Late last fall, seven anglers brought seven of the most popular pedal-powered kayaks to a public launch ramp in Virginia Beach for our Pedal Boat Olympics and Shootout. Kayak Angler editors stood by to test the kayaks for speed, power, handling and a half-dozen other categories. The competition to determine the best pedal drive fishing kayak was fierce but friendly. Read on for the full results!
How we tested for best pedal drive fishing kayak
We put the boats in head-to-head events such as sprints, rigging speed and an epic tug-of-war. Later the anglers met again at the same beach with the same boats, this time with stopwatches, tape measures, GPSs and more clipboards. We raced the boats against the clock, in controlled environments, with three different anglers performing each test. We averaged the times.
The results were surprising. After the salt spray cleared and the numbers crunched, this fun two-day event went down in the kayak fishing history books as the first ever Kayak Angler Pedal Boat Olympics and Shootout.
Pedal Boat Olympics: The Competitors
Hobie Pro Angler 14 with MirageDrive 180
Hobie Pro Angler 14 Specs
Weight: 144.5 lbs
Capacity: 600 lbs
A long-time Hobie team member, Thomas Quicke Jr. brought two ringers to the Pedal Boat Olympics. Young anglers Ryan Rickles and Gabe Boelter took the reins for most of the Olympic competitions, giving team Hobie the youth advantage. Quicke has been on the Hobie team for five years. Two years ago, he recruited neighborhood kids Rickles and Boelter to share his fishing passion. The crew fish all over Virginia out of Hobie’s Pro Angler 14. “I am able to move around in the kayak and bring all my tackle without worrying about stability or capacity,” explains Quicke, a disabled veteran, about why he loves the PA14.
The Pro Angler 14 is Hobie’s largest and heaviest solo kayak. At 14 feet long and 144 pounds, the PA14 was the biggest kayak we tested. This didn’t keep it from outshining the competition in several categories. With super-size comes super stability and versatility. The PA14 goes with confidence through any conditions on any water. The boat requires a trailer and heavy-duty cart to transport. The weight and width affect on- and off-water maneuverability, but Hobie’s integrated rudder is large enough and perfectly placed to turn this big boat.
The Pedal System
Hobie’s MirageDrive 180 is the latest incarnation of the pedal system credited with starting it all way back in 1997. According to the engineers at Hobie, the MirageDrive fins produce more power and speed than a propeller. To keep up with the competition, who’ve been going backwards with new propeller drives, in 2016 Hobie developed their first fin system with reverse. According to Hobie, unlike a propeller, the MirageDrive 180’s fins don’t lose speed or affect handling in reverse. The MirageDrive fins simply flip around backwards. The downside is the angler has to reach down and pull a cable attached to the drive in order to switch the fins into reverse. The latest version includes improved components and redesigned crank arms. One of the best features of the Hobie MirageDrive system is the driver adjusts the pedal arms to fit his legs instead of moving the seat fore and aft. This allows the angler to adjust the fit without affecting the boat’s trim.
Jackson Kayak Coosa FD
Jackson Kayak Coosa FD Specs
Weight: 115 lbs
Capacity: 450 lbs
Mark Wheeler has been a Jackson Kayak pro staffer since 2012. He fishes both coasts, but spends most of his time chasing largemouth bass across the mid-Atlantic. Wheeler received the Coosa FD a few weeks before the Pedal Boat Olympics. He used the time to go for a few practice laps before the big event. “The Coosa FD is a great platform for fishing and hunting,” he reported. “Unquestionable stability and the flexibility of the FlexDrive allows the boat to adapt to any activity.”
Jackson Kayak installed their long-awaited first pedal system in two existing models: the Cruise and Coosa. The Cruise is a niche boat best for lighter anglers and tight waters. We chose to test the FlexDrive on the Coosa, Jackson Kayak’s most popular model. The Coosa FD is fully loaded with all the features you can stuff into a kayak. To improve tracking and protect the lower unit and integrated rudder, the Coosa FD has a long and pronounced keel, putting a lot of plastic in the water. This is the only boat with rudder controls on either side of the cockpit, great for fighting fish and turning the boat at the same time. At 115 pounds and 35 inches wide, the Coosa fits between pocket kayaks and big boy boats. The stability and capacity favors a full-sized kayak with the convenience and simplicity of a smaller craft.
The Pedal System
The last pedal drive to join the party proves to be the most innovative. The FlexDrive uses a dagger board-style lower unit protecting the propeller and bending if it hits an underwater obstruction. The FlexDrive comes in two parts. The removable upper half has the pedals and the lower unit with the propeller stays in the boat. A lever in the base lifts and lowers the lower unit into three positions: up, half draft and full draft. To further customize performance, the propeller pitch can be adjusted to increase speed or torque. It’s worth noting, Wheeler’s FD was in the middle position for the duration for both days of this event. The FlexDrive is a wonder of design. No wonder Jackson anglers have been so eagerly awaiting its release. We look forward to spending more time with the Coosa FD.
Native Watercraft Manta Ray Propel Angler 12
Native Watercraft Manta Ray Specs
Weight: 89 lbs
Capacity: 325 lbs
We couldn’t line up a Native Watercraft pro staff so we recruited local hotshot Tyler Wallace. Wallace has racked up impressive catches fishing the lower Chesapeake Bay and other hot spots all over Virginia. His regular ride is a Hobie Revolution 13, so he was right at home pedalling the sporty Manta Ray. “The Manta was quick and stable for a short boat,” he said. “The pedal system is built to last.”
We chose to test-drive the Propel pedal system on Native’s Manta Ray Propel Angler 12, which is a mid-size fishing kayak best designed for speed and stealth. The bow and stern are pointed for an aggressive entry and exit, improving efficiency and tracking. The rudder is integrated below the stern and protected by an extension of the keel. This design provides more turning power, but makes it impossible to lift the rudder out of the way over a shallow bottom. Native was one of the first to outfit their kayaks with mesh-covered frame seats. The Manta Ray comes rigged with flush mount rod holders behind the seat and one forward-facing rod holder next to the seat, an easy place to stick the rod while unhooking a fish or rigging up.
The Pedal System
Native Watercraft entered the pedal boat race 10 years ago with their first Propel Pedal Drive. In the time since, they’ve improved the design to be more efficient, lighter, quieter and tougher. The propeller and lower unit fit through a narrow opening in the deck covered with a plastic lid to reduce noise. Even though prop noise is minimal, the Manta Ray is one of the loudest boats we tested. The pedal unit attaches to a pivot point on the bow. To raise the lower unit, it takes a few extra seconds to remove the plastic cover from the well and lift the pedal unit forward. Still, the simplicity of the design and years of improvements make the Propel one of the most proven pedal systems.
Old Town Predator PDL
Old Town Predator PDL Specs
Weight: 138 lbs
Capacity: 500 lbs
William “Billy Rags” Ragulsky is a relatively new addition to the Johnson Outdoors fishing team. He’s proven worthy of membership by catching six trophy fish to win Virginia’s Expert Angler award. Ragulsky is a dedicated paddler, but he switched to pedal power to compete in our competition. “If I regularly fished in tournaments,” he says, “the Predator PDL would be my boat.”
After more than a century building canoes and kayaks, Old Town introduced the Predator as their first all-purpose sit-on-top kayak for anglers. Two years later, they introduced the Predator PDL, their first pedal powered kayak.
At 13 feet long and 36 inches wide, the Predator PDL is a solid platform for a pedal boat. The broad hull with center keel improves stability and tracking without reducing efficiency on the water. Before releasing the Predator PDL in 2016, Old Town worked for years with pro staff to dial in the fit and finish with a seat and pedals configured for all-day comfort.
The Pedal System
Old Town tweaked the gears and propeller to give the PDL system enough power to drive the boat without wearing out the driver. The system fits solidly in the kayak with minimal energy-sapping flex. It goes solidly from forward to reverse, and there’s minimal cavitation and gurgling from the propeller. After miles of testing, the Predator PDL has proven bulletproof. All systems work in harmony for power and speed, but we’d like to see a larger rudder to help turn the Predator. Still, it’s easy to see why the Predator PDL is a top choice of pro guides and big-water anglers. The reliable pedal system is powerful and comfortable to fish all day, anywhere.
Ocean Kayak Malibu Pedal
Ocean Kayak Malibu Pedal Specs
Weight: 100 lbs
Capacity: 450 lbs
Driving Ocean Kayak’s first pedal boat was one of its longest-standing team members. Kayak Kevin Whitley has been on the Ocean Kayak pro staff for 10 years. In addition to pushing the limits of kayak fishing in his native Hampton Roads, Whitley is famous for embarking on long distance fishing and paddling expeditions along the East Coast. Whitley is a paddler first and he consistently cranked the fastest paddle times in any boat. “The Malibu is light and tight,” he says. “My kind of fun.”
This year Ocean Kayak entered the pedal kayak race with a new boat and a proven pedal system. The Malibu Pedal’s flared bow is designed for pedalling through shore break and cutting across open water while a broad stern and generous chines provide rock-solid stability. The Malibu Pedal is one of the lightest and spriest boats we tested, perfect for quick trips or novice paddlers. For serious fishing we’d love to see a larger tankwell, the Malibu’s will only fit a small crate. The boat is targeted at recreational users, but we couldn’t help seeing its fishing potential. Add a couple rod holders and a small crate and the Malibu PDL becomes a lightweight, easy-to-handle fishing machine.
The Pedal System
To power the Malibu Pedal, Ocean Kayak started with the proven design powering Old Town’s Predator PDL. They cut the overall size of the system to fit in the smaller, lighter Malibu Pedal but the boat consistently put down the fastest times in our tests. Padded pedals are a nice touch for beach lovers pedalling with bare feet. Turn a knob locking the system into place, and the lower unit lifts in seconds for shallow-water clearance. Ocean Kayak borrowed the same broad, frame seat and covered it with swimsuit friendly, breathable mesh. Simplicity is the beauty of this system; fewer moving parts should prove to be tougher and more reliable over long term testing.
Wilderness Systems Radar Helix PD
Wilderness Systems Radar Helix PD Specs
Weight: 90 lbs
Capacity: 475 lbs
Jay Brooks has been fishing for Wilderness Systems for six years. Even though Brooks is most at home paddling the waters of the Lower Chesapeake and open Atlantic, he jumped on the opportunity to pedal the Radar Helix PD. “The Radar is equally capable as a pedal, paddle or motorized kayak,” he says. “I can buy the boat, then add pedals and motor later.”
Wilderness Systems designed the Radar 135 to be powered with paddle, pedals and electric motor. The Helix PD pedals fit through a narrow opening in the deck and attach to a mounting base with two large pins. The pins take some time and finagling to install and remove. Jay was much faster at it than we were. When the pedals are pulled from the boat, the mounting base requires tools to take out. Without the pedals, the Radar 135 proved to be one of the best paddling boats in the test. Wilderness Systems’ engineers took every opportunity to tweak the boat for performance including adding sound-dampening material to the pedal well and perfecting their popular tunnel-hull design for optimal stability and efficiency.
The Pedal System
Power and adaptability were first on Wilderness Systems’ priorities when designing the Helix PD Pedal Drive. A huge, twin-blade propeller and 6:1 gear ratio push the kayak fast while providing plenty of low-end power. Wilderness went outside the box to design the Helix PD for almost instant shallow-water clearance. Kick a pad on the mounting base and the pedal mast pops up through the mounting base. Not only is the system fast, but it keeps the deck clear. The downside is the two-part system—with the pedal shaft sliding through the base—doesn’t feel as solid as a one-piece system. And the pins and latches required to install the base and pedals take some time and practice to work effectively.
Perception Kayaks Pescador Pilot
Perception Kayaks Pescador Pilot Specs
Weight: 85 lbs
Capacity: 475 lbs
Wilderness Systems pro, Jay Brooks, talked his fiancé, Meghan Lorrain, into driving Perception Kayaks‘ Pescador Pilot for our Pedal Boat Olympics. Lorrain is an experienced kayak angler, completing many fishing missions from her home waters of Chesapeake Bay to the clear waters of South Florida. “I like how easy the Pescador is to rig and operate,” Lorrain says. “I can concentrate on fishing.”
In 2014, Confluence Outdoor’s value-focused Perception brand broke the mold with the feature-filled Pescador costing less than $1,000. In 2016, Perception released the Pescador Pilot, which added a pedal drive system to the boat while keeping the price tag below $2,000. At 85 pounds, the Pilot is also one of the lightest boats we tested. Its sharp entry and sleek hull make it as easy to paddle as it is to pedal. The basic frame seat with mesh back and bottom is light and tough but it didn’t win the comfort contests—which wasn’t an official event, rather like a demonstration sport. The Pescador Pilot could, however, win a beauty contest. We like the color-matched accessories and florescent accents, which make the Pescador one cool looking boat.
The Pedal System
Perception Pilot’s pedal system is light and simple. A large pin holds the pedal unit in the mounting base, which is held in the cockpit with screws. A second pin holds the pedal unit in the down position. To go into shallow water, or drag the kayak, pull the second pin and the pedal unit tilts forward lifting the lower unit out of the water. The Pilot system is compact and light, but the pins and two-part system (pedal unit and mounting base) on our test model were far from tight. Testers felt this was robbing some of the system’s pedaling performance. The overall design and smart layout make up for shortcomings in fit and finish. And at $1,799, the Pescador Pilot is a great deal.
Pedal Boat Olympics: The Events
The clouds parted, the wind calmed and the sun shone on the white sand beach lined with seven of the hottest pedal kayaks to hit the water. Perhaps the first time all the boats and all these athletes had been together in one place. As the weather cleared, seven anglers stretched and warmed up next to their boats. The shit talking started almost immediately.
“If you ain’t rubbin’, you ain’t racing,” someone shouted.
Another voice laughed, “Second place is just the first place loser.” Typical, with pro anglers.
“if we’re kayak fishing, everyone’s a winner.”
Clearing my throat and waving a clipboard over my head, I attempted crowd control. “Personal foul!” I yelled. “Fifteen-yard penalty.”
And so it begins. I called the athletes together and explained we were going to put the pedal boats through seven tests. My buddy, Zach Lannon, stood by my side with a stopwatch.
A bribe jumped out, “I got $20 for the guy with the watch!” Zach starting moving towards the voice until I grabbed his jacket collar. Someone asked about drug testing. Everyone laughed.
“This is not the real Olympics,” I explained. “In these games, if we’re kayak fishing, everyone’s a winner.”
To measure the shallow water clearance of each pedal system, we floated the empty boats just off the beach, lowered the pedal units and then pushed the boats ashore until the props or fins scrubbed bottom. We then measured the water depth with a tape measure dropped through the scupper nearest the point of contact of the pedal drive.
The diminutive Malibu had the shallowest fully deployed draft at just 11 inches.
On the deep end, the Perception Pescador’s long, narrow drive shaft required a full 17 inches of water to float. So did the Old Town Predator PDL—the big boat calls for a deep propeller.
The Manta Ray Propel came in at 14 inches. So did the Coosa FD with the FlexDrive in its deepest setting. Lift the Jackson drive shaft into shallow water mode and the draft is just nine inches.
Wilderness Systems’ Radar and Hobie’s PA14 both needed a little over 16 inches to fully operate, but Hobie’s MirageDrive180 fins can be fluttered to cut the draft in half making it the shallow water winner, albeit not at full power.
Shallow Water Jump
For the shallow water jump we timed how long it took for the pedal systems to go from fully deployed to zero draft and back to fully deployed.
Real world scenario is you come into a shallow sand bar or weedy section where you must lift the drive, float over the obstruction, reach deep water again and drop the drive.
The Hobie MirageDrive, Wilderness Systems Helix PD and Jackson FD were the winners averaging just over one second.
To go shallow, the MirageDrive operator simply pushes one pedal lever forward to spread the fins flat against the hull.
When the Jackson FlexDrive driver goes shallow, he pulls a lever and the propeller and lower unit lift into a well in the hull. Further aiding the FD’s shallow-water performance, the dagger board and propeller will bend towards the stern on direct impact if the contact is from the front.
The Radar’s spring-loaded system only requires the angler to push a button and the pedal unit pops up through the mounting base. To redeploy, simply push the pedal mast back down through the scupper.
The PDL system on the Predator and Malibu only take a few seconds to turn a knob allowing the lower unit and propeller to pop up through the deck.
Native’s slightly slower 15-second result could be attributed to Tyler Wallaces’ inexperience with the system. Still, removing the propeller well cover and lifting the pedals forward is going to take more time than all the systems above.
Perception’s Pilot drive requires the operator to pull a tight-fitting pin and lift the lower unit through the scupper. Redeploying the system requires the pin to be reinstalled.
Only Hobie’s MD180 and Jackson’s FD go shallow without pulling the lower unit into the cockpit and reducing fishing and paddling space. For many pedal anglers, shallow water operation is one of the most important considerations. Some anglers could potentially lift and lower the unit dozens of times over the course of their usual fishing trips.
For this test, we started with the kayaks on the beach and the pedal drives lying beside the boats on the sand.
The competitors had to install the pedal units, push the boats into the water, take at least one pedal stroke in deep enough water, return to the beach and jump out of the boats.
Since Jackson’s Coosa FD only requires the driver to clip together the pedal unit and lower the propeller, the Coosa came in at 30 seconds from sand to sand. Surprisingly, the Manta Ray, which requires a few more steps and a larger pedal unit, tied the Coosa at 30 seconds.
The Ocean Kayak Malibu and Old Town Predator came in only nine and 11 seconds behind. They were both easy to rig, just turn two knobs to lock in the upper arms then drop the lower units through the decks and turn more knobs to lock the drives in place. The two-second difference probably comes down to the weight of the boats more than the installation of the drives.
Hobie’s results were affected by the PA14’s size and layout. The MirageDrive 180 only takes seconds to install, but drivers lost time climbing over the H-rails and into the high-sided kayak. Sixty-two-year-old Thomas Quicke required one minute and 18 seconds to perform the task. But, 17-year-old Ryan Rickles only cut his time by 10 seconds.
The Perception Pescador and Wilderness Systems Radar also took well over a minute to rig. The pedal systems must first be secured with pins taking valuable seconds to line up and lock into place.
Does an extra minute out of your day matter? Perhaps, if you were installing and removing the systems regularly. Otherwise, probably not.
Six of the boats can be rigged with the pedal system before the boat is launched. Only the Hobie requires the boat to enter the water before installing the MirageDrive.
To test reverse speed and control, we set up a start and finish line about 50 yards apart on the beach. We lined up the boats with their stern toward the finish line.
We learned during this test how some hull designs and propellers lose efficiency, speed and torque in reverse. Here, even though the ProAngler 14 was the heaviest boat in the test, Hobie’s MirageDrive 180 had the clear advantage in the reverse race. The fins switch 180 degrees, retaining the same hydrodynamics in forward or reverse. The fins also seemed to improve handling in reverse; and it’s easier to steer the MD180 boat than other models.
The advantage was evident with the Hobie coming in at 10 seconds. Ocean Kayak’s light Malibu PDL, driven by uber-competitive Kayak Kevin Whitley, was a close second at 12 seconds.
The other boats finished within three seconds of one another, between 17 and 20 seconds. To help be sure the difference in times was propulsion efficiency and not how well the drivers steered going backwards we took the best of three times allowing anglers the opportunity to ditch their worst attempts. It’s more challenging than you’d think to go backwards fast and straight.
On the second day, we tested the boats for top speed in reverse, removing the maneuverability element and just focusing on speed.
Three guys tested each boat in the same conditions. We handed them the same GPS and told them to pedal like hell in reverse. Then we took the average of their top speeds. Looking at just recorded top speed, we discovered the diminutive Ocean Kayak Malibu was the fastest going backwards. The little boat’s big brother, Old Town Predator came in a close second suggesting the PDL’s propeller is most efficient in reverse.
The PA14, Manta Ray and Radar scored a top speed over four miles per hour. Jackson’s FlexDrive averaged only 2.6 miles per hour. We didn’t test the FD in every pitch and gear option; Jackson would surely claim messing with the prop could improve the speed. Sometime during the end of our testing, the Pescador Pilot’s pedals stopped turning the propeller. We later discovered the propeller had come loose from the shaft, a quick fix. On the beach, we weren’t able to work on it so the boat only completed one reverse run and therefore was not included in the results.
Do we think reverse speed should be a deal breaker? No. One only needs to turn back a few pages in fishing kayak history to remember we did a whole lot of kayak pedalling without reverse. All these posted times blow away making a large circle or grabbing for a paddle to go back to where you just were.
To test power and torque, we lined up stern to stern for a few games of tug-of-war. Using a 20-foot piece of rock climbing rope, we tied the stern handles of two boats together. A volunteer steadied each boat while referee Zach Lannon held the center of the rope. At the count of three, Lannon released the rope and the drivers pedalled and pulled with all their might until one of the boats was dragged backward past the centerline.
We used a single-elimination competition. The winner of one match faced the winner of the next match. Losers didn’t face off. In the end, Hobie’s powerful MirageDrive took the podium. Even though the boat is larger and heavier, no other drive was a match for the MirageDrive fins. In second place, the Pescador put up a good fight, but driver Jay Brooks admitted the MirageDrive 180 fins were just too powerful.
The Coosa FD, Radar, Manta Ray and Malibu were evenly matched with enough props to push the boats across the water but not enough low-end torque to overcome the MirageDrive fins.
The best match was between the Wilderness Systems’ Radar and Old Town’s Predator. A civilian training instructor with the Navy, Billy Ragulsky faced Marine Reserve officer Jay Brooks. When the line was released, the pedalers dug in and held each other at bay until Brooks finally broke the stalemate and slowly dragged Ragulsky across the line. Tug-of-war should be part of all after-dinner festivities at all tournaments. It’s good clean fun and entertaining as hell to watch.
With all the excitement about pedal and propeller design, we still tested how well these kayaks actually paddled. Why? Leg injury perhaps. Broken pedal mechanisms more likely. And just bragging rights.
We performed two tests. On the first day, we had the pedallers race head-to-head. For the second test, we timed three paddlers in each boat as they sprinted 50 yards down the beach and we averaged their scores.
On the first heat, we wanted to measure speed but also nimbleness. The head-to-head comparison had all contestants paddle from the beach to a navigation channel marker 200 yards away, turn around the piling and race back to the beach. The first one to the beach was the winner. They could leave the pedal system deployed or retracted, but it had to be on the boat as if they’d pedalled out for a day of fishing but had to paddle home.
The racers finished neck and neck. The Radar, which is the only kayak designed both for paddling and pedalling, came in first place with a time of one minute, 27 seconds. Followed very closely by the Native Watercraft’s Manta Ray, another boat first born as a paddling machine.
Even though the Predator is one of the largest boats in the test, its paddle roots brought the boat in close third place. Ocean Kayak’s Malibu finished in fourth place, while the Coosa FD and Pescador Pilot nearly tied in fifth and sixth place around the two-minute mark.
The Hobie PA14 came in last, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. The biggest and heaviest boat in the test comes with an included canoe paddle, like emergency oars in a johnboat. We raced the PA14 with a long kayak paddle and it did pretty well. We also realize we may be the first anglers to enter a PA14 in a paddle race.
Paddle Time Trials
On the second heat, to get more objective data on paddle performance, the next day we had three anglers paddle each boat over 50 yards then averaged the times.
This time we pulled the drives up but still left them in the boats. The sporty Pescador Pilot came in first, setting the mark at 21.75 seconds. Despite being one of the heaviest boats, the Predator scooted down the beach with a second-place finish. The spread between first and the last place was only four seconds proving the boats have similar enough straight ahead paddling performance, a good thing to know in the event of a mechanical failure.
Dependability issues aside, maneuverability is still limited with pedals. For now, paddle performance remains an important consideration for some anglers. No matter how well a kayak pedals, anglers will still paddle in tight spots. If you’re planning on lots of paddling, consider a pedal drive kayak with a drive that can be out of the way of your strokes.
Head-to-Head Pedal Race
By late afternoon on the first day, the sun was low and the pedallers were fired up. The cheering and jeering had attracted a crowd of bystanders to the beach.
The last competition of the day put the drivers in a head-to-head race from the beach to a navigation marker a few hundred feet away and back to the beach. We required the racers to pedal around the marker, no paddles allowed, testing both speed and turning radius.
With vastly different hulls—from 12 feet and 100 pounds to 14 feet and 144 pounds—and different athletes—from teenagers to old guys—the contest was hardly fair. There are too many variables for this to be a true comparison of speed of the drives. This race was more about having fun.
To win, the anglers needed more than a boat with speed. They needed to steer straight, and most importantly, turn sharply around the marker. While the speed significance might be argued, the result really came down to turning radius.
Zach Lannon shouted, “On your mark!” The anglers held their boats with the stern on the beach.
“Get set!” The competitors started pushing each other for space.
“GO!” Zach yelled. And the boats took off in a cloud of salt spray and profanities.
The pack was off and pedalling hard. With everyone racing towards the marker, captains were crashing and cursing for position. Drivers fought for an opening in the pack and clean water for their propellers.
Kevin Whitley in the Malibu jumped out to an early lead. The smaller, lighter boat allowed him to reach the marker first and make a tight turn. While the rest of the pack fought to get around the turning point, kayaks bounced out of the fray and spun off course.
With the pack fighting it out, Whitley stayed ahead and reached the beach in one minute, nine seconds. The rest of the boats came in within 20 seconds of each other with the big PA14 finishing last at 1:54, due to a spin out in heavy race traffic. And as Harry Hogge told Cole in Days of Thunder, “No, no he didn’t slam you, he didn’t bump you, he didn’t nudge you…he rubbed you. And rubbin, son, is racin’!”
While we don’t expect anglers to face violent competition in breakneck races to fishing grounds, maybe tournament mass starts from one central location could be a thing. The spectators gathered on the beach sure loved it.
To get a more accurate understanding of speed and turning radius, on the second day of the event we broke this up into four different events. We had three guys pedal the boats in a timed sprint; they performed top speed tests and two tests for turning radius.
50-Yard Pedal Dash
First, we walked 50 paces down the beach and stuck a stick in the sand. Again, we had three guys pedal each boat as fast as possible for the distance. Believe it or not, the Malibu won, again. First and last place were only separated by a few seconds; in a race against the clock, averaged with three different anglers, the results are pretty much a tie.
Top Pedal Speed
To measure top speed, each operator took a GPS and recorded top speed by pedalling the boat as fast as their feet could fly. This time, the Predator passed the Malibu for first place. The other boats finished in close order with the Coosa FlexDrive bringing up the rear, again.
Jackson pro staffer, Mark Wheeler had the adjustable pitch and draft in his Coosa FD set in the factory neutral position. We’d have loved to spend more time messing with the FD to see how much changing pitch affects high-speed performance and at what cost to torque. Look for a full review of the Jackson Coosa FD in an upcoming issue of Kayak Angler.
To measure turning radius we had three anglers put each boat through two tests. The first pass, they turned the boat while keeping the hull flat and just cranking the rudder knobs. The second go-around the anglers tilted the boats hard trying to make them carve tighter turns. In both tests, each operator started with the kayak perpendicular to the beach with a stake marking the starting point. Then the anglers pedalled forward, turning the boat hard right.
To measure radius, we marked where the boat returned to shore and measured the distance between starting and ending points on the beach.
It would come as no surprise to anyone who has spent any time in a Hobie PA14 that it finished with the tightest turn in both categories. An integrated rudder, tucked under the stern, offers more surface area and a better location to affect water moving under the boat.
The Coosa FD came in second, suggesting boats with the integrated rudder under the stern will turn tighter than boats with rudders hanging off the back of the boat. Of course, there’s always an exception to the rule. Native’s Manta Ray has an integrated rudder and it turned the widest. So much for simple theories. You never know until you truly test it.
Wrap-up of the best pedal drive fishing kayaks
The Pedal Boat Olympics and Shootout were truly more fun than final. But add the head-to-head competition and objective timed tests and we’re confident the data we collected is a valuable baseline indicator of each boat’s performance. The aggressive head-to-head competition also tested design and construction with several systems suffering breakdowns and mechanical short falls.
Yes, all the systems work, but some work better than others. Some cost more than others. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Hobie’s MirageDrive 180
This boat led in the power events. The large surface area of the Turbo Fins seems to push more water than the narrow propellers. However, the MD180 requires a free hand to reach down and pull the cord to shift into reverse while the pedals and propellers instantly spin backwards.
We put a half-dozen different guys in the PA14, pushing the MD180 to the edge. Eventually, pedalling the kayak beyond its limits stripped the teeth off the sprocket, splitting the spline. We suspect the trouble was caused by pushing the fins out too far causing them to slap the hull.
We found out later that Quicke brought the first generation MD180 drive to the test. The most recent model features upgrades to these parts. When Quicke took the drive to his local Hobie dealer, they replaced the parts with updated components and Quicke was back on the water.
Old Town and Ocean Kayak’s PDL
These boats are a one-piece unit fitting solidly in the hull, making it tougher and tighter than the other prop drives. The large propeller combined with the shape of the hull also makes the PDL our fastest pedal unit; the Malibu and Predator finished first and second in every pedal speed test. The PDL also seemed quieter, with the sealed pedal well absorbing propeller noise and turbulence.
The PDL is larger and bulkier than the other systems, taking up more room in the cockpit when the lower unit is lifted out of the water. The Predator is a full-size boat ready for big water and long distance. We’d grab the Malibu for quick trips to the beach or taking friends on their first kayak fishing experiences.
Wilderness Systems’ Helix PD
This boat is an ambitious system with complicated construction. The Radar didn’t win any races, but it didn’t lose, either. We love how the drive goes into shallow water almost instantly, but the two-piece system with pins, springs, levers and latches takes some tweaking to get tight in the boat. This is one of the few boats to go from paddle and pedal to motor, making it easy to buy the Radar and add more power later.
Perception’s Pescador Pilot
This boat follows the adage you get what you pay for. With the lowest price tag at the event, the Pilot offers anglers great value for features and function. The tradeoff is a clunky-by-comparison pedal system, taking several steps to install and remove. Unfortunately, the Pilot was unable to complete some of the events after a drive malfunction. Two days of unnatural torture took its toll. Back at the shop, we were able to repair the prop’s connection to the spindle. Anglers looking to get on the water and pedal to the fish without breaking the bank will be pleased with the Pescador Pilot. Look at it this way; you can buy two complete Pescador Pilots for the price of some of the other boats on the beach.
This boat has spent years refining their Propel drive and it shows. The modern system is lighter, tighter and tougher than previous models. The Propel drive fits in several Native models offering anglers the opportunity to find a pedal boat fitting their type of fishing. We love the simple system for installing and lifting the lower unit, but we’d like to see a better solution for covering the noisy pedal well.
This boat has already gone through several redesigns. The innovative dagger board, flexible shaft, adjustable prop, three-stage operation and two-piece pedal and lower unit offers the most hope for pedal boat fans. However, the ambitious and complex system has so many moving parts, there seems potential for something to go wrong. We look forward to more testing and tweaking of the FD.
Pedal drive power allows fishing kayak designers to make boats wider and heavier for the best stability and capacity. The pedal systems delivered power to move the boats faster and with less effort than with a paddle. Not to mention hands-free propulsion. The seats and cockpits are setup for comfort and efficiency and rudders offer responsive control.
The competition to build better pedal-powered kayaks is pushing companies to keep innovating and perfecting new and existing designs—this is great news. We expect to see the efficiency and durability of the systems continue to improve. We may see weight savings with more expensive parts made of materials like carbon fiber. Some of the systems tested have been around for years and others are brand new to the market. Three of the newest boats were not ready to be included in the first ever Kayak Angler Pedal Boat Olympics and Shootout. Expect at least three more competitors in next year’s event. In another 10 years who knows where we’ll be. We may look back on 2018 and think it was just the very beginning of the best fishing kayak pedal drive revolution.
The ultimate test of the best pedal drive fishing kayaks. | Feature Photo: Roberto Westbrook