Floating bikes on canal driven by paddle power

More than 200 people have taken to the water on Akwakats. Picture: Contributed

More than 200 people have taken to the water on Akwakats. Picture: Contributed

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RAVEL on the Union Canal is usually limited to canoes and barges – and perhaps the occasional brave swimmer.

But now heads are being turned after a cycle path was opened on the 30-mile stretch of water for the first time.

Floating bikes known as Akwakats, which originate from New Zealand, have been powering along the canal since an outdoor activity centre began renting them out earlier this week.

More than 200 people have taken to the water, using pedal power to operate a propeller instead of turning wheels, while handlebars are attached to a rudder to steer.

The £1500 vehicles can reach speeds of around 8mph on the canal, which runs from Fountainbridge to the Falkirk Wheel.

Sean Barry, 35, who brought the novelty to Scotland at the Bridge8 outdoor activity hub in The Calders, said the bikes were proving to be a surprise for passers-by.

He said: “The Union Canal is well used, but very few people have seen a bike on the water. You see a lot of people do a double-take when they see you cycle past them.

“Cars have stopped and we’ve caused a few traffic jams. But it’s a good workout and great fun to do.”

As well as hiring the water bikes to outdoors enthusiasts, the company is working with schools and youth clubs, and hopes to fund a sea-kayaking trip to British Columbia for a dozen children.

Mr Barry said: “I grew up on an Edinburgh housing estate so I know about the lack of opportunities some kids face. We are trying to encourage as many people as possible to get out and explore our amazing heritage which is the canal network.

“It’s a leisure craft, not a power house. They go about 8mph and anyone can use them regardless of fitness. It’s very sociable but it could become a way to commute into the city.

“It’s possible to cycle along the water from Edinburgh to Falkirk. We haven’t done it yet, but you could go all the way to Glasgow.

“They are also designed to go in the sea and on lochs, so we also hope to expand to coastal tours and loch trips on Loch Lomond.”

While you don’t need a helmet, a canal may be the one place you wouldn’t want to get a puncture, but Mr Barry said: “They are very safe.”

Instructor Philip Salkeld, 36, said: “It’s a real workout because the water offers constant resistance, but it is surprising how fast you can go.

“And it’s fun to see people’s faces as you cycle down the water.”