A dive into the making-of, and the redesign of the most versatile kayak drive system today.
When we set out to create a system to drive a kayak with your feet, or a motor, we wanted to eliminate the challenges that existing systems had and create the most user friendly and versatile system on the market. Easier said, then done, as most things are.
The function our Flex Drive System was spot on. The innovation in the drive train, which allowed the propellor to be protected by a dagger board, and move up and down based on the depth of the water, or equally important, when loading, unloading, launching, or beaching a kayak is still unparalleled. The system is designed with an upper unit, and a lower unit, that remains permanently attached to the kayak. All other systems are one unit and are large, heavy, and cumbersome. Our upper unit can be either pedal or electric. The pedal unit clips onto the lower unit with two thumbscrews and takes about 30 seconds to put on or take off. The upper unit transports easily on one seat of your car/truck, or on the floor in front of a seat. Most units take up the entire back seat of a truck. The electric unit (Flex Drive-E) is also super lightweight and small. It, too, is attached with two thumbscrews and takes about 30 seconds to mount on the lower unit and plug in the battery. (either lead acid or Lithium)
Our generation 1 design was a great first attempt at entering the pedal drive market, but we quickly saw areas that needed improvement. Our team, customers, and dealers were a big part of helping us see just what was needed to make it better. The primary complaints people had was excessive noise and a rough feel to the pedaling. This was a function of the design of the flexible drive shaft, the bearings, the gears, the grease, the coupling design (between upper and lower unit), how the upper unit sat on the lower units, etc. etc…. Basically, we left no stone unturned. Lead by our Product development manager, Brad Sisco, a trial and error program, combined with engineering of new parts lead by Nick Lewis, we spent over a year working through each part of the upper and lower units. Brad chased down each noise, easy bump, and each part until just about every component of both upper and lower units were upgraded or redesigned. We considered making inline changes during the season on many of them but chose to test them heavily. Finally, we got to where we are proud to launch Generation 2 of the Flex Drive System, called- Flex Drive 3D.
It is easy to recognize the new Flex Drive 3D visually. The upper unit is black with silver cranks and the lower unit has a Flex Drive 3D bubble sticker on it. The original unit was silver with black cranks.
What you will experience with this second generation Flex Drive is amazing. Greatly improved efficiency due to less physical drag through the entire system. It is a joy to pedal. There are still systems that are a bit smoother due to not using a flexible drive shaft, but ours is now comparable. The advantages of our system far outweigh the minor feeling you get driving a flexible shaft through the sleeve inside.
This includes the new two bladed propellor that is based on a model airplane prop. We have a 10″ – 10 pitch 12V and 9″ – 5 pitch 24V prop. The first number is the Diameter and the second number is the pitch. Basically you don’t pedal as fast as the electric motor goes, but you have more power in your legs for a higher pitch prop. The electric motor can run with either the 12V or 24V prop. With a 24V battery setup, it is much happier running on the 9″ – 5 pitch 24V prop with a lower pitch, allowing the motor to rev higher. You can also pedal with the 9″ – 5 pitch 12V, but your leg speed needs to be faster to go the same speed. Your top speed pedaling will be faster with the 10″ – 10 pitch 12V prop. This new prop is much faster and smoother, and quieter than the three bladed prop that was originally shipping with the Flex Drive.
Each Flex Drive 3D ships with a grease gun and special grease. The upper drives have two grease ports for regular maintenance, which is new in the 3D. The schedule for maintenance is shown in the user manual and is only occasionally required.
One of the biggest advantages the 3D offers is the ease of switching from pedal to electric . I bring my Flex Drive-E (designed and manufactured in the USA- compared to overseas for Torqueedo) with me on the boat for when I want the extra speed or room in the bow for rods, etc.. Switching ON THE WATER is quick and easy! Two thumbscrews to remove the pedals and switch to the electric takes less than 60 seconds. A quick plug on the cables makes plugging the battery in fast and secure. I keep the Lithium battery in front of my lower unit out of the way on the mono-hull kayaks, and in the front hatch on my Angler 360. The throttle control can be turned on and speed adjusted with your feet or hands. I use my feet mostly, so I can keep both hands on my rod and not miss a cast. When standing up and fishing I usually reach down and use my hands to adjust the speed. If it gets cold out, or you want to pedal again, run the battery down, or any other reason, you can quickly switch back to pedal in 60 seconds or less, without going to shore.
While there are a variety of good options for pedaling a kayak, or electric on a kayak, the Flex Drive 3D offers the best all around option. It is way more user friendly for getting on and off the water, lower cost and hassle to add electric, and is super fast and efficient.
I did some cool tests with the new Bite FD with the Flex Drive-E on it. I was running over floating logs, going full speed, and the logs were sticking out of the water. My boat ran up and over, the dagger board kicked up and my boat kept moving right along. I just had to lift the lever down to get the prop back in the water. Check out this video clip…. You can’t do this with any other system. Hobie fins can kick up if the rock or log are deep enough under water, but if they are at or near the surface, you still damage your drive or get stopped dead in your tracks.
The battery longevity is up to you. The smaller lithium battery, the 9.6Ah from K2 Energy, can fish all day in smaller areas with no long runs. It goes about two hours at full speed. The larger lithium battery, the 22Ah from K2 Energy, goes twice as far. A lead acid deep cycle RV/Marine battery will last for a very long time. Long runs, more than one day.
The cost of adding the Flex Drive-E to your Jackson Kayak FD model is $800 plus battery and cable. The battery cost can be $160 for a large, new, Marine Lead Acid or $499 and up for the K2 Energy battery options.
There are not cables to run for steering, no hole drilling, no tools, no fuss, no muss. Plug and play and off you go.
There were so many changes/improvements that I can’t go through all of them, but we hit the high spots. Did I mention we switched from a cast aluminum crank to a forged one? Tougher than before and the new pedals have upgraded bearings as well. The list goes on…
It is time to give Jackson Kayak a try again. Go to your local dealer and request a demo with one of our new Flex Drive 3D’s today. We have an awesome selection of boats with this system. Ask your dealer about our low interest financing options through Sheffied Financial or right here our website as well. Low monthly payments, low interest makes owning one of our Flex Drive 3D models affordable and easy to get on the water fast.
Bite FD- our lightest weight pedal drive yet. Like simple, light, fast, and nimble? The Bite FD is your ticket. At as little as $94/month, it is easy on the wallet as well.
Big Rig FD/HD- our most versatile boat, and biggest monohull- Switch between paddle or pedal with the unique pod system. Once in pedal mode, switch to electric on the water. Tons of storage room for rods, tackle, and gear. Handles the big boys with ease! As low as $154month.
Coosa FD- our original FD kayak, this boat offers lots of bells and whistles but in a smaller package than the Big Rig. I prefer the Coosa FD with the Flex Drive-E to leave lots of room for rods. As low as $141/month.
Angler 360- Our biggest, most stable platform, this boat fishes like a bass boat. Super high, adjustable height, swivel seat, combined with dual hull design is fast and stable. Step off of the dock right on the boat. Fish facing in any direction and control the boat with the rudder system mounted on the seat itself. This boat really shines with the Flex Drive E. As low as $179/month.
Tri-Cat- our side-by-side, dual drive system, dual seating, is a recreational boat for the family. Two pedals, two electric, one pedal one electric options! Throw the kids on, the dogs, put up the sun blind and have a great day on the water! Only $260/month.
Meanwhile- see you on the water!!