Water cycling makes any body of water an open highway

The waterbike by Seacycles has two pontoons and is ridden in an upright position  Credit: Courtesy of Seacycles.com
'Tis the season to be pedaling on water, that is.

The sport of water cycling, or at least the recreational aspects of it, has been around for more than 100 years, but with todays modern technology and materials, the sport seems primed to make big waves in the 21st century.

The sport is still in its infancy, said Dan Gindling of San Diego, public relations director of the International Water Cycling Association. Weve got to let people know that todays water cycles arent those old paddleboats that you pedaled for an hour and got out 10 feet. Once they try the new ones, theyll love them.

In water cycling, participants pedal specially designed cycling craft on lakes, ponds, bays, oceans and rivers.

Water-cycling craft designs range from surfboards to catamarans to sleek displacement-hull-type boats. Pedaling positions embrace both the traditional upright bicycle-type craft and laid-back recumbent style. In addition, some of the boats are designed for two pedalers, while other accommodate passengers or camping gear.

Thirteen manufacturers currently produce water-cycling craft in North America. They are based in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Virginia, Washington, and Quebec and Ontario, Canada.

The manufacturers are all members of the International Water Cycling Association, a trade organization whose goal is to promote water cycling as a fun, safe, healthy and environmentally friendly activity.

Retail prices for the water cycles range from $999 to $3,000.

Water cycling has caught a few waves in the media in recent months, demonstrating its benefits as sport, recreation and exercise.

In a late August edition of U.S. News & World Report, there was a health story noting that water-cycling crafts are showing up at resorts as rentals and that hunters and fishermen appreciate their stealth. But for the most people the draw is the chance to get a workout while enjoying a favorite body of water.

A recent Life and Arts story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that water cycling combines a good workout with fresh air and easy handling. The story notes that seniors at the Covenant Shores retirement community on Mercer Island have purchased two water-cycling crafts to use on the waterways around their community.

The media is discovering what many of us have been saying for a long time: Water cycling is fun, safe and non-polluting, said John Howard, a three-time Olympic cyclist and national cycling champion and now water-cycling champion.

Howard, aboard his Budweiser Pedalos, set the American Canoe Association world 24-hour endurance record in August, pedaling 104.6 miles on Sparta Lake in Wisconsin.

In that event we beat the kayaks and established ourselves in the pecking order of human-powered boats, Howard said. I also won the sprint championship at the Hydro Fest in June in the same boat. We got Budweiser interested in sponsoring us with something that was unique and we think weve made a lot of progress in a single year.

Howard, who competed in the Olympics in 1968, 1972 and 1976, says his passion has shifted from spoked wheels to the human-powered propeller.

Water cyclings my new sport, Howard said. My thought is that its time to throw your helmet away and explore the vast waterways of America. People are looking for something new. I can tell you how many cyclists Ive talked to who are fearful of the road.

Howard, 52, is an accident duplication expert who does expert testimony on bike accidents. Some of those experiences led Howard along with his brother Harry to produce the Wave Walker.

There are so many horrible occurrences from cyclists tangling with motorists, Howard said. Some time ago I decided maybe theres a safer way to do this and Ive broken about four bones on mountain bikes, so I dont think thats the solution. My brother, who is a marine engineer, and I came up with the idea collectively of building a human-powered watercraft.

Certainly there are others out there about a dozen world-wide, Howard said. We wanted something that was fast and high-quality. That was our primary interest, to build a really good boat, and that was the motivation behind it. And Harry came up with a really slick design.

The challenge was to build a boat that was light enough and something that was the right length and the right width to accommodate a passenger. We since have modified it so it does have a back seat to carry a passenger now.

Howard believes that water cycling is not only great for recreation and competition, but also great for exercise.

Because water cycling exercises the biggest muscles in the body the leg muscles the calories burned are very high, Howard said. After an hour of hard water cycling you can really feel it.

Steve Boisvert of Haines, Alaska, is the CEO of Seacycles.com, which has been producing water cycle craft since 1989.

Seacycles are not toys, Boisvert said. They can carry up to 550 pounds, up to four passengers, can cruise from 5 to 8 mph and sprint to up to 12 mph. Weve had people who have gone the 1,100 miles from Juneau to Seattle. Weve had people cross the English Channel both in our seacycles and waterbikes.

Rusty Lane of Olympia Washington is a distributor of the Escapade manufactured by Nauticraft.

I just started this business in June, Lane said. I can put any of our boats on my trailer and go to a boat ramp, and I can create more excitement than you can possibly imagine.

The Escapade, which weighs 325 pounds and holds three people, is called a dry boat because you dont get wet while youre pedaling it. It is designed like a sailboat and goes through the water at 5 knots.

We are coming with a two-pedal-station craft in which two people can actually do a workout in the same boat at the same time, Lane said. The boat will actually hold four people.

Lane has been involved with the business since April.

The first thing I saw with the watercrafts was a way to go exercise on the water, Lane said. I love the water, I live on the water on Puget Sound. Im an avid sailor and with these craft you can get in a great workout, travel a good distance and have a lot of fun.

Mike Lampi, a computer engineer who has helped design Lanes Web site, has tried a lot of different watercraft in the Puget Sound area.

Ive had a Nauticraft Escapade for a year and a half, Lampi said. Its a really nice three-person pedal boat. One person pedals, two people sit in the back. I have been in Puget Sound itself, both on calm days and rough days. The handling and seaworthiness has been excellent even in 5-foot waves and 30 knot winds which weve encountered.

In the Northwest its not always nice and sunny, Lampi said. During a lot of time its drizzly, rainy and cold. In this boat I can put my top up and I can go and not care what the weather is out there and get a great workout, pedaling this thing for hours at a time just like I did when I was in a warmer climate and did my bicycles.

Lampi was big into land cycling but had some knee troubles in that regard.

The recumbent position is much better for me; I dont have any knee troubles anymore, Lampi said. I get a good workout, I get change of scenery, I dont have to worry about traffic, I dont have to worry about breathing someones exhaust once in a while when the motorboats come by.

There are some other interesting watercraft out there.

One of the most popular is the Mirage by Hobie Cat, which is a pedal kayak in which riders' legs pump back and forth rather than in a full pedal rotation. You can add a paddle to the side for an optional upper-body workout.

The Explorer looks like a bike on two pontoons. You steer with a handlebar and sit upright on an adjustable bike seat.

The Cadence by Open Water Cycling Inc. of Redmond, Wash., is a long recumbent water cycle resembling a kayak but with a flatter, planed bottom and squarish stern. Rather than sitting on top, a rider sits lower in the boat, which has lots of storage space.

I think water cycling has a few things going for it, says Gindling, the public-relations director for IWCA. One thing is its non-polluting. Secondly, its probably safer than being on a bike on the street. When youre in the water theres not as much traffic as there is on the street. And finally you dont have to have a whole lot of upper body strength to do water cycling. Youre using your legs, which makes it easier.

Gindling believes that the competitive racing aspect of water cycling could be a real positive for the sport.

Lance Armstrong winning the Tour de France the last two years has done a lot for bicycles, Gindling said. There is a trickle-down effect. And as the sport of water cycling gets a higher profile in races around the country and the world, I think youll see the sport grow.

You have to remember that water cycling has been around since the 1870s, Gindling said. The image of the old-fashioned paddle boats is what were trying to dispel. Theres a new wave of watercraft out there. And were hoping people catch it.

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