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Non-Biased Reviews by Four Regular Guys
Pedal Kayak Review
DO I PADDLE? DO I PEDAL?
The choices reverberating throughout the kayak world have become almost overwhelming. The old commercial virtues of the kayak – affordability and simplicity of design and operation chief among them — still hold true.
The traditional ease of entry into the sport, most especially fishing from a kayak, has now become much more complicated: significant innovation seems a monthly occurrence, and the consequent selection of features and benefits is now a complicated undertaking for even the most casual of kayakers.
Foot propulsion – pedals! – has emerged as the kayak’s most powerful driver of change. But those back-and-forth, up-and-down movements, first learned on our tricycles and kiddo scooters, are hardly new. Hobie introduced its first pedal-powered watercraft in 1997, twenty years ago in a sport where change is everywhere and oh so ongoing. Hobie’s contribution lay in making pedal power attractive to recreational paddlers and, most importantly, to anglers, now hands-free for casting and retrieving lures and flies. About ten years later, Native Watercraft introduced new engineering in that splendid company’s pursuit of a workable, sustainable pedal device. Watercraft named it Propel, significantly different from Hobie’s Mirage Drive.
Propel involves rotated pedals with a propeller. Mirage design calls for push pedals with attached fins, moving back, forth, and sideways. Another prominent kayak manufacturer, Old Town, has created its own iteration of a pedal drive: the Predator PDL. Other manufacturers, Wilderness Systems perhaps chief among them, are introducing their own take on pedal power.
And so, at its waterborne heart, the debate probably devolves to a single defining question: do I pedal or do I paddle?
You’ll need to think in selfish terms here. Distinct advantages and some unavoidable disadvantages apply, and you’ll need to weigh them carefully in terms of your own enjoyment, your own unique take on a great day on the water.
We begin with the paddle.
Classic, lying at the foundation of human travel on lakes and rivers, the paddle will take you down to the sea quickly, no, immediately. With far more money left in your wallet. For many kayakers, maybe for you, cost becomes the determining factor in the purchase decision. For, let’s say, five hundred dollars, you can lift a traditional kayak into the bed of your pickup, paddle included. Multiply that five-large figure by four, and you’re arrived at starting price for a pedal model.
With the old-style kayak, your issues about maintenance are essentially nil. Not so with the sophisticated designs of a pedal model.
Old-school kayaks maneuver more quietly — with less disturbance of underwater features, less slapping of mud and sand, fewer collisions with submerged treetops –than do the zooming movements of propellers and fins. With complete visibility below, assuming mellow movement of the paddle, you can probably move without spooking the fish into that honey hole far more easily in a traditionally designed kayak.
Now for the negatives.
Just one really, but it subsumes the entire sport of fishing from a kayak. You operate with but two arms. And two becomes a lonely number in the slightest little bit of wind, with only a smidgen of current. Metaphysical fact is: you cannot fish and paddle at the same time; kayaks were never meant for trolling. Either your casting and retrieving, or your controlling the movement and position of the kayak. Never shall those twain functions meet.
We look down now. At those hard-pumping thighs, those flexed feet. You’re paddling, and you’re bringing along for the ride all the pros and cons of the propulsion system.
The advantages of a pedaled kayak gather around speed, control, and efficiency. No paddler, Olympian though she be, can maintain for long the acceleration, the wind-in-one’s-face velocity of a pedal-craft. Physical fact is: pedaling draws on the strength and endurance of larger muscle groups than does the arm-and-shoulder shrugs of the paddle-craft. In delicate fishing situations, rises abeam everywhere, nothing beats the easy-footed control of the pedaled kayak, your arms and hands free for the perfect cast to a waiting smallmouth. Only the now-and-then, small adjustment of the rudder calls for involvement of your upper limbs. And, again because of the use of bigger muscles, your productive time on the water grows proportionally, as you keep the worm (wooly, plastic, or live) in the strike zone and maintain the feel of your line, most especially while fishing slow and easy over shallow structure.
The extra weight and width of the pedal versions contribute to greater overall stability
The principle difficult with pedal drives lies unseen, beneath, in the additional clearance needed for your kayak to slip in among the remote, difficult holes where the really big fish slumber. Sure, you can adjust the position of the kayak’s parts – pulling the fins against the gunwales, lifting the drive. Still, accessibility might become an issue for some backwater anglers.
Further, because of the size of the drive mechanisms, you’ll find less cargo space on the kayak’s center deck. Also, those mechanisms will require maintenance that no paddle ever, ever would.
One last thought.
Not one thing stopping you from picking up your paddle and motoring your kayak in full-on classic fashion. Just be advised that long hauls on some pedal models will convince you that you’re paddling a main battle tank.