Kayaks mainly come in three different modes of propulsion: paddle, pedal, and motor. Two of them are pretty straight forward as you can use whatever paddle or whatever motor you want with almost any kayak you choose. The third option leaves us with questions. How to choose the right pedal machine? What should I look for in a pedal kayak?
Pedal kayaks are quite different on the market. With different pedal designs, kayak sizes and even prices, you have plenty to choose from. Let’s break them down in this article and help you know what to look for.
Just looking at the pedals, you have a few different styles.
Fixed Down Tube Drives
A fixed tube pedal car is a machine that has a prop attached to a metal tube or mast that runs through the floor of the kayak. The machine is usually mounted on a swivel or round tube assembly that allows you to lift it back onto the boat for storage during launches and landings. There is another push button located tube fixed below. These discs use the motion of the bike while seated and have both forward and reverse options. As the kayaker pedals, the prop below the boat rotates.
Pros: the bike is easy to ride on bad joints, less expensive models are available, longevity on the market
Cons: Hitting underwater obstacles can cause prop damage, possible injury especially at higher speeds.
Kayak price range: $999 – $3,200 (does not include tandem or multi-seat kayaks)
Examples: Native Propel, Wilderness Helix, Bonafide PD, Perception Pilot Drive, Old Town PDL, Feel Free Overdrive
Fixed Disks Fin
A fin machine is one that uses triangular fins under the kayak to propel the boat forward and sometimes backward (depending on the machine). Kayaking uses a push motion to propel the kayak by pushing forward on a left pedal and then pushing forward on the right pedal. This is very similar to a stair-step movement. The fins under water during this movement propel the kayak forward, much like a bird (or penguin) flapping its wings.
Pros: with a flutter motion, it can become very shallow, fins and masts are replaceable.
Cons: reverse is not available on some models, some models may require you to shift the cable gear to go into reverse, older models are less stable
Kayak price range: $999 – $3,700 (does not include tandem or multi-seat kayaks)
Examples: Pelican Hydrive, Vibe X-Drive, Hobie Mirage Drive, Hobie Mirage Drive 180
Specialized Managers Fin
A specialized fin car is just that, a fin car with a little extra. While only one company is really doing this, it’s important to note the full coverage of options on the market. The specialized fin discs are from Hobie and come in three versions: 360, Glide Technology and Kick Up Fins. Slide technology is an improved motion technology that makes a smoother transition from left to right when you press the pedals. Kick Up Fins unlike the standard Mirage Drive or Turbo Fins have a breakaway hinge that allows them to hit an underwater obstacle and rise up so you can pass it. This also reduces stopping power when you hit a tree, rock or other obstacle.
Advantages: GT and 180: more stable when dealing with obstacles, less likely to cause bodily injury with obstacle collisions, same advantages as fin riding
Cons: GT and 180: requires a cable shift to go in reverse, less maneuverable than auto-reverse disc models, price point is at the upper end of the price continuum.
GT and Kick Up Kayaks Price Range: $1,650-$4,500
360 Discs are exactly what they sound like: a pedal that lets you move 360 degrees. Through the control levers you can pedal and maneuver the kayak in different rotations from the circle. Control drifting (think drift car garing) is the name of the game here. This technology is only available on model 360 kayaks from Hobie.
Advantages: 360: panning and steering with joystick, similar advantages to Hobie 180 and GT
Cons: 360: many breakage issues reported in first two years, complex design with many moving parts, price is highest on the market
360 Pedal Kayak Price Range: $5,200-$5,800
Examples: Hobie GT, 180, 360
Belt drive with flexible shaft
New to the pedal kayak market this year is a belt-driven machine with a bicycle-style pedal drive, a prop, and a drive shaft that goes up and away from obstacles. This is the Mark IV Flex Drive from Jackson Kayak. Unlike its predecessor, the Mark IV uses a Gates belt drive system as used in cycling, requires no grease or oil maintenance and is significantly quieter than previous versions. It has an upper and lower unit that connect to the deck of the boat so that the complete machine can be placed on the hull if desired. The new belt drive system has added an element of faster speed not previously experienced with Jackson Kayak Flex Drive boats.
Advantages: bike ride is easy on bad joints, smooth, easy forward and reverse, easy to maintain, faster support speed, more stable when facing obstacles, less likely to cause bodily injury with obstructive collision, proven belt technology
Cons: can’t retro fit older Jackson Kayaks, price starts higher than half the field
Mark IV Flex Drive Kayak Price Range: $3,000-$4,200
Examples: Jackson Mark IV Flex Drive
What to look for in a pedal kayak
Every person is different in many ways. Some of us have bad knees, some of us don’t have unlimited funds, so we have to stick tighter to a budget. Some of us want a full touring rig ready to go regardless of price. You will want to think about where you will primarily be fishing with a pedal car, think about your fitness level, think about your budget, and many other things. Hopefully, this article gives you more information as you search for the right pedal kayak for you.
I ended up on a Jackson Knarr FD with Mark IV Flex Drive new for the 2022 season. It’s the right boat for me, how I fish and my current physical abilities. I have bad knees so a stair climbing action was out. I also like that the motor on the higher end Jackson Kayak is also available on the entry price pedal kayak. Same technology, different kayak.