The MirageDrive came first, a revolutionary pedal and fin system capable of propelling a rotomolded kayak fast and easy. Genius. Then the MirageDrive 180, a pedal system that can be shifted into reverse. Now, Hobie has released the MirageDrive 360. That’s right, the fins spin 360 degrees to propel the kayak forward, reverse and sideways.
But, does it work? The short answer is yes. By turning a knob on the gunwale, a system of belts spin a cog in the MirageDrive scupper. Teeth on the cog, rotate a wheel in the drive turning the fins 360 degrees. Currently, the new drive is only available in Hobie’s flagship Pro Angler 12 and Pro Angler 14.
Hobie MirageDrive 360 Specs
Weight: 132 lbs
Capacity: 500 lbs
My first look was during demo day at ICAST 2019. After a quick spin around the convention center lake, I was convinced the pedal system would move the boat in lots of different directions. Unfortunately, a long line of anxious buyers and journalists were also waiting for a ride, so I didn’t have time to give the boat a thorough run-through.
Once the crowd cleared, I asked Hobie product manager Morgan Promnitz for a walk-through. He said the system has been in the works for several years. He showed me photos of big largemouth bass, red snapper and yellowtail, all caught with the MirageDrive 360. “We’ve had it out in the ocean and on the lake,” he said.
For the MD 360 backstory, I dropped a line to lead design engineer Philip Dow at Hobie headquarters. He remembers, “I started working on the MirageDrive 360 in 2012.” At the time, he knew the patent on the original MirageDrive was coming to an end. “There was going to be some competition.”
The real breakthrough came when he figured out how to decouple the fins from the cranks allowing the drive to spin. Then, Dow used a timing belt for the steering system to infinitely spin the drive. “The real challenge was turning the invention into a robust system,” Dow admits.
To develop the MD 360, he modified a Pro Angler by cutting the pedal well and glassing a receiver for the prototype drive. “I’ve had the 360 on a hundred trips pedaling up to 30 miles,” he brags, certifying it tough. “Compared to the original MirageDrive, this one is a much more precision instrument,” Dow says.
The process required two years to complete all the patents and finalize the design. Dow says Hobie chose their flagship Pro Angler line to host the MirageDrive 360 because it is the most stable with the highest buoyancy. “I expect it will trickle down to other kayaks in the future,” Dow says.
I finally got some seat time after I borrowed a Pro Angler 12 with MirageDrive 360 from Wild River Outfitters in Virginia Beach. I grabbed my buddy Zach Lannon and Kayak Angler photographer Roberto Westbrook and we headed to Lafayette River in Norfolk for a photo shoot and speckled trout fishing.
After the anticipation, when I finally climbed in the PA 12 with MD 360, I giggled like a little kid. Something about the cohesion of moving parts coming together perfectly gets me excited.
I started with an initial burnout and drag race to test the boat’s speed and torque. The Vantage ST fins moved the 132-pound boat at speeds comparable to the PA models with the traditional MD180.
Turning the rudder damn near threw me out of the seat. Even without engaging the MD 360 blades, the boat turns on a dime. Our fishing trip featured 15-knot winds and a wicked current, so the drop-down skeg offered razor-sharp tracking for the long haul to the first fishing spot.
Ok, so now the big test. I pulled into a boat dock enclosed on three sides and worked the drive forward then sideways while turning the rudder. To my amazement, the boat was able to turn 180 degrees in its own length allowing me to U-turn and pull out of the space.
Manipulating the MD 360 drive took some practice. Turning the drive sideways doesn’t pull the boat laterally, instead it turns the kayak in a tight circle. The 360 capabilities work best at slow speeds; but I was able to slam the drive sideways at high speed.
Then, I headed straight for a deadfall I could see submerged a foot under the water. Pedaling at full speed, I hit the obstruction with the fins. This crash would have been disastrous on previous MirageDrive models, but the MD 360’s Kick-Up fins bent backwards and cleared the log then dropped into position without missing a beat.
I spent an hour just testing out the boat’s capabilities. How fast can I turn, how far can I go sideways, what combination of rudder and drive puts the boat in a spin, all the time laughing and yelling, “Hey guys, look at this.”
The MirageDrive 360 really shines while fishing. Slight adjustments of the drive and rudder allowed me to hold the boat in position while casting and working a lure.
My fishing partner, Zach Lannon is a die-hard paddle angler, so I put him in the 360 to see how it compares to maneuvering with two blades and a shaft. “I can see why guys like this thing,” he admitted after five minutes in the seat. One of the criticisms of pedal systems is they don’t offer the maneuverability of a paddle. Lannon certified that the boat can make tight moves while leaving his hands free for fishing.
Admittedly, anglers are a suspicious group. With so much at stake, and kayak performance directly tied to fishing success, it’s easy to cast doubt on a complicated system promising to do it all.
To stay true to the sport’s nature, and still access motor-free zones, the pedal system keeps the kayak quiet and moves it efficiently. The seaworthy Pro Angler is capable of covering miles of open water in the roughest conditions with every bell and whistle available to Hobie fans; our favorites are the H-rails, internal wiring for electronics, tackle storage, the top-of-the-line ultra-comfortable Vantage ST seat and a protective shield for the transducer. Vertical and horizontal rod storage and a do-anything layout make the Pro Angler the best choice for offshore and tournament anglers. After all the anticipation and excitement, the Hobie Pro Angler MirageDrive 360 is one instance where a new kayak really lives up to its hype.
Go where no kayak has gone Before. Sideways. | Featured photos: Roberto Westbrook