Paddling vs. Pedaling in the L Position – Does it Matter to Your Back?

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 >

Author: senior kayak angler

Yakking, fishing and paddling - what could be better?

13 thoughts on “Paddling vs. Pedaling in the L Position – Does it Matter to Your Back?”

  1. The push-pedal drive kayak company are very aggressive in pushing their product and hyping it, but it seems like it would be worse to use than the rotary drive offered by their competitors

  2. Yeah, that pedal drive yak company launched a marketing campaign of epic proportions. Their marketing team members are omnipresent… You can't read a thread on any paddling or fishing forum, or a blog post without them showing up and pushing their stupid product. But enough people fall for that BS to keep the machine going…(for now)

  3. Worst of all, these pedal drive kayak manufacturers promote their yaks as being good for stand up fishing. Nothing could be further from the truth because sots are unsafe to stand on. These people are shameless

  4. Shameless or shameful 🙂 it's hard to decide 🙂

  5. Needless to say, that as far as fishing goes, fishing from a kayak that has these flaps dangling from its bottom is out of the question in shallow water. Give me a break will ya

  6. Kayaking in a sit on top or sit in kayak is not good for your back, because of the L seated position, and that's already an established fact. whether you paddle or pedal is just a technical detail. it does appear like the push pedal drive would be the worst for your back, but in order to establish definitive answers you'd need methodical investigation, which no one is going to pay for.

  7. Frankly it makes no sense to me anyway why anglers even mess with that drive system here. It's one thing in deeper water but in the shallows it is a grade A number one pain in the butt. I've met a number of "{push-pedal drive kayak} drivers" and frequently see them minus their drive system. In the real shallow stuff even set flush with the hull the oysters tear it up. Of course the L seating position is an issue as well.

  8. Push pedal drives are less efficient compared to rotary ones because the driver loses momentum going forward and then backward with his feet. One out of a thousand bikers rides a recumbent bike, but nobody ever thought of making a bike that has push pedals DUH!!!

  9. The push pedal yak drive is twice as inefficient as the rotating one since you lose momentum both while pushing the pedals, and when the flap blades move back and forth in the water!

  10. There is no difference between ordinary kayaks and those who feature a pedal drive when it comes to the negative impact on one's back: In regular kayaks your feet push against footrests, and in pedal driven yaks they push against pedals. In both cases your lumbar spine is on the receiving end of this tremendous, constant pressure that your legs create, and in neither case do you have an option to change positions.I've always been amazed by what a lot of dollars can achieve when cleverly spent by marketing wizards… The right mixture of money and talent can sell anything.

  11. Deep pockets, marketing talent, and a lot of hard work were needed to convince people to get into those pedal driven yaks, but that's not enough to keep people using them.indanavy

  12. hands free kayak fishing is nonsense. it exists in the minds of the people who sell those pedal drives.still haven't figured how to go backward 😉

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