Why Are Pedal Kayaks So Expensive?


Women on pedal kayaks in lake

Pedal kayaks offer many advantages over the more traditional and basic paddle kayaks. Hands-free kayaking, increased speed and the ability to pedal in reverse are just some of the advantages of using a pedal kayak. With so many benefits it is easy to see how pedal kayaks have more to offer than paddle kayaks but why are they so expensive?

Pedal kayaks are expensive compared to basic kayaks because they have much more functionality. Pedal mechanisms cost money to produce and install on a kayak. Pedal kayaks are also usually specialized boats used for specific purposes, such as fishing, and will therefore also have additional features that cost money to add to the boat such as adjustable seats, rod holders etc.

Pedal mechanisms cost money

Being able to control the movement of a kayak without the use of a paddle was a innovative stroke of genius.

It was Hobie who showed the world the first kayak pedal mechanism with the introduction of the MirageDrive back in 1997. Since then there have been improvements in drives but the basic technology stays the same.

In 2008, another American brand, Native Watercraft introduced their own version of a pedal device called the Propel, though Hobie remain at the forefront of innovation in this field. To read more about Hobie kayaks and their continuing innovations read this article which will also show you why Hobie kayaks are considered to be expensive.

But why do these pedal mechanisms drive up the price of a kayak?

Pedal mechanisms increase the price of a kayak for several reasons:

  • Kayak hull molding is different for a pedal kayak. Pedal kayaks are made differently from paddle kayaks. This means different tools and equipment are needed for the production of these small boats.
  • Lower quantity production. Bulk manufacturing greatly reduces costs to both the manufacturer and the purchaser. As pedal kayaks are not as popular, and therefore not as many are produced, this makes production more expensive.
  • The mechanism itself is not cheap. It costs a fair amount of money to produce a pedal mechanism. Replacing a MirageDrive pedal mechanism will set you back just under $700.

As you can see producing a pedal kayak is not as straightforward, or as cost-effective, as the bulk manufacturing of basic paddle kayaks.

You should also keep in mind that it was also expensive to research this technology and with new innovations comes cost.

Although cheaper than a motorized kayak the pedal propulsion unit makes these kayaks more expensive than a simple paddle kayak because they are much more complicated vessels to build.

Adding pedal propulsion requires hull modifications

Ensuring that the propulsion mechanism, that is driven by the pedals, is located under the kayak to reduce splashing required innovation in hull design.

This new hull design also means that not only is splashing from the propulsion mechanism eliminated but splashing when using traditional paddle is also reduced. This makes a pedal kayak quieter and stealthier than a non-pedal kayak and thus a superior and higher quality boat. With superior quality comes extra cost.

As kayaks are deigned to be used in very shallow waters having a propulsion unit underneath the boat can be disadvantageous if you want to venture into the type of extreme shallows that paddle kayaks often navigate.

To deal with this problem most pedal kayaks are fitted with a mechanism that can raise, or retract, the propulsion unit to reduce the draft of the kayak – similar to how a shoal draft boat can raise its keel to reduce its draft. Obviously adding this feature to the propulsion system also adds additional cost to the kayak.

Pedal kayaks also tend to be much wider than other kayaks. This leads to better stability on the water but obviously it requires more materials to build the boat. This in turn requires more money to buy those materials and these costs must be passed on the the consumer.

Higher cost production

We all know the benefits of bulk production; producing things in bulk tends to reduce the purchase price significantly. When manufacturers can build in bulk they can purchase raw materials cheaper and these savings can be passed on to the consumer.

Likewise, production costs are also reduced. For example, it does not take that much more in power and manpower to create 1000 units as it does to create 800. With each additional unit built the overall cost of manufacturing that unit goes down.

So what does this have to do with pedal kayaks?

Well, pedal kayaks only appear to expensive when they are compared to paddle kayaks. Although not all paddle kayaks are cheap they tend to be much cheaper than pedal kayaks and this is because they are mass produced.

Pedal kayaks are in much lower demand than paddle kayaks and so they are not produced in as much bulk. This means paddle kayaks benefit from mass production much more than pedal kayaks and this makes pedal kayaks more expensive to produce.

To put it in simple terms – lower demand means fewer units built which means higher prices in the marketplace.

The pedal mechanism is expensive to produce

A pedal mechanism may appear to be simple in nature but they have a lot of moving parts and making one requires high quality materials to ensure correct functionality and durability.

Aluminum is the standard material used in kayak pedal mechanisms and aluminum is expensive.

Pedals are manufactured in the USA, as are many of the kayaks, and this means higher production costs. Labor costs, power costs and material costs are all higher in the USA.  On a positive point though, you can be assured of a much higher quality product, at least when it comes to kayaks.

It’s not just about the pedals

Pedal kayaks are also sit-on-top kayaks and these type of kayaks tend to be more expensive than their sit-in counterparts. As we covered in a previous article the difference between sit-in kayaks and sit-on-top kayaks means more than just a difference in features and uses. It also means a different in price.

Sit-on-top kayaks have more parts to them and much more features than even the most expensive sit-in kayak. They are also wider and pedal kayaks are wider yet again meaning it takes more materials to build these boats.

Sit-on-top kayaks are also fitted with superior back support as the kayaker is elevated on the boat. Unlike a sit-in kayak, where the paddler sits in an enclosed cockpit with the rear of the hull at his/her back, a sit-on-top kayaker sits on top of the hull in an elevated seat. A sit-on-top kayaker therefore needs an additional seat that also comes with extra back support and these things cost money.

Adding the necessary adjustability to the seats is also needed. A kayaker must be able to adjust the seat height in addition to adjusting the seat location. This means sit-on-top kayaks must have movable seats as this is essential so the kayaker can customize his/her seating position correctly for a comfortable and injury-free boating experience. We tend to take the mechanisms needed to perform these tasks for granted but adding them to the seat means adding cost to the kayak.

Pedal kayaks are also usually built for very specific purposes, such as fishing. To make a kayak suitable for fishing it needs more hull modifications for example to allow the boat the capability of  holding rods and nets.

All these additional features make a sit-on-top kayak more expensive than a sit-in kayak. When you add a pedal mechanism to the boat and widen its hull to accommodate it, the costs increase even more. This is why pedal kayaks are so expensive.

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