This article first appeared on the PAINLESS KAYAK FISHING blog.
Pedaling small watercraft has been offered as alternative to recreational rowing and paddling since the 19th century. In recent years, with kayaks becoming more popular, some kayak manufacturers have started offering pedal powered kayaks. These water crafts are propelled by the passenger’s legs, who are either pushing pedals (push-pedals) or rotating pedals (rotational pedals) – depending on the type of propeller they are required to activate (flaps or rotor).
In either case, the kayak passengers are seated in the L kayaking position, with their legs stretched in front of them, and their lumbar spine pressed against the backrest.
Do these pedal kayakers and kayak fishermen gain anything from using their legs for propulsion, instead of using a paddle in the traditional kayaking style?
Apparently, using ones legs for propulsion makes a lot of sense, if the alternative is using the arms. This is because our legs are much more powerful, and better suited for sustaining such efforts. However, many pedal kayakers and fishermen soon discover that physical reality is far from the ideal picture that pedal kayak manufacturers portray: This is because of the L position – the same position that makes paddling a traditional sit-in or SOT kayak difficult and uncomfortable also makes it hard to pedal such a kayak.
Pedaling a normal bike is easy for most people, who can ride a bike for hours (on flat terrain) without getting tired, but pedaling while one’s legs are stretched forward and apply all their power to pressurize the lumbar spine against the backrest is far from being ergonomic or sensible. Pedaling in this posture is guaranteed to lead to premature fatigue, circulation problems in the legs, butt pain, numbness and lower back pain, whether the legs’ motion is forward-push or rotational.
And as for ‘hands-free kayak fishing’ – the idea that a fisherman could navigate by pedaling, while using his arms for fishing – a closer look would reveal a different reality:
First of all, if you observe pedal kayakers you’ll find they must operate a hand-activated rudder, which simply means that one hand can’t be free for fishing, and as far as single handed fishing goes, some people would say it is not the most practical idea…
Second, while your legs are stretched forward and pushing pedals, they don’t work to balance your kayak. This is why pedal kayakers are often seen holding their yak with both their hands, while their arms are stretched on their sides – This is an attempt to compensate for the lost stability. Practically, this means that your fishing kayak is even less stable while you’re pedaling it, and if you try try fishing from it while in motion you’ll be less steady and less comfortable than if you fished from it while it is stationary.
Bottom line: Marketing hype and facts don’t always coexist in the real world, and you’d better use your common sense as well as your sense of observation before you venture into kayak pedaling and pedal-kayak fishing.
If you’re seriously interested in this subject, you may want to continue reading this in-depth technical article comparing paddling and pedal drives >