Native Ultimate Pedal Drive Review by Jon Shein E-mail
Friday, 16 October 2009 10:29

Native Ultimate Pedal Drive Review by Jon Shein

native kayak

On my way back from 7 months kayak fishing the Everglades I stopped off at Legacy Paddlesports to test their new Ultimate Pedal Craft (UPC).  Some of you may not be aware but I have a fleet of Hobie mirage kayaks.  I’m a huge fan of hands free fishing and spend most of my time fishing foot driven kayaks.  Often people think I’m a company spokesperson or involved with Hobie somehow but I do not have any affiliation with any kayak or accessory company.  Most guides and many kayak fishermen who have influence within the sport have done so.  I didn’t initially because I was a retailer for several years having previously been an owner of Kayak Fishing Stuff.  Since I sold many companies kayaks and products I felt it would be inappropriate to align with one company.  Now I’m no longer with KFS but I write about the sport and continue to be heavily involved in kayak fishing.  I’m basically a full time kayak fishermen and spend a lot of time on the water.  I use products because I like them.  When I talk about those products I don’t have to answer to anyone.

I contacted Andy Zimmerman, creator and headman of Legacy, to get the latest info about the UPC for my upcoming book.  In mid June, Jimbo, the idea man behind the Ultimate was going to be in town so Andy suggested it would be best if I could stop by then.  It would cut my time short in the Everglades by a couple weeks, just when the fishing was really heating up, but I really wanted to check the kayak out.  In my book there’s a lot of information about pedal drive fishing as I do a lot of it in a myriad of environments.  I really wanted to speak about the UPC from first hand use rather then conjecture.  I recognized visiting while Jimbo was there would be great.  I’m familiar with the Native Ultimate as Everglades Kayak Fishing has a fleet of them.  They’re a great craft for the Everglades and many environments throughout the country.  Basically anywhere it’s semi protected.  When it gets rougher there is an ingenious array of skirts that’ll keep the water out.  Still I wouldn’t use the skirts in the surf as Andy proved when he had a bad idea to attempt it.  Otherwise the Ultimate can be used in most environments. 

native pedal kayak

The first time I saw the Ultimate was when I tested it at the northeast Outdoor Retailer Show the year it was introduced.  Andy and Jimbo asked what I thought and while I didn’t see a use for one at the time in my quiver of kayaks I knew it was going to be a big success.  It had a neat combination of attributes.  Jimbo had been fishing from kayaks for decades.  When Andy created Legacy he asked Jimbo to what features he’d like in the ultimate fishing kayak, hence the name.  All craft are compromises but Jimbo wanted a craft to access flats and protected areas, places where a kayak and fly rod has all the advantages.  Locales not even a flats boat could reach.  They basically took a canoe and changed everything Jimbo didn’t like about them.  The vessel was kept the open, providing the easy access and carrying capacity of canoes and reworked the rest.  The high bow, stern and sides were fixed.  All they do is catch wind and make it harder to handle.  Next they put in better seating.  The final change was a tunnel hull to facilitate stability and standing.  These attributes I found great for the Everglades.  Often the ability to stand, both safely and easily is important.

There was one major problem for me when I used one.  I had to paddle.  I admit, the mirage drive has spoiled me and I’ve grown quite accustomed to hands free fishing.  Fishing is a hands on sport and while there are environments where it isn’t going to matter much, there are many where it makes a big difference.  I like the advantages I gain in many situations.

native kayak

All that’s changed now that the Ultimate has pedals.  It isn’t going to replace my Hobie Revolution but when I get one it’s going to be a welcomed addition to my kayak quiver that’ll see a lot of use.  I know it’ll see lots of time on the water for inshore fishing, especially in the protected environments I fish in Florida and similar places.

Enough talk; let’s go to my test drive.  I had a choice to either test a 12 or 14.5.  I opted for the longer.  The drive unit comes on a bar that snaps into the kayak.   It can pivot easily on this bar and when not in use can sit flat in the kayak’s bow out of the way.   When ready to be used it simply pivots to the slot and is dropped through for use.  The hull is a modified Ultimate with the opening in front of the seat.  It’s about a foot long and a few inches wide.  I hopped in the kayak at a launch ramp and used a canoe paddle to back away from the ramp.  The drive requires 16” under it.  The drive uses a propeller that’s approximately a foot long.  In order to drop it in place the prop has to be in the vertical position to fit through the slot.  It’s easy to drop in.  Next I closed the latch that holds the drive in place.  There’s a splashguard that goes over the opening because unlike the mirage the Ultimate isn’t a SOT.  So it’s needed to keep water from splashing into the kayak and it also has a tray feature where you can put things.  The guard locks down with 4 bungee latches.  The mirage uses a back and forth motion.  Push one leg forward at a time and the flippers propel you forward.  A bicycle unit built by Japanese bicycle manufacturers drives the Ultimate prop.  It’s quite a unit.  Heavy (twice the weight of a mirage) but solid that I expect will be bulletproof.  The unit is sealed.  On the bottom there’s a skeg to protect the prop.  I didn’t run into anything to test it out, but I know I could have run into the cement launch ramp and not hurt the prop.  I guess you could damage the prop, but I think it’s highly unlikely.  I’d carry a spare, just in case and it’s the only spare part you’d need.  The rudder is the standard design you find in most kayaks.  That’s good because it’s simple and very reliable.  There’s a knot on 2 cords and you pull the knot that’s closest to you to either raise or lower the rudder.  Steering is facilitated with a lever conveniently placed on the port side for use with the left hand.

bare kayak

The drive was in; I deployed the rudder and adjusted the seat.  The seat is the same unit used in all the Ultimate kayaks.  It’s very comfortable.  I put my feet on the pedals and started to turn them.  There’s quite a bit of resistance.   Considerably more then the mirage turbo fins.  It surprised me.  It’s a lot like using a big gear in a bicycle and taking off requires some oomph.  Once underway it’s a slow pedal.  No spinning at all.  I quickly realized I was cranking hard and moving along nicely.  It was easier, once I got going, to maintain a higher speed then with the mirage.  That’s probably because the circular motion maintains momentum whereas the pushing of the mirage doesn’t as you’re stopping and starting on each stroke.  It shares with the mirage that the better propulsion comes from a seated position that’s more inclined then where one would sit while paddling.  The seat can be rocked back or forward which I found nice.  I was back when pedaling and went forward when I stopped.  Next I performed what is my favorite feature of the drive.  While traveling along I reversed my pedaling and stopped dead on the water.  It was easy and something the mirage can’t do.  Next I went backwards.  Then I played with the yak some more.  The turning radius isn’t as sharp as my Revo, with sail rudder, but when both forward and reverse are utilized with the rudder the maneuvering is fantastic and far superior to my Revo.  It’s in another universe from the mirage in this department.  Maneuvering is so easy.  With my Revo I need to grab the paddle and pull the rudder out of the water for close quarter maneuvering.  Once I grab the paddle I’m no longer hands free.  With the UPC all maneuvering is hands free.  There are a lot of places where it’s going to be a terrific feature like the Everglades backcountry.  It’ll be fantastic in the mangrove tunnels.  After reverse my next favorite feature is how easy it is to stand and site fish.  The Ultimates are one of the easiest craft to stand in.  While I can stand in my Revo I don’t like to as there isn’t anywhere flat to put my feet and without the sidekicks (an add-on outrigger system) it isn’t very practical and I rarely take them along.  Also I prefer using the Hobie bait tank and when it’s in use that’s where the sidekick crossbar would be.

I spent 15 minutes in the kayak.  I’ve fished from approximately 4-dozen different kayaks so I have a lot of experience and while 15 minutes isn’t fishing and living with it I can surmise some things about the UPC.  There are things it’s going to do well and things it won’t.  The rest of this report will be based upon my experience kayak fishing all over in lots of varied environments with different kayaks.  Also I bring to the table my experience at KFS.  I’ve worked on a lot of kayaks and have seen plenty of failures.  First off the Ultimate is a hybrid and shares many properties with a canoe.  So it’s a Sit Inside Kayak (SIK).  It’s susceptible to all the weaknesses of a SIK, which is mainly that the cockpit is exposed to the elements and water will come over the side if it gets rough.  While the other Ultimates have skirts I don’t know how they’ll work in the UPC.

For inshore, protected waters this is going to be a superb tool and it’s where I’ll be using it and it’s what it’s designed for.  I didn’t get a chance to test how effective the kick up feature for the drive is.  The water depth needed by the kayak is finite.  Also when pulling the drive the prop has to be in the vertical position, otherwise it hangs up and the drive won’t pull up.  I don’t know if there was an indicator on the drive or not but it would be nice if there was a visual means to know when the prop was in the right alignment to lift.  You can’t see the prop well when it’s in the slot.  The mirage, when feathering the blades, will function in less water, however you aren’t going very far or fast when you do so.  When I need to cover distance in shallow water in my Revo I grab the paddle and put the blades in the flat position.  In the UPC you’ll have to flip the drive forward.  That’ll require undoing the 4 bungee latches and the hold down latch.  It’s certainly more effort then pushing one pedal forward as with the mirage.  However for calm, shallow waters I doubt I’d need to have the splashguard in place so then it would only require undoing the latch and flipping the unit.  It’s still more then the mirage but then the unit is completely out of the water.  The mirage protrudes below the kayak hull and I’ve banged in on rocks and oyster bars often.  It’s a tough device and I haven’t damaged it this way but it does offer something for structure to grab and I have hung up a lot because of it.   There’s many a time I’ve pulled the drive, which is fast and easy.  I then lay the drive in the front of the kayak.  The UPC has a better storage system when not in use.

The UPC drive is a sealed unit and other then the prop possibly getting damaged I don’t see anything else that can go wrong.  Time will tell but the Japanese are known for quality equipment and this is a rock solid unit.  It should be as the drive is more then twice the money of a mirage.  I base this on the MSRP of the UPC compared with the cost of an Ultimate hull and rudder.  The mirage is totally different system and the components are exposed and do get damaged and broken.  I’ve personally gone through a number of sprockets, which take a while to replace and when one fails on the water it isn’t practical to change it there.  I’ve bent several masts (the pole that goes through the fin).  They’re easy to fix but require removing the mast and placing it in a vice and straightening it back.  I’ve destroyed 3 sets of fins on oyster bars as the shells win every time when the 2 have disputes.  Also I’ve had fish run under the kayak and braided fishing line has taken chunks out of the blades.  As I type this I’m awaiting a replacement Revo as mine has cracks by both drive hold down bolts (the kayak probably has a few hundred days of use and literally just happened the last week in the Everglades).  Also I had to fabricate an aluminum up/down rudder handle as mine broke a few months ago.  I prefer the sail rudder on the Revo and it puts more stress on the system.  While on the subject of rudders, the mirage rudder works well but it’s a complicated system and like anything complex there’s more to it.  Working on it isn’t easy.  Also while I’ve never had it happen the rudder pin can break.  I had several customers where this occurred.  Should the rudder fail, while on the water, you can’t use the drive.
           

Those of you who know me know that I consider SIKs bathtubs.  I’m a SOT man and in the northeast I feel they are the way to go when fishing saltwater in most locales.  My time in the Everglades, in its more protected waters, showed me that a SIK like the Ultimate made sense and has its place.  Other then it lacking leg propulsion it was a superior hull for many of my excursions.  I especially like the open, canoe like storage when I travel through the backcountry.  In the backcountry there are lakes and ponds connected by mangrove tunnels.  In SOTs I broke a few rods when a rod tip would catch on a mangrove root or limb and the current or my momentum would move the kayak enough to cause the break before I could react.  In the Ultimate I can lay the rods down in the hull and they’re out of harms way.  What’s especially nice is I can have several rods ready to go.  I couldn’t do this with my Revo, as exposing 1 rod, even an Ugly Stik, was all I was willing to chance on catching the hazards.  They’re tuff but I’d rather use a better casting rod.  There are a lot of different angling opportunities in the backcountry.  In the tunnels a very short rod is the ticket.  At the creek openings a longer rod is better and often I’d wanted to have a fly rod for a few casts but I wasn’t willing to have one stashed in the front hatch and pull it out and assemble it for a few casts.  Also there was rarely anywhere to land the kayak as the shoreline was completely covered with mangroves.  Getting out and standing was rare too as usually the bottom was soft muck.  The Ultimate will allow me to have several rods ready to go and its open design facilitates accessing any gear I might have with me easy.  Often Snook, Tarpon or Redfish will lie along the mangroves and from a seated position I couldn’t see them.  The ability to stand easily in the Ultimate adds another great feature that I’ll use constantly in the backcountry.  Jimbo designed a great paddle pole just for this.  It looks great and I’ve got one on back order.  Then there’s reverse.  When hooked, Snook run straight into the mangroves pulling you with them.  In the UPC I can back away while fighting them.

Is the kayak for everyone, of course not?  However there are a lot of folks who are going to love it.  Natives got a whole array of accessories for the Ultimate, more then any other company.  The soft coolers and storage is really cool.  The UPC will be available in 12 or 14.5’ models.  The companies working on other stuff too and I look forward to additional hulls.  While I will have a UPC I look forward to the drive in a SOT. 

Jon S

Some Pictures of Legacy Endorsed Guide - "YAK4FISH"

rigged up

Tegris

 

Comments  

 
0 #1 Mike Dean 2012-03-29 22:57
Thanks for the very helpful review!
 
 
-1 #2 MOriver 2012-07-22 16:59
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different lengths of a UPC or any other kayak for that matter? Why would I buy one over the other? Thanks!
 

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