder, unlike paddled kayaks that can be steered without such accessory, to some extent. A rudder increases frictional resistance of the water, and decrease the kayak’s speed by 1o% in average compared to the speed of the same kayak without a rudder.
3. Pedal driven kayak’s additional width also makes them heavier, and considering the fact that they the drive itself adds extra weight, as well as the rudder, no wonder that pedal driven kayaks form the world’s heaviest class of kayaks. Such heavy kayaks are slower, and harder to propel than other kayaks are.
3. Hull speed is a number related to the hull’s length. The longer the hull, the higher its hull speed number. Practically speaking, when a kayak attains its hull speed, it becomes very difficult to further increase its speed, unless a disproportional amount of energy is used for this purpose, and the big majority of people simply don’t have such stamina. Being essentially recreational kayaks, pedal driven kayaks are not as long as sea kayaks and racing kayaks are, and do not possess the characteristics of catamarans’ ultra-thin hulls. In other words, they are slow.
4. Length to Beam (L/B) – The Form of a Kayak as a Function of the Application it’s Designed to Serve: All pedal driven kayaks are ‘chubby’, meaning that the ratio of their length to width (Length to Beam, or L/B) is too low to be considered as efficient in speed terms. Such kayaks are also heavier than other, comparable kayaks that propelled with paddles.
In sum, pedal driven kayaks are by definition recreational kayaks, used for recreational touring and fishing, and never for professional racing. Therefore, attempting to drive such kayak at high speed, especially if it’s equipped with inefficient push pedals and flaps, is an exercise in futility for the greater majority of people. Such exercise is likely to end shortly after it began, with the average kayaker experiencing cramped legs, back pain, and a sore butt.
Part 4. Real World Performance
Recreational and fishing kayaks, including pedal driven ones, are operated outdoors, in the real world, which is very demanding in many aspects, especially if you’re a regular user, in average physical shape, or below it, as the great majority of people are.
Getting to The Water, and Back From it – Transportation
The begin with, pedal driven kayaks are particularly heavy – heavier than any type of kayak. This is because they must be made wider than comparable, paddled kayaks, in order to compensate the driver for the loss of stability resulting from their feet being in a different position. On top of this, all pedal driven kayaks feature a rudder as well as the pedal drive itself, and those add to the kayak’s excessive weight. Being so heavy, some of these kayaks’ require their owners give up the idea of car topping them, and use a trailer instead, which altogether defies the purpose of using a kayak, which is essentially cartop boat.
As far as carrying goes, that is transporting the kayak from the car to the water, and later back from the water to the car, being heavier than other kayaks makes pedal driven kayaks more difficult to carry, and in some case s they may even turn out to be impossible to carry.
Kayak Mobility, or Lack Thereof
Whether you paddle for fun, or to get to places where you want to fish, your kayak should enable you to launch where you want, go where you want, and beach where you want. The kayak’s capacity of doing so is measured in Mobility terms.
Launching and Beaching Your Kayak
As far as launching and beaching are concerned, the performance of pedal driven kayaks is similar to that of other monohull kayaks, be they sit-in or sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks. This is due the the ability to removed the drive from its mount before launching, or beaching, but it also implies that the kayaker must carry a secondary means of propulsion on board, that is a paddle, which is says something about the overall reliability of pedal drives as means of propulsion.
Kayaking and Fishing in Shallow Water and Vegetation-Rich Water
A kayak should enable you to go where you want, as much as possible. In this sense, pedal driven kayaks are considerably inferior to paddled kayaks, because they’re not suitable for going in shallow water, or water where vegetation is to be found, or in moving water.
Shallow water and water with lots of aquatic vegetation are among anglers’ favorite fishing areas. Since both rotational and flap propellers tend to harvest seaweed and bump into underwater objects, or the bottom, kayak anglers who own pedal driven kayaks need to remove the drive when reaching shallow or vegetation-rich waters, and they have to keep progressing using the paddle they must keep on board, or walking in the water. During that time, they keep the pedal drive on board – yet another large size object in a small, already cluttered and rather dysfunctional space.
In other words, kayaks for fishing in shallow or vegetation-rich waters, pedal driven kayaks under perform regular sit-in and SOT kayaks across the board.
Kayaking and Kayak Fishing in Moving Water
Currently, pedal driven kayaks feature two types of hull – a traditional SOT hull, which is essentially a paddle board, and a hybrid kayak and canoe hull, which is essentially a canoe hull, less most of the freeboard offered by regular canoe hulls. The latter is perfectly useless in moving water, since its lack of minimal freeboard makes it easily fill with water, even from eddies. Contrarily to what some people believe, the SOT hull isn’t self bailing – only the SOT deck is. The SOT features scupper holes that drain water down from its deck, which gets frequently covered with water, as such kayaks feature too little freeboard as well. Although SOT kayaks can go in moving water, pedal driven ones are more restricted in doing so than paddled ones, because recumbent pedaling is basically a less stable means of propulsion than paddling. This is the result of the repositioned feet from the footrests to the pedals, and thus denying them any role in balancing and control.
Needless to add that the combination of moving water and shallow water, such as found in streams, presents an impossibility to pedal driven kayaks.
In sum, pedal driven kayaks are less fit than paddled kayaks are for going in aquatic environments that both recreational paddlers and anglers favor. In other words they offer a considerably reduced Mobility.
Fishability – The Kayak’s Performance As a Fishing Craft
Proponents of pedal driven kayaks advance the the notion of ‘Hands Free Kayaking’ as their principal argument in favor of using those kayaks for fishing. Basically, the idea is that an angler pedaling their pedal driven kayak can fish at the same time, and manufacturers of such kayaks have been able to produce demo movies showing how it’s supposed to be done. Remember – we’re talking here about fishing, and not trolling, which can be done from any kayak.
The problem with this notion of ‘Hands Free Kayaking’ while fishing is that it’s a falsehood, because of the following reasons that pertain to pedaling kayaks, as well as to fishing.
1. In normal circumstances, there is no way you can pedal a kayak and go where you want, unless you use a hand operated rudder for steering and tracking. This leaves you with only one hand free, and because pedaling a kayak feels inherently unstable, you’re likely to need this second hand to grab the kayak deck on the side of your seat, or at least lean on it.
2. Fishing with a rod requires the use of both hands.
That is of course unless you’re trolling, in which case you can hook fish without using your hands, just by by sticking your fishing poles in your kayak’s rod holders, and going forward either in a paddle driven or pedal driven kayak.
Reverse Mode and Turning in Place
A paddle is a highly versatile tool, enabling its user to go forward, steer, and balance their kayak, as well as going backward, and rotate the kayak, to some extent. Steering and going backward are essential to being able to position and control the kayak when you fish a spot, or an area. Pedal drives offer steering through the use of a hand activated rudder, and they have a reverse mode, but steering these vessels is limited in comparison to steering with a paddle, because neither the pedal drive nor the rudder can generate a rotational motion.
Stand Up Kayak Fishing
Pedaling a kayak is less stable than paddling it, which is why pedal driven kayaks need to be wider and stabler than comparable kayaks. That extra width, which results in extra weight and less speed, is used by pedal driven kayaks manufacturers to suggest that their products are fit to fish standing on. But they’re not – assuming you manage to get up from your seat, and stand on top of a board, or a kayak, or a SOT kayak, which is essentially a paddle board. You’re good for as long as there’s absolutely nothing that can destabilize you, but assuming you’re out there, in the real world, there will always be something that will make you loose your balance – guaranteed. It could be a fish jumping in the water behind you that makes you turn your head, or a wake sent your way from a distant motorboat, a sudden gust of wind, or even a fish pulling on your line – anything can, and will eventually cause you to lose your balance, simply because you’re standing on a small, unstable platform. When you stand on top of a SOT, hybrid, or sit-in kayak, there is no Plan B available or such cases, and you’ll go swimming, as will your fishing gear.
This is by all means and for all purpose an accident, and this is why pedal driven kayaks are not suitable for stand up fishing.
This article reveals the discrepancies between the image of pedal driven kayaks as easy to use, fast, offering hands free kayaking and stand up fishing, and the reality of their being uncomfortable, clumsy, heavy, hard to operate, and rather dysfunctional as far as Mobility is concerned.
Interestingly, the newer type of drive featuring push pedals and sideways moving flaps turns out to be less ergonomic, as well as less efficient in mechanical and hydrodynamic terms than the older drive featuring rotational pedals and a rotational propeller.
This article focuses on the difference between two modes of propulsion: paddle and pedal, in common kayaks featuring similar, conventional hull type, that is mono hull kayaks. In order to keep things simple and clear, we chose to focus solely on the difference in propulsion modes for kayaks, and avoided introducing additional fundamental differences such as hull type (mono hull vs. twin hull).
It is important for the reader to remember that when compared with mono hull sit-in and SOT kayaks, Wavewalk’s patented twin hull W kayaks offer superior performance in paddling as well as in fishing, in all these dimensions and parameters:
Stability, Ergonomics, Biomechanics, Comfort, Protection From the Elements, Storage Space, Ease of Launching, Ease of Beaching, Mobility, Ease of Steering, Ease of Tracking, Ease of Paddling in strong Wind, Versatility, Casting, Fishability, Stand Up Paddling, Stand Up Fishing, Speed, and more. The readers are welcome to learn more about these advantages offered by W kayaks, through technical articles, demo movies, and customer reviews on the Wavewalk Kayaks website.
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83 thoughts on “Pedal Drive Kayak vs. Kayaking”
From reading this article, it’s quite obvious that recumbent pedaling is problematic, so I can’t see Wavewalk offering such a thing.
I guess you do not like peddle drive kayaks Some of you comments are simply not true.
“I guess you do not like peddle drive kayaks Some of you comments are simply not true.”
Hey Ron, you got me curious. I would have expected that after making such a strong statement you’d point to at least one comment that you disagree with, sort of fire your best shot to make a counterpoint 😀
Very interesting read.
I myself have been in a pedal drive yak…………………but not for long…………….
The position just about killed me, I was so uncomfortable in a very short time.
With A bad back and legs, someone get me my wave walker please. 🙂
Tight lines and Paddle safe all.
All you have to do is sit in one of those pedal drive kayaks for twenty minutes, and see how it feels… That should be enough to cure you from any thought about getting one for yourself.
Having ridden bicycles for most of my 61 years of age I know a little about the most efficient leg stroke when riding, i.e. getting the most power out of each leg movement. To obtain the most powerful leg stroke on a bicycle one must be able to adjust the seat so that for the rider in question, his leg is just short of fully extended at the bottom of each stroke. You don’t let the leg go completely extended as this causes the knee to snap straight and can damage the knee. In a kayak, if you can not adjust the sitting position likewise to take advantage of the full power stroke of the leg, the peddling is going to be very inefficient. IN paddling the same thing is accomplished by being able to lean into the power stroke in a W500 vs the awkward arms doing most of the work in a standard kayak. Back and shoulder muscles are stronger than arm muscles. The more one can work the long muscles of the body on each stroke the more efficient one will be in using his body for propulsion.
Pedaling a bike in the riding position is different from pedaling a kayak in the L position.
The first is most efficient and ergonomic, and the second is neither.
You talk about pedaling, What about glide? After all propellers flaps etc. drag!
Thanks Carl, you’re absolutely right 🙂
Excellent stuff Yoav! I found that pedal propulsion offers little or nothing to me in the way I fly fish, often in water too shallow to allow for the propeller or flap drives in such craft to be of any use. The W 500 offers such efficient and effortless travel throughout all the water I fish, and continues to reveal more versatility and fishability with every launching. The rigging for the W I have devised and tweaked works better than anything I have seen for flyfishing from a kayak. Still impressed after all this time, as has been everyone who sees it!
I hope you keep helping all your fellow kayak fly anglers see the light 😀
I’m not saying anything in this article is false, but maybe some things are not that important… After all, [the company that makes flap and pedal drives] has been successful with their product.
Do you mean to say that “you don’t argue with success”?…
Well, cigarette manufacturers used to be even more successful, as you know, and for very long years, unfortunately…
There seem to be no limit to what clever marketing and deep pockets can achieve in terms of sales, branding, awareness, and the like.
As for paddling and fishing magazines, they depend on advertisers’ dollars, so they won’t bother telling the truth to the public. It looks to me that some of the editors of those magazines may be too ignorant, or dumb to understand the technical parts of such an article.
There are mountain bikes and cross country bikes, but I’ve never heard of people using recumbent bikes for rough terrain… That would be something interesting to watch though.
The stability of pedal drive kayaks leaves much to be desired, especially in choppy waters.
W_kayak, I found your article very informative…but the reviews were so discouraging for my particular situation. I’m hoping you and the other readers could give me some advice.
My dream for more than 20 years was to live on a lake or river after retirement so I could kayak daily if I wanted (work and family obligations prevented much kayaking until then).
Two years ago, my car was T-boned by a driver who didn’t realize she was approaching the intersection I had just entering. The impact from the crash tore my Supraspinatus muscle cleanly off its tendon and then almost severed the Infraspinatus muscle as well. What all that means is that I cannot raise my left arm much higher than my chest; I can’t extend my left hand straight out in front of me; and I can’t turn my left arm to the outside very far at all.
And what all that means is that I can’t paddle a kayak–at least not in any traditional fashion. I’m still involved in a lawsuit with the person who hit me, and her attorney countered that particular dream loss by saying that I could kayak in a pedal kayak. I’d never heard of one prior to that and until I read this article and remarks, I thought it could work. I just turned 61, so it sounds like injury combined with age combined with not being in shape physically means that a pedal kayak really is not an option.
So, since all of you already kayak and sound like you really know what you’re talking about, can you think of any other way I can be independently on the water as quietly as possible–I don’t want a motorboat? In our kayaking classes, my husband and I were successful at white water kayaking, but didn’t like it at all. I love the peace of gentle river or lake kayaking. And I love being in my own kayak so I can head over to the bank to see a flower up close or to stop and watch the fish swim beneath my kayak whenever I choose. I loved listening to the sound of the water and the breezes rustling through the trees and bank plants.
Thank you so much for any suggestions you can send my way!
I’m sorry to hear about your accident, and the physical disability you’ve been suffering from as a result.
Personally, I find that lawyer’s claim about the interchangeability of paddling and pedaling to be rather annoying, and based on little understanding in both paddling and pedaling.
But lawyers will be lawyers 😉
You could try renting a pedal driven kayak, and see how you feel after an hour of pedaling it…
Have you thought about using a W500 outfitted with an electric trolling motor?
Electric motors are as quiet as a paddle, and although motorized kayaks are not as lightweight and mobile as paddled kayaks (seaweed, shallow water, etc.), they could offer some kind of solution for you.
If you’re into watching and photographing wildlife, you’ll be able to stand up and observe things from a different angle, as a bonus.
WOW! Thanks for referring me to a great page W_kayak ! No, I hadn’t considered that option, but I’ll sure check Wavewalks out in person! I must admit that I’m a bit concerned about the seat—looks a bit hard on the tailbone. I wonder why they didn’t make the grooves go from top to bottom instead of side to side? In the top to bottom configuration, a person with a touchy tailbone could rest their tailbone over the groove to take pressure off of it. But now that I’ve typed that, I’m guess that the side-to-side configuration must be useful for drainage?
I didn’t think to check out any fishing kayaks because I don’t fish (although maybe someday).
When I was younger I didn’t think much of sun exposure but now that I’m older, it’s something to consider and since I really hate sunscreen, shades or screens could greatly reduce the amount I’d need to apply.
One thing the page you recommended showed me was that the Wavewalk folks are really, REALLY inventive and talented! And wonderful about sharing their knowledge with others.
I was really impressed with Brian Vickery’s designs, especially his outriggers!
And I liked Roxanne Davis’ too.
I’m still reading the articles put up by other folks.
Thank you so very much for your prompt reply! I’m still a ways away from purchasing anything—hopefully by this coming spring or summer. Your input was more encouraging than you can imagine.
I’m glad you find this blog useful 🙂
After you start reading reviews contributed by W kayakers, you’ll find that most of them share a unique theme: W kayaks are comfortable for people to be in for long hours. This is true even for people who suffer from severe back problems that prevent them from using other kayaks, as some of the reviews describe –
Unlike any other kayak seat, the W saddle enables the user’s legs, including their thighs, to support a great part their body’s weight, and thus relief unnatural pressure from their lumbar spine and buttocks, as well as from their coccyx (tailbone) .
If you want to better understand how riding the W saddle feels, simply think “riding a pony” but your feet are resting on the bottom of the kayak hulls instead of being in stirrups. Similarly, you can imagine riding an All-Terrain-Vehicle (ATV).
This also explains while very few W kayakers use a backrest in their W kayaks – Their back doesn’t need horizontal support, since it is naturally supported vertically, by their legs.
Most W kayakers, including elderly and/or heavy ones, don’t bother to cushion their W kayak saddle, because they find it perfectly comfortable, even for long trips. Some add a thin foam mattress ($5.99 at Wal-Mart…). If you like the feeling of a boat seat, you’ll find it very easy to attach a kayak seat, canoe seat, or stadium seat on top of the W saddle, but hardly no one does it.
You can even install a plastic chair, or lawn chair in the W500 cockpit.
As for the big outriggers that Brian created, he needed them mainly for sailing, as he outfitted his W500 with a sophisticated and powerful sailing rig including two sails. There’s no need to attach any outriggers to a W500 for standard paddling, fishing and motorized trolling applications.
In fact, some people can sail the W500 without outriggers – even standing up:
And last but not least: Wavewalk offers both fishing and touring kayaks. Again, if you read reviews contributed by our clients, you’ll find that quite a few of them don’t fish at all, and in fact some of them had to switch to paddling W kayaks after they had realized that paddling traditional touring kayaks was no longer an option for them, because of serious ergonomic problems.
Wow, again I’m impressed! The Wavewalk keeps looking better and better! I’ve saved your email (and one from myself with the link to the WaveWalk blog area) so I don’t lose the contact information.
When spring gets close, I’ll really research which craft would be best for me. I live in California very close to what we call The Delta. I’m guessing that you already know where that is and all the waterways it encompasses.
Unfortunately, the odds of me getting to your East coast dealers are pretty slim, but when the time comes, maybe I could meet with some of the California owners for ideas.
Again, thanks so much for your time and your help!
Your argument on Push Pedals vs. Rotational Pedals is very sound, and I appreciate the kinesthetic background on explaining the different ailments. But from an economic standpoint which one is cheaper?
I don’t know which type of pedal drive is cheaper to manufacture. I guess it’s a question you’d have to ask the companies who make such drives, and incorporate them in their kayaks.
As far as the user is concerned, some things are priceless, and I’m pretty sure you’d agree that being free from back pain falls in this category 😀
With their rudders and pedal drives these [brand name] yaks are too heavy to be car topped. Most people need a trailer for them, which defies the main purpose of kayak fishing, and kayaking. For that price, you can get the best canoe that money can buy, and a motor, or even a basic Jon Boat.
I don’t buy the “Exercise” argument, because exercise should be healthy and not break your back. imo.
When you’re pedaling a [brand name push pedal kayak] it may seem to you that you’re going fast, but it’s more because paddling that thing is such a barge to paddle.
The only thing that I got from your post is that you hate pedal driven kayaks… You just try to make broad sweeping comparisons of all setups…
In conclusion: This article was written by pedal kayak haters.
“broad sweeping comparisons”… ?!
This is article is the longest and most detailed technical article ever written on pedal driven kayaks, and it represents a serious effort to cover all aspects relevant to the subject.
Insightful and intelligent comments are always welcome.
PS– I hope you don’t mind the fact we edited out of your comment the improper language you included in it 🙂
I found this article to be too detailed and technical for my liking. Kayaking and fishing are about fun, if you ask me, and having to read elaborate technical stuff gives me a headache, although I appreciate the effort done to deal with the facts with a scientific approach.
You don’t have to take my advice but if I were in your place, I’d come up with a skinny, “Light” version of this thing.
It’s a great read if you’re an engineer or designer, but what most people care to know is just a list of pros and cons.
What most people seem to miss in this paddle vs pedal debate is that fact that a pedal provides the operator with means for both propelling, steering, controlling and often even balancing their kayak. All are done intuitively, with minimal effort, and at the same time, according to need.
Pedal drives offer just propulsion, and in the case of the [push pedal drive kayak], only forward propulsion. This means that the pedal drive operator must perform all other functions offered by the paddle by other means, with less efficiency and at a price of a bigger physical effort.
What’s a “pedal kayak hater”?
I am very familiar with the art of peddling a bicycle, and have found over the short time I’ve had opportunity, that a recumbent position offered amazing comfort advantage over the upright position. The position was so efficient for movement that when a new recumbent bike was introduced at the turn of the last century (yes, that long ago!), it cleaned up in every race it was entered, and the cycling committee present at the time made stringent rules banning recumbent bikes from competition! I find your adversarial position on this topic confusing in that the form- factor of your w-kayak seems to scream for a leg powered, recumbent version! I can’t imagine covering the ground on a bicycle powered by hand power that I have easily covered on a leg powered bicycle! Your kayak has space down in the holds for a drive unit to exist which would address many of the ergonomic problems existing in other pedal powered craft! Instead of embracing the idea, you seem to be emphasizing that no-one should ever even consider it… If one of your w-yak owners were to hand-rig their own version of a leg power drive that was much more comfortable and efficient than existing leg drive units (that have you sitting in an L position that’s awkward at best,) if they improved on this, would you be so quick to speak out against it? An average person’s legs are at least double the strength of their arms, heck, don’t we walk around on them all day, even climb stairs? I’ve heard of people walking on their hands all day, but I have yet to see this circus act personally… your legs can coast along in idle mode where your arms have to be working hard to achieve the same results.
Also: I once heard that, of the energy put into a paddle stroke, only about 20% goes toward forward motion, 80% is wasted in bracing on hand against the other, against the torso, and in the steering stroke. A bent shaft paddle gets both hands involved in forward thrust, this is about the best a paddle can do. A simple prop or flipper type drive has a greater efficiency than that, while making use of the most efficient muscles our bodies have to offer… I’ve been waiting to see you develop a leg power drive for your kayaks, and was a bit taken aback by your apparent position on the topic. You improved on the kayak, why not improve on the leg power drive? Or at least be open to the idea. The paddle is still required for bracing in wave situations, but out on flat water, you can’t beat trolling around silently with your hands freed up for working reel and rod, or a camera, in my case… Yeah, you can just go out and get an electric drive, or maybe some noisy, polluting gasoline motor… now you’ve got batteries and such, oh well.
For every person like yourself, who happens to find a recumbent bike to be comfortable, there are thousands of people who prefer biking in the standard (a.k.a. ‘safety’) bikes. Recumbent bikes have had over 100 years to compete with upright bikes, and they lost, big time.
Among other things, recumbent bikes are useless on rough roads and difficult terrain, and similarly, recumbent pedal driven kayaks are ineffective unless you use them on perfectly calm flat water that also happens to be deep enough. Pedal driven kayaks could be nice in an ideal world, but they are not practical enough in the real world, where most of us fish and paddle.
Our legs are more powerful than our arms, obviously, and this article already mentions this fact, and also explains in detail why this fact alone is not sufficient to make pedal drives better than paddles as means for propelling kayaks – unlike what pedal drive kayak manufacturers would like us to believe.
I like the idea of pedaling small watercraft, and by the way, I like water bikes, or at least those who are similar to upright bikes, and much different from pedal kayaks. However, I’m also aware of the serious limitations and problems associated with pedaling kayaks, and this article talks specifically about them.
What you heard about the efficiency of paddling may have referred to traditional kayak paddling (a.k.a. ‘kayaking’), which is less efficient than paddling a W kayak.
Pedaling a kayak is highly inefficient as well, because of numerous reasons, and I believe most of them are mentioned in this article.
Wavewalk does not have a ‘position’ on the topic of pedal drives, and generally speaking, there doesn’t seem to be a place for ideologies in our competitive field, unless one believes in preserving certain traditional techniques and traditions as means to preserve a certain cultural heritage (E.G. building wooden canoes or skin-on-frame kayaks).
What you’ll find in our field are technical, engineering, ergonomic and other real-life facts on one hand, and marketing hype on the other.
You may have noticed that our website abounds with examples of means of propulsion other than paddles, E.G. rowing oars, various types of sails, electric motors, and gas motors – equipped with a rotating propeller or with an air jet.
And as far as paddling goes, we encourage our clients to use our paddles not just for kayaking, but for poling as well, and we recommend other options as well, such as W canoeing.
This is to say that only thing we’re firmly against is unfounded hype.
And when it comes to pedal drives, you may have noticed that this article distinguishes between those who feature rotating paddles and propellers (such as your recumbent bike does), and those who feature push pedals and flapping propellers – because even in this domain of pedal drives for kayaks, there are mediocre solutions, and solutions that are considerably worse 🙂
True, it’s probably possible to stick pedals in the W kayak hulls, and make them activate a propeller. But pushing those pedals would still require the person operating the kayak to get support for their back, namely to install a backrest to push their back against, and that’s not necessarily a good idea when your spine is concerned.
The W kayak offers more than traditional kayaks do when it comes to tracking, steering, balance and control (which are all necessary in order to properly operate a kayak in the real world), and much of it is achieved by the legs, and would be lost entirely or to some extent if the legs are kept busy activating pedals.
Hey Yoav, if a W yakker built a pedal drive for their W500 and sent you pictures, or a movie, would you show it on this blog? 😉
Of course, and the same is true if someone showed any other innovation related to the W kayak.
I’d like to correct one of the assumptions that Cam presented as being a fact:
Recumbent bikes are neither more comfortable nor enable producing more power in a sustainable mode.
The reason why they can be faster than upright bikes in a limited set of circumstances (such as a smooth, straight pavement) is merely the result of the smaller aerodynamic drag created by the biker laying down instead of standing up.
Therefore, this argument is moot in the context of pedal drives for kayaks, since a paddler doesn’t necessarily have to paddle standing up 😀
The record breaking human powered aircraft Gossamer Albatross, which crossed the English Channel, had its operator pedaling in the upright position, and not recumbent, precisely because of the absolute need to provide sustainable maximal power output over a long period of time, and sometimes in adverse conditions.
I think people dislike recumbent bikes also because they provide less stability and control compared to upright bikes that use our legs more effectively for control and balance.
I think Cam would agree that the W kayak is comparable to the upright bike in the sense that sitting on its saddle offers kayakers better means to use their legs for balancing and control than does being seated in the traditional L recumbent kayak paddling / pedaling position.
There is a similarity between recumbent bikes and recumbent pedal kayaks, in that both are considerably harder to control (balance, steering) when compared to the standard vehicle, which in bikes is the upright bike (formally known as: safety bicycle), and in kayaks is the paddle propelled (and controlled) kayak.
By definition, less control means less safety, as well as more efforts needed to control the vehicle, because the need for control is there whether we like it or not – It’s not a matter of choice.
When I started reading Cam’s comment the first question that came to my mind was “Has he ever tried going in a pedal kayak?”, and I found no indication he ever did.
If he did, he would have surely mentioned it, and I guess his view would have been different 🙂
Anyway, it’s a great discussion, and I enjoy going back to it from time to time, and reading what people have to say on this fascinating topic.
nice catch April! 😀
WaveWalk should stay away from pedal drives if it wants to keep its image of the zero yakback company. Kayak fishing forums are full of complaints from [brand name pedal kayak] owners suffering from a sore back and sciatica… Looks almost like an epidemic. All the other pedal yakers have to tell these poor folks is “stretch and take painkillers!”……COME ON!!!! As if it really helps solving the problem!?
Umm, isn’t there already a relatively simple and well-tried system for water propulsion that uses the legs? It is called rowing/sculling, using either sliding-seat or sliding-rigging (which is more suitable for kayak type vessels) and the latter even has variants that allow one to face forward.
In my perfect world we have the privilege of having all the innovations and experiments and designs that are being “demonstrated” and argued here. After all, does not this rich diversity of ideas and choices available give us the great opportunity to decide what WE like and dislike personally? I started my cardio on a sit-up stationary bike, then bought a recumbent. Within 2 years I was running, kayaking, cycling and even won a break dancing contest at forty seven years of age. On the street I prefer my Italian made hybrid. I have 6 kayaks and two canoes and an assortment of hand built “innovations”. I love those pedal driven catamarans and those bicycles on pontoons. Thank the creator for his or her or it’s power within us that makes us crave the desire to create and innovate. The W500 does not have to be defended either. It’s magnificence is self evident. It’s design is self fulfilling and obvious to the “open” minded observer. People ask me all the time, “why do you need four 1000 cc. sport bikes.” And I reply, “I don’t need them, I want them. They are all different, they all give a different experience and they are all magnificent.” The same applies to these kayaks and the same applies to all the kayakers who are expressing their joy through the experiences they have. The inventor of the W 500 is a lucky person(s) for they saw a unique expression and brought it forward. So are all those who create and seek innovation and design and art etc. in these little boats. I am so appreciative to live at a time when greatness in design is both affordably plastic and richly accessible to the common person. Okay, I’ll shut up now. (but keep inventing and dreaming)….
Where can I find a foot drive system for a kayak? I do not want a kayak and I do not want a [push pedal and flaps] drive system. David
David, just Google “forward and reverse kayak pedal drive”
I’m getting a sore back paddling a small yak I own.
Tight lines from Australia!
Roger, no wonder you’re getting a sore back from paddling your yak. It’s because of the L kayaking position. Pedaling in this position would make things worse for your back, as you should already know from talking to folks who pedal ouchback yaks 🙁
If you’re suffering from a bad back, switching from paddling to pedaling is likely to aggravate your problem. Your best bet is to get a W, since it’s 100% back pain free.
Hi, the article a number of times makes the point that pedal/flap kayaks are heavier and wider than the traditional SOT kayaks. I found the specifications for one pedal/ flap kayak show that it’s not a heavier/wider kayak and I think it could easily be loaded onto a car.
I don’t get it. What’s the point you’re trying to make, Peter?
Everyone knows that pickup trucks are bigger and heavier than sedans, except a couple of very small, light duty pickup models built on the chassis of a sedan. Does this esoteric fact change anything in the reality or definition of pickup trucks, or sedans?
I don’t think so.
Pedal driven kayaks are made bigger and wider than average because they have to be this way in order to do what they’re supposed to do.
And one more thing – Everyone knows that SOT and Hybrid kayaks are wider and heavier than SIKs, because SOT and hybrid kayak passengers are seated on top of a deck that’s higher than the surface of the water, while SIK passengers are seated lower, and both SOTs and hybrids have more “skin”.
All pedal driven kayaks are either SOTs or hybrids, and some of these yaks even feature a canvas seat that raises the passenger’s center of gravity even more, making them even less stable than similar yaks equipped with the torture device known as “traditional L position kayak seat”…
This new, higher canvas seat forces the designers to make these barge yaks even wider, and it also forces the passengers to hold on tighter to their yaks while they’re pedaling 😀
This is the situation in the real world of plastic, canvas and humans, but from reading brochures and articles in the kayak fishing media (a kind of covert brochure too, I guess) you’d think that “finally, all these problems have been solved now, and besides – they never existed in the first place, did they?” 😉
Trading one Problem for another is not something I’d call a Solution.
This article titled “Paddle VS. Pedal Drive in common Fishing Kayaks” is not comparing SIK to SOT. My point is that some SOT paddle kayaks are heavier and bigger than a small pedal/flap kayak that’s fit for children and people of small size.
Hey Peter, you’re beginning to sound like one of those covert [flap and push pedal drive kayak company] sales reps who are trying to promote their pedal driven marvels on every kayak fishing discussion forum and blog they’re allowed to access 😉
It seems like these days it’s almost impossible to read an online kayak fishing related discussion, or blog post, without you guys spamming it till your fingertips start bleeding. Phooey!
Here’s a cool design for a rotary pedal drive that could easily fit the W500:
The propeller should be big, and rotate slowly. You can get very cheap props on the hobbyking website, and similar websites, in the APC (small airplane) style propellers section. The propellers for gas engines are more heavy duty than the ones for electric airplanes.
The gear box is an off the shelf product that can be purchased online too, for a few bucks.
I guess you get the picture…
The flexible part of the transmission looks like a spring steel. Very ingenious!
I see this thing easily adapted to the W500. No need to worry about making holes in the saddle, as the water is be far below…
Like every other pedal drive, it would create a balancing problem, and you’d have to operate a rudder 🙁
I like the simplicity though -Nothing beats simplicity…
This propeller looks very different
No problem with this kind of propeller. There’s an electric trolling motor device called electric paddle that features something similar. Its inventor did careful calculations before choosing this prop type, and his product works well.
Looks like those narrow blades could do the job, but if they didn’t, I guess it would be possible to attach two of them in a row and cross them, and that way get a 4 blade propeller.
The spring shaft is a great idea. It should also be easy to make a simple two-piece, jointed shaft for this thing.
The main metal structure could be eliminated, I guess, and the pedals and seat attached separately to the W saddle. The propeller could be attached separately too, I guess.
I can see the gear box going below the saddle, instead of staying between the operator’s legs.
Talking about boat design and rigging is somewhat a learned skill, as much as messing about in boats can be in the the physical world.
Sometimes this kind of talk requires thinking in abstract terms.
Thankfully, talking the talk doesn’t necessarily mean you need to walk the walk…
We’re not ‘against pedal drives’.
We’re against applying continuous pressure on one’s lower back when they paddle a kayak, and worse – when they pedal it.
We’re also against hyper-hyping products, and we’re against creating and promoting myths.
If anyone is interested in incorporating a pedal drive in their W kayak, they can get a suitable drive with rotational pedals (better than push pedals) and a rotational propeller (better than flapping blades) from sea-cycle, and stick it in their W kayak’s saddle with what seems to be little effort.
The cost of such a pedal drive is $750… makes a 2hp 4-cycle Honda outboard motor look even more attractive, doesn’t it? 😉
Do I recommend adding such a drive to your kayak? No, I don’t, since you’d have to pedal while being seated in the recumbent position, with your legs pushing your back against some backrest.
It’s possible to incorporate pedals into the W kayak hulls, and thus help the kayaker pedal in a more upright posture, as well as preserve some of the stability they would have lost had the pedals been located higher.
So far, no W kayaker has shown any serious interest in any kind of pedal drive, and even elderly and disabled W kayakers feel fine using a paddle.
Your kayak design screams for a pedal powered version, because you could make it a compromise, your feet could be pedaling down in the hulls, your body in a semi upright position, all this while not having to raise the center of balance- where there is no such thing available to a regular kayak- the center of balance goes way up if you attach pedals!… It’s impossible for a regular kayak to find ultimate comfort- in either peddle- or paddle- powered versions!!! You would have a more comfortable, halfway position with a w-kayak, between upright and outright lying on your back like in some recumbents, your back is supported like in a nice recliner, and you peddle, and no kinks in your neck. For balance in choppy waters, you can have your paddle in your hands, bracing as needed, using it for steering, but most of your forward motion is being created by your legs, your strongest muscles…
Ok, this, to me is why I can’t understand your negative position towards including a pedal drive in one of your boats. If someone independently developed one, would you fight against it?
And yes, I’ve tried a recumbent boat- a paddle boat- it was horrible! Beyond a slow leisurely pace, any extra effort was wasted, the paddlewheel idea sucks!
The first w model, though I liked the idea, it looked like a toy. I like the new, w 500 longer version, but how about even longer? How about a 15 footer? I bet it would fly… You would be doing circles around a regular 15 foot canoe… Stability, comfort and choice in seating position- standing or sitting. Sounds good to me… You might need to consider materials other than rotomoulded, to reduce weight. I bet you could fit a family of 5 in it. You come up with it, I just might get one…
I have owned all types of kayak and especially like to try innovative products. The push pedal kayak is hard work also because of an inefficient hull, not just the drive.
The inefficiency of pedal drive propelled kayaks’ hulls goes to the fact that the passenger’s stability is reduced by the fact they rely on pedals, which are located along the kayak’s center line. This prevents the user from using their feet and legs for balancing, and further decreases their stability.
Consequently, pedal driven kayaks have to be made even wider than SOT, Sit-In, and hybrid kayaks (shallow canoes) – designs that are recently being referred to as trad (traditional) yaks.
Needless to say that making a trad yak wider turns it even more into a ‘barge’, I.E. slow, heavy, and hard to direct in a straight line (poor tracking issue).
I feel sorry for any purchasers of pedal yaks…
Hey Bob, that’s kinda like stating the obvious, isn’t it? 😉
Stating the obvious can be helpful too, sometimes….
I guess pedal driven kayaks work for users who are lightweight, young, athletic, and benefit from a background in recumbent biking.
As for the rest of humanity, hype and reality don’t seem to have much in common in this case.
I’m one of the ‘bad-back’ crowd with surgeries and chronic conditions and the whole shebang.
…I suppose I could have saved a lot of time by just comparing apples to oranges… 🙂
I had more to say, but I guess people don’t read long comments…
The article mentions that kayaks should be used in the real world. It seems like this debate could be addressed by having both pedal and paddle kayaks product tested by novice, intermediate and advanced kayakers. Categories to be tested and graded upon could include: speed, ergonomics, stability, mobility etc.
Indeed, we’ve been testing different kayaks and technical concepts for years, and so have many of our clients and fans who’ve shared their observations with us. We believe that real world testing is a critical part of product development, or at least it should be.
We added some internal links in this article, in order to make it easier for the reader to navigate it.
I read this article…all of it…and I can’t say I disagree with the discussion or conclusions, but you folks must agree that pedal driven yaks do offer some advantages, for example to people who for some reason are disabled and can’t use their arms for paddling!
Possibly, although in such case they would need to steer by means of a rudder, and if they’re capable of doing so they could also use a trolling motor. The latter would offer an advantage for them since their legs would be free to help them balance the kayak, and if their legs are busy pushing pedals or rotating them they’d be useless for balancing.
And let there be no doubt about it: small vessels such as kayaks require that their passengers balance them. In this sense, using a paddle is the optimal solution since paddling offers both propulsion and additional balancing capabilities, which pedal drives obviously don’t.
I just watched a YouTube video from 2010 where an electric motor is added to a pedal drive sailing kayak [from the flap pedal drive kayak company] that requires outriggers. The video goes on and on about the supposed unmatched efficiency of the pedal drive/flapper system.
I immediately asked myself the following question. If pedals and flaps are so efficient, why hasn’t someone made a motorized version to replace the antiquated idea of the water screw (propeller)?
Curious in Columbia County,
You hit the nail on the head, but let’s go even further and ask this specific, practical question:
Given that –
A. The German made electric motor that flap pedal kayak company offers with their kayak is extremely expensive. In fact, it costs so much more than other electric trolling motors on the market that it’s price is prohibitive.
B. That same flap kayak manufacturers claim that their flap drive is extremely effective.
So why didn’t the flap-kayak company simply offer their product with an on-deck add-on device enabling the user to activate the pedals of their flap drive by means of an on-board electric motor instead of doing it with their legs?
After all, similar systems have been offered with electric bikes for many decades, and designing and manufacturing such a simple electromechanical device is something that most people could do in their garage. As for manufacturing, it can be done using inexpensive off-the-shelf components. It’s hard to think of an easier project.
We don’t know why that flap kayak manufacturer chose not to do so, but it’s likely to assume they’ve realized that such a device would be much less effective than a common rotational propeller powered by a simple and inexpensive electric trolling motor, and even their clients and the kayak fishing media would notice the difference.
After all, this flap pedal driven kayak is the world’s only watercraft of any size or type that’s propelled by flaps going back and forth, and no one else in the boat or ship building industry thought they would gain anything by switching from rotational propellers to flapping flippers.
Which takes us back to the remark attributed to Abraham Lincoln: -“You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.”
And now that we’ve discussed this matter from the close range and narrow perspective of pedal drives for kayaks, why not try to look at the big picture, and ask ourselves why is it that there aren’t any other vessels out there that feature similar flap propellers?
Why don’t we see cruise ships outfitted with tens of thousands of plastic flaps?
Why don’t we see supertankers propelled by means of gigantic flaps the size of airplane wings?
Why has no speedboat ever featured a set of powerful high-end flapping flaps mounted on its stern?…
The world of boating and shipping is so wide and varied that there should be some other way to make use of flapping flippers to propel other watercraft, isn’t it?
Well, the answer is no, because the world of boats and ships is highly competitive, and there isn’t much room for hype in it, in the long run.
As we can see, the market for fishing kayaks is a singularity, since there’s no one in it to seriously check, criticize or put to an objective test the claims that kayak manufacturers make about their products. Sadly, this creates a forgiving and convenient breeding ground for hype, fads and all sorts of unsubstantiated and often laughable claims.
Efficient flapping pedal drives belong to the same category as facial creams that erase wrinkles, creams that can make the hair on one’s bald head regrow, and pills that make you lose weight fast and for good 😉
There are millions of such hyped products everywhere you look, and the fishing market is full of them too.
The push pedal drive has been around for twenty years, and it’s losing ground to the rotating pedal drive, as far as I can see. Neither of these pedal drives has become popular compared to paddling, no other kayak company has entered the pedaling niche, including ones that compete in the fishing market, and no other pedaling boats of any type have become popular either. What’s the conclusion?
I’m sticking to my paddle.
You bet, as long as you paddle your back-pain free Wavewalk, and not a yak-back generator 😀
We just got back from ICAST 2016, where the two biggest kayak manufacturers announced their pedal driven kayaks.
Unsurprisingly, both these companies chose not the copy the push-pedal & flaps product, and they did not design another push-pedal and non-rotational propeller product.
Instead, they made the obvious choice, which was to adopt a “me too” approach, and join the two small companies that already offer rotational pedal and propeller drives. It simply makes sense.
In market terms, this means that in the next few years the de facto standard for kayak pedal drives will no longer be the push-pedal and flaps design but the rotational pedal and propeller design.
The push-pedal and flaps manufacturer will have to adapt to the new standard.
This also means that in the next few years anglers will be bombarded with pedal drive hype, and pro staffers will fight more intensely to promote their sponsors’ products, both online and on the water.
There are still some major unsolved problems with kayak pedal propulsion –
The first one is ergonomics: It’s simply not comfortable for the average person to activate a pedal drive while being seated in the L posture – You feel less stable than when you paddle, and your legs apply more horizontal force on your lower back, which leads to early fatigue and pain.
The second problem is that all these pedal drives don’t work in shallow water, and they can easily break in contact with the bottom, because they are mounted below the kayak’s hull, and they lack the ability to bounce up upon contact with the bottom, or with objects on the bottom (e.g. rocks, tree stumps, oyster beds, etc.). It’s not even a question of “If”, but “When” something bad would happen, because even deep bodies of water have a bottom and a shore, and the bottom tends to get dangerously closer to the surface as you get closer to shore… People don’t like to have to replace parts in their boats, especially expensive ones such as pedal drives. In this sense, outboard motors, whether gas or electric, are more advanced and better suited to the real world, which is where people fish.
Other unsolved problems that all pedal drives still present are the need to operate a rudder, which paddlers don’t necessarily have to, and the extra clutter that pedals add to the already overly accessorized decks of common fishing kayaks.
But kayak fishing is not just about going fishing. It’s also about boys’ toys, dreams, and hype, and the companies that offer pedal driven fishing kayaks are well aware of this…
Last update 01/12/2017 –
We found yet two other manufacturers that offer “me too” pedal driven kayaks. One of them is a US manufacturer, and the other is in Australia.
Like most of the other manufacturers who offer pedal drives for their kayaks, the system these two newcomers offer is a combination of rotational pedals and a rotational propeller.
So far no one seems to be interested in offering more push-pedals and flaps drives, and it seems the drawbacks of this inefficient system have become more widely recognized in recent years.
In response to a question about why all kayak manufacturers who’ve recently entered the market for pedal driven kayaks chose to offer pedal drives that feature both rotational pedals and a rotating propeller, and so far none of them has adopted the pedal drive system that features push-pedals and flaps that swing in a left-right motion – In other words, what makes rotational pedal drives better than drives that feature push-pedals and flapping blades?
The likely answer is that those pedal driven kayak manufacturers must have considered the following issues:
1. Flaps that swing left and right must be made from a rigid material, but thin rigid fins tend to be brittle, which is why their users often complain about having to replace broken flaps. It’s a turnoff.
In contrast, any rotational propeller, whether it is part of a kayak’s pedal drive or an outboard gas motor, can be easily outfitted with a skeg.
A skeg is a sturdy and rigid vertical fin in front of the propeller that protects the blades from being damaged by hitting submerged objects while the boat moves forward.
The skeg’s protection makes a rotational propeller’s blades last longer than they would have lasted without any protection.
However, flaps swinging from left to right and vice versa cannot be protected by a skeg, or by any other device, and they remain exposed to unfortunate encounters that shorten their lives, and often make the maintenance of such a pedal drive too costly.
2. Rotating pedals in a continuous motion is easier for the user, and it makes more sense from and ergonomic (I.E. higher efficiency) standpoint than pushing pedals and ending each push by a stop, only to restart it again shortly after. The user of the push-pedals and flapping blades drive cannot benefit from the advantage offered by momentum, and their pedal drive very inefficient in energy terms.
3. Propellers that rotate in a continuous motion are more efficient than ones that move to one side, than stop, and restart a motion in the opposite direction.
With such major disadvantages to push-pedal and flapping blades compared to rotational drives, choosing to offer rotational drives must have been an easy decision for all these kayak manufacturers.
As for the absence of a reverse mode, which made flapping fins even more impractical for two decades, this problem has been recently solved, to some extent. However, when it comes to switching between forward and reverse modes, the performance of improved flapping wings drives is still clumsy and non-intuitive compared to the smooth and natural transition that rotational pedal drives have always offered.
What’s next? –
Once the majority of pedal driven kayak manufacturers establish the fact that rotational drives work better than the push-pedal and flaps system, the push-pedal and flaps company could simply join the bandwagon and offer its own rotational drive product. That company’s initial leading position and brand recognition, combined with its marketing experience and capabilities could help it maintain a sizeable share of this niche market.