02 May, 2011

Folding Kayaks

We went kayaking yesterday in our folding kayaks. What does this have to do with bikes? Nothing except that I've notice that people who use, and travel with, folding kayaks are a lot like bike tourists, and many do both.  And I though at least a few readers might like to know about them.

We've owned two folding kayaks for about 15 years. And in that time we've used them in British Colombia, the San Juan Islands, Lake Powell, along the Maine coast, in Nova Scotia, in the Florida Everglades, and in dozens of other lovely spots. Some times we camp, carrying all our gear. Other times we stay at inns and take day trips. And because the kayaks fold into a few neat canvas bags, we check them as airline baggage and transport them in a rental car. Once on the beach the wooden frame and canvas/hypalon skin can be assembled in about 15 minutes.

Sea kayak touring has a lot in common with bike touring. You move along at a moderate pace with minimal of effort and enjoy the scenery. You can carry more than you would on a bike. And, so long as you are careful of weather and surf landings (avoid them) it's very safe.

The brand of kayaks I like are Kleppers, which are made in Germany and known for their ruggedness and quality. They are the choice of many expeditions to remote regions. At least one has sailed across the Atlantic; yes, they can be rigged with small sails. They are also used by many military "commando teams", assembled on the deck of a submarine and paddled in under cover of darkness. There are several other good brands that are less expensive, lighter, and maybe a better choice for casual use. I've used and liked Feathercraft, Folboat, and Pouch folding kayaks. The French Nautiraid kayaks also have an excellent reputation.

Sadly, Sunday was probably our last paddle in the Kleppers. Our son wants a sit-on-top kayak for fishing and snorkeling and one that's small enough that he can wheel it down to the launch point a few blocks from our house (using a kayak cart). And with VO taking so much time we don't use the Kleppers often. So we decided to sell them and get smaller roto-molded plastic boats. When he is older I hope he wants a folder.

Next post will be about bike stuff. But meanwhile do any readers sea kayak?


Preston said...

Chris, Thanks for the info on folding
kayaks. My wife and I kayak in Mission Bay, San Diego several times
a year in rental, sit-on-top types
of kayak. So far we have not gotten out into the surf. Funny thing about
the kayaking is that it makes Janet
happy and a little giddy like she'd
had a glass or two of Champagne, which I think is a nice side effect.
Back to bikes: Saturday last we
rode in the Alpine Challenge here in San Diego County-63 miles and 7000 feet of ascent. Janet received many compliments on her VO mixte with rando rack and VO fenders. Several of the carbon fiber crowd were surprised that a person could even ride such a demanding event on such an "old school" bike. How little they know.

Ty Graham said...

Kleppers are great! I've got an old Aerius II that I use in the San Juans. We use them for crabbing in the summer which is really a lot of fun. The Klepper is surprisingly stable while I haul 80lb pots from 50 feet deep. There is nothing like sorting crabs in a kayak in a high wind to help you be in the moment. We've had more than a few return trips with big crabs scuttling around somewhere below decks. We just grit our teeth and paddle like heck. We cook the crabs on the beach; makes for an amazing day.
I really like that we can fit the Klepper and all of our crabbing gear inside our VW camper.

JB Woodman said...

So happy to see you mention Kleppers, I've had a Klepper single,a double plus a rowboat & currently paddle a 70s Aerius II frame with a Long Haul replacement quattro Hull.
There is something so satisfying about turning a duffle bag of cleverly made parts into a boat and assembling it always attracts curious onlookers.

Steve said...

One of my favorite moments in one of my favorite films involves a folding kayak:


The film, of course, is Les vacances de Monsieur Hulot.

Steve said...

Here's the whole sequence:

rigtenzin said...

I think a folder would be really nice.

I own a sea kayak and created a trailer to haul it with my bike.


Don said...

Although I've never had the pleasure, my wife and son took to the mangroves around Sanibel. I can certainly see the affinity.

This brings to mind some of the fine vessels using traditional techniques and modern materials on display at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. Between bikes and kayaks, a person can seriously get around.

Y said...

The silent military commando operation reminded me of how the Japanese invaded Singapore (then a British colony) in the 1940's. All the British Navy was pointing to the sea expecting an air attack. Instead they landed in Thailand and rode bikes in the night down to Singapore and attack their backs. Of course my grandparents were negatively impacted by that event, but the bikes and its capabilities remained the strong impression I have from when I first learn that in history class (in Malaysia) when I was 12.

Anonymous said...

Chris, surprised that you of all people will consider rotomold as a replacement for the folder. I just finished building my sea kayak this fall, started it 7 years ago, got it 95% done and then took a long break. It is a Merganser 17 by Eric Shade. I wouldn't have completeed it if it were not for CLC being so close by (DC). Enjoy the new kayak, which ever one you choose!

Velo Orange said...

Roto molded plastic kayaks would not be my choice, but for two things. We need boats that an 11-year old and his friends can't destroy. We tried sit-on-tops in Hawaii and liked the fact that you can swim and snorkel from them. So it'll be plastic for a few years, then we'll go with lighter sleeker boats again. I'm also intrigued by outrigger canoes, OC1s.

Anonymous said...

i kayak a great deal. I have a couple of plastic kayaks, one a nice long (16.5 ft) sea kayak with a rudder, another a tandem for use with my daughter. I'm close enough that I just throw a Yakima on the old hatchback and I'm in the ocean, sound, or river in a few minutes. If cost is a factor at all, plastic is a godsend. I love paddling, esp. in the offseason, with camping on the islands.


Steve said...

My Nautiraid Double has been all over the country with us, from Maine to Vancouver Island. It has several hundred happy hours being paddled in Boston Harbor. Folding kayaks are wonderful! Thanks to high baggage fees I usually ship the two bags via Fedex Ground and pick it up at the destination. The PFDs,camping stuff, and the rest go with us on the plane. Maybe I should buy a couple of Bike Fridays to go with it.
Steve R.

PS: I bought mine at the factory in Normandy and carried it home on British Air from Paris.

Rocky Naff said...

Always liked folding kayaks. Oklahoma does not have a significant kayak community. We bought an inflatable (rhymes with Gobi) kayak. Its way too big for our BOB trailer.
Any chance Cheasepeake Light Craft will have a kit for a folding kayak? Rumor is that you have an inside track there.
I have built three Wooden Boat magazine Nutshell prams. Sold one, one victim of over zealous youngsters. Thinking about modifying the third and reducing weight by 30-50%.
How about a catamaran with essentially two folding kayak amas?
All the best! Love your stuff: pedalling and floating.

@realjanmaaso said...


In Scandinavia, my neck of the woods, it is possible to travel great distances in beautiful scenery on canoes while carrying vast amounts of camping gear. When you reach the end of one lake, you most often only have to place the front end of your craft on a set of wheels, grab the rear end and wander over to the next lake and just keep on going. You can travel for days in this manner, from lake to lake, and only have to cover a few hundred yards by foot, most often on gravel roads.

It is not a recreation for the masses, but some people do love the slow pace and serenity of it all.

Sea kayaking, however, is really popular, you see it all over the place from early spring to late fall. Folding kayaks: not so much.

Congratulations by the way on finally getting Bin Laden; best news I heard all year.


Anonymous said...

Ah Chris, I've just finished restoring my bespoke 1981 Japanese 650b with some VO parts.

I'm currently 1/3 into my next project which is a Yost Sea Otter.

How about that?

cheers Bill P

Tom said...

What, NO CLC boat in your fleet? At least the Kleppers have the same fine pedigree as a VO bike.

I'm an avid paddler going away from plastic into a folder. If you want a sit on top, and a folder, did you know that Feathercraft actually has one called the Java?

As a bike guy and paddler, what do think of today's modern pedal powered kayaks? One would think this is the ultimate bond between cyclists and paddlers.

Unknown said...

I have been canoeing for some time now, including on the ocean, I would love to try an outrigger. I currently live in Boston without a car, bikes are great for this!

I've been trying to figure how to canoe (or kayak) without a car. Have you ever taken a folding kayak on a train? Is there an acceptable one small enough? Local commuter rail and Amtrak hit a number of nearby put-ins and take-outs, and you wouldn't have to worry about the shuttle.

Velo Orange said...

Jan, when I was very young we did a lake-to-lake kayak tour in western Poland. They even had little 1-meter wide canals between some lakes with boards on either side used to push yourself along.

Tom, I have CLC Annapolis Wherry, but no CLC kayaks at the moment. Only so much room in the garage.

I've not tried the pedal-kayaks.

Brian, I think the smallest Folboat, and maybe others, would be great for train travel.

Unknown said...

I always wanted a Klepper but living in NYC, had to go with the inflatable Innova Sunny and a Brompton folding bike (both fit under the coffee table : )

Richie said...

I had a Folbot for a while and enjoyed the packability, but was let down by the poor paddling performance. I have Hobie pedal-powered kayaks now and love them.

msrw said...

Chris, as an interesting alternative to rotomolded sit on top boats are what are called surf skis.

They're also sit on top, 21 feet long, about 18 inches wide, with a rudder and pedal steering.

The good ones are foam sanwich, vaccuum bagged, carbon fiber and weigh about 15 lbs. They're paddled with kayak type double bladed paddles--wing paddles are the best.

Surf skis are sort of the road racing bikes of the kayaking world. They handle well, and are pretty versatile.

Anonymous said...

I built a Mill Creek 16.5 several years ago and I LOVE it!
You're right - reminds be a lot of biking - you're moving along quietly, under your own power, out in the fresh air and sunshine.
Can't beat it!

Lee said...

Kleppers are so interesting. I have one from the late 50s the my great uncle brought form Germany. I have the original sailing rig and outboard motor that goes with it too. I don't dare fold it anymore because the rubber and canvas are getting fragile.

Amy said...

Spent my honeymoon in my Klepper Aerius at Glacier Bay and then another Trip to Baja. So Much Fun!
Still have my Klepper hope to find another adventure loving guy to Captain it for me - since I lost my Captain to Cancer. Kayaking in my single Delta Kayak this weekend up at Deception Pass.

Kayak Vagabond said...

Chris, thank you for this article! I too am a sea kayaker and a bicycle tourist. I work as a sea kayak guide during the summers here in Washington State and find that riding to work is a nice transition. We kayak tour extensively through WA & BC and find solitude away from cars and civilization. and the WILDLIFE!Orcas, dolphins, inter-tidal orgs, birds, & bears! It's a great way to travel, on tide time- your on the moon and sun's schedule, Earth's schedule. We use British sea kayaks, NDK Explorers, they offer lots of freedom in a dynamic sea. We are also fans of greenland paddles for touring long distance and having a blast rolling for fun. A lifetime of learning for sure. Bike touring and sea kayaking are so similar except you don't have to worry about cars:-) I agree on the pace, it's a human speed. As a fan of many things VO, i'm happy to see your sea spirit come alive with this article.

TSVDP said...

I saw your books on Kayaking, boating at amazon so I knew you were into this. Good for you. It kind of seems like you did this first and then did the bike thing. A real story on the Entrepeneurial spirit, perhaps others can apply this as ell.

TSVDP said...

Hey, don't criticize Chris about this, he's got books at amazon if I'm not mistaken on this subject. Maybe he'll write a bike book on it some day. Exciting stuff and this cat criticized lower level motobecanes, hey, they are great daily commuters.

Anonymous said...

you are so right! Many people who enjoy biking enjoy paddling. Although, we bike on separate bikes, we paddle/sail a tandem folding kayak. Our most recent trip in the Everglades National Park: http://vimeo.com/35050722


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the lovely opinions on folding kayaks. We are considering buying one for our trip to the San Juans. Glad to hear all the good stories. Cheers!