Snow Plowing By Bicycle

There are few challenges more difficult or dangerous than trying to get around the majority of North American cities by bicycle. Not only is the bicycle infrastructure woefully inadequate for safe travel (if it exists at all), but it’s often not maintained to any reasonable standard, either. This goes double in colder areas, where bike paths can essentially become abandoned in the winter after a snowfall. [Phil] found himself in this situation recently after a snowfall in western Canada and decided to DIY his own bike-powered snowplow to help keep his bike paths cleared.

The plow is built around an electric-assisted cargo bicycle, which is almost as rare in North America as bicycle infrastructure itself, but is uniquely suited to snowplow duty. It has a long wheelbase and a large front cargo area that can be weighed down if needed to ensure the plow makes good contact with the ground. The plow itself is built out of sections of plastic 55-gallon drums, which have been cut into two scooping sections and attached to the bike with a wooden 2×4 frame. The plow can be raised or lowered with a ratchet strap mechanism, and the plastic scoop skips over bumps in the path with relative ease.

With this relatively simple mechanism attached to his bike, [Phil] can make sure the trails that he frequents around Vancouver are more suitable for bike travel in the winter. Riding a bicycle through the winter, even in the coldest of climates, is not that difficult with the right support and investment in infrastructure, and this build is the best DIY solution we’ve seen to bicycle infrastructure support outside of adopting something like this remote-controlled snowblower to the job.

42 thoughts on “Snow Plowing By Bicycle

  1. I’ve been wondering if there is a way I could do something like this but for general detritus on the bike path. Might be able to avoid some goats heads or other puncture hazards. Maybe just attach a leaf blower?

        1. I know you’re joking, but there is in the Low Lands a specific type of paving cobbles of a certain size with a certain shape, called (literally translated) “children’s heads”, “kinderkopjes” in Dutch, a reference to their rounded tops and size.

          They are very popular with many racing cyclists (and equally unpopular with everyone else), and still in use for the same reasons cobblestone roads are still in use (durability, aesthetics, reducing speed, bullying normal cyclists by jackhammering their prostate into incontinence and impotence with their own saddles).

        1. Oh no another invasive. This used to be a cactus country only problem. Tips abound for lining tires on the web. There used to be thorn scraping wires to gently rub against the rubber if it’s smooth enough, good luck on lugged tires.

    1. I think you’re better off just using better tires. Like for example pu foam filled tires (I don’t like them), those fancy reinforced self healing tires, or master tire emergency repair like the Dutch. With a bit of practice, I managed to get my single-puncture repair time down to 3 minutes, or 4-5 minutes when weather conditions are less than ideal (i.e. max humidity (rain), below 0°C temperature).

      I wonder how those extreme mountain bikers prevent punctures on those razor sharp rocks.

      1. Almost all higher end mountain bikes have gone to tubeless tires filled with sealant, that can easily self-seal small punctures. They don’t handle gashes too well, but one big advantage of them is that hard hits that used to puncture tubes from being crushed between the tire and the rim no longer are an issue, and that was by far the biggest problem with mountain bikes and rocks. It’s pretty rare that rocks are sharp enough to cut through a rubber and fabric tube. (I have had it happen, but mostly on sidewalls, and newer mountain bike tires have reinforced sidewalls.)

  2. Watching this I was reminded, I once asked a friend in England, whenever they get a good snowfall why don’t people just get their shovels and plows and push the snow off the streets in front of their homes so people can get around? The answer came back that they’re afraid they might get sued if someone trips, and it would be their responsibility because they cleared that part of the pavement “improperly”.

    1. Most of the UK doesn’t ever get enough snow to worry about, a few centimetres across the whole year – so many won’t have shovels or plows.
      Then there is the problem of where to put it if you do try to clear it – most UK roads are rather narrow and gardens small – if you got a real snowfall (to the rest of the world anyway) you wouldn’t really be able to get it out of the way for lack of area to dump the pile you cleared. Not an insurmountable problem, but one that comes up so rarely we don’t have any agreed social contract on what to do.

      1. > for lack of area to dump the pile you cleared

        Fresh snow compresses quite small when piled up. If you have an inch of new snow over a square yard, the total volume of water in it would be about 2½ pints. You can basically just shove it to the side and let it melt there.

        1. True, but if we ever got ‘real’ snowfall levels and/or persistent cold the way other places do – so the snow sticks around and falls more than once or twice in the whole year we would run out of places to dump it in short order, at least in many areas of the UK. Especially those rather built up cities built upon narrow medieval (and earlier) roads. Wouldn’t be a problem everywhere of course, but lots of the UK is rather saturated with stuff you would want to be digging out of the snow no burying in more.

          1. They often dump the excess snow into some body of water so it melts. A river would be a good option. I imagine, after a big blizzard you might even pile it up on a supermarket parking lot (often used as temporary snow dumps anyways) and hose it down with fire trucks to make the snow go away.

          2. Hmm our rivers are rather on the small side and other than in the highly managed canalised bits often pretty slow flowing compared to most of the world. If it ended up cold enough for us to get real snow I expect many of them would freeze too. And at least round here the supermarket carpark are for most of a normal day pretty saturated with cars, I kinda doubt that would change for one freak snow event – the way folks live here means most probably couldn’t avoid going food shopping much longer than normal – the weather is so relatively tame, the stores so very close, and houses rather small few folks will have even tried to keep extra food in stock, perhaps enough oddities to make up a days worth of odd meals.

            Not saying it couldn’t be done, as there would definitely be some way to adapt to getting proper snow. But when your entire society lives and functions in ways that work great for your normal environmental variance, which in this case is practically no snow at all, ever, and certainly not enough to stick around long or fall deep enough to bother with… The first few times something odd happens nobody is really prepared to deal with it, and nothing was built with it in mind.

      2. An inch isn’t much to bother with. If you get more and especially if you can enlist the help of small children, use empty cardboard containers to make blocks: easy to stack to pile out of the way, or – my dream – use them to build a windbreak in your back garden.

    1. Lmao. It was 4ft deep at my intersection. That was an exception.

      Unfortunately there are few bike paths in Buf that this would work. The street paths are full of plow piles. Might work on Rails 2 Trails

  3. A quick google shows 1000 bicycle deaths per year in the US. Motorcycles are an order of magnitude more at like 13,000 and California alone had 1000 pedestrian deaths.
    I’m pretty sure there are many, many more difficult and dangerous ways of getting around than by bicycle. I know you’re doing your best or whatever but this is the kind of nonsense that gets cited and needlessly scares people away from riding a bike. Take the huge SUV instead.

    1. 1000 sounds like quite a substantial number when as far as I can tell practically nobody rides bicycles in the USA at all… If that 1000 happening despite the fact the nation wide distance cycled by everyone being bugger all riding a bicycle starts looking like certain death statistically – Cycle 100 mile and you die on average vs drive perhaps several hundred thousand miles between fender benders and another thousand times that for a fatal accident? (Obviously not actual numbers)

      I don’t want to scare folks of cycling, I enjoy it myself, and it is a good way to get around. But I certainly wouldn’t want to cycle on many of the roads around here anymore, it was bad enough for cars trying to kill you just through malice and carelessness but now the cars are ever bigger, there are more of them, they generally travel and accelerate faster (speed limits being most certainly more like guidelines everywhere there isn’t a fixed camera for folks gps to warn them to actually obey). Yet the road is no wider so there is even less space for the cyclist…

      So I do have to agree with the word of caution – you really want folks to cycle put in better infrastructure so they can cycle rather more safely.

      1. For data like this no one looks at the denominator which is a mistake. 1000 people per year in a county of millions and millions, no matter how unpopular biking is, is about a zero percent chance of getting killed on a bike. It makes news when it happens that’s how rare it is. Also, I work at a major trauma center in a very active bike town and have seen zero bike deaths. That’s purely anecdotal. Another extreme is professional tour riders who train year round on public roads, wheel to wheel at insane speeds. Zero deaths per year.
        Bikes themselves do not really go fast enough to do more than break bones which I’m not trivializing. Even getting knocked over by a car (which 100% sucks) very rarely results in actually getting run over and killed. It literally happens 1000 times a year in a massive country. The hazards to bikes are same as apply to pedestrians is what I’m saying and no one is saying “don’t walk it’ll get you killed” I do agree better bike infrastructure would be nice and I’m biased because I live with bike trails and bike lanes, but I also rode all over SF and NYC and never felt scared for my life. It’s weird to me people think bikes are some slaughter factory but we give 16yr old children keys to 2 ton vehicles and let them drive 80mph. Hopefully not into people on bikes hahha

  4. Not that it makes rhat much difference because we had about the same amount of snow in Vancouver this year (washed away by the rain now) but this guy lives on Vancouver Island in Saanich. There is one major difference though, which is that the city of Vancouver clears bike routes of snow, brines them, and has specialized mini snow plows that fit into smaller bike lanes too. They don’t always clear everything quickly or completely but they do make it a priority.

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