the Bike Path
years of not having much success riding my road bike in the
discovered the seat could be raised high enough on my daughter's
mountain bike for me to ride comfortably. Although the
in new snow, compacted, icy snow with hundreds of footprints and
other bike tracks was a bit treacherous. I soon realized
of time it would take me to shovel the bike path would be paid
a few days of quicker and easier riding. Additional
for this was the lack of any safe alternative route for a
the forest preserve path. I could go across town to safer
streets but that would add almost 20 minutes each way on what is
about a 30 minute commute.
My first test at clearing a path was
walking with a regular snow
shovel. This worked fine although the constant lifting and
dumping quickly tired my arms and back. Scraping the
the pavement for a mile or so also wore down the metal
Heavier steel proved to be much more durable.
laziness and keen engineering skills soon came to good use as
a pushable plow that would roll the snow out of the way and
any lifting. It is like walking while pushing a baby
in deep, wet snow it is like pushing a baby stroller carrying
baby who is dragging his feet.
Diassembled for Transport Detail of
The push plow with integrated
holder. (Click on
any photo for a larger version.)
The shovel is useful for chipping away at drifted or compacted
The rear box turns out to be a handy place to put my hat and
once I start getting sweaty.
The "T" handle is removable so the whole unit fits in the trunk
The frame is made from 3/4" plywood and assorted 2x2 and 2x4
The top cover is shaped from aluminum flashing.
The dark steel blade on front pivots on hinges to follow the
the pavement. The square front has the disadvantage of
on most cracks.
The whole unit is about 16" wide. Although one can ride a
a narrower path (and I did try a 7" plow), the snow tends
to fall back into the cleared area and bike pedals will hit any
deeper than a couple of inches. Most bikes need a width of
15" to clear the pedals.
The orange front wheel was added after I realized the front
gather a large mound of wet snow and the plow would become very
difficult to push. There is an additional set of "wings"
bolt onto the rear to roll the snow out at a 30 degree
angle. Heavy wet snow tends to form fairly large (almost
snow balls on the deck and they fall back into the plowed path
wings are not used.
This plow was used for four major snowfalls during the
2001-2002 winter season and performed well even in 7" of wet
Take a look at a simpler and improved version called The Drift Cutter
A key lesson learned: Get out and clear the path soon after the
stops, before it gets walked on and compacted!
faster is needed
of 2002-2003 started out with a light 1" snowfall. The
plow did a nice job of clearing a narrow path but the effort of
transporting the plow down to the bike path, walking while
and bringing it back home seemed to be a bit of overkill for
Since I commute to work on my bike, something I could carry with
would be very convenient. I started experimenting with
could be towed behind a bike. I considered this to be
a front blade after my experiences jamming the push
plow on cracks and bumps in the pavement. The first test
built out of vinyl gutter pieces. It had an apex angle
blade) of about 40°. Experience with the push plow proved
to be useful. I found inexpensive scooter wheels at a
store. They met the requirements of being durable, narrow
nice bearings. The plow was pulled by a rope attached to the
on the bike. It had fairly low mass so the front tended to
every time the rope pulled taut. The plow would bounce as
blades flexed and touched the pavement. The plow also
swerve side to side since the rope provided very little lateral
With a 16" rear width, the plow ended up being almost too
such an acute apex angle. The plastic blades became very
in the cold and pieces broke off during the first test run but
it did a
good job of clearing the snow off of the path.
After the first test run the essential features seemed to be:
- A rigid hitch for lateral stability
- A low angle hitch to
- Wheels for a smooth ride
- Steel blade edges for durability
- Capability of folding up for transport
contemplated what an
appropriate apex angle would be. An equilateral triangle
appealing symmetry but I decided an isosceles right triangle
enough for light snow and would provide maximum outward velocity
plow towed behind a bike.
This shows the plow deployed behind a bike.
The carriage bolts on top mate with the rear rack holes during
The photos below show the original hitch design but click here to see the
Detail of the hitch attachment.
A triangular piece of wood
with slightly larger plywood sides is
captured in the stays ahead of the rear axle.
A piece of rope at the
joint near the tire provides a flexible
connection for cornering and tilt.
The metal bracket holds the tip of a shovel in case I want to
A bolt and wing nut secure the flexible joint when the unit is
The yellow wire just makes removing the bolt easier.
Detail of test ice breaking tooth.
The clearance is adjustable. This tooth helped keep the
but did occasionally catch on cracks. The stress of
bike eventually cracked the main hitch bar and so the tooth was
Each steel blade meets the ground at a 45° angle. The
are made from two pieces of 1x6 (actual size 3/4" x 5-1/2")
wood fastened 90° to each other so the top of the blade
tilts out at a 45° angle. I added a filler piece of wood
to reinforce the joint. The cross section of the blade looks
like three sides of an octagon. The blue plastic is from a
roll up sled with the shiny side out. It helps keep wet
sticking to the blade.
The plow flips up and rests on the bike bag for transit.
A bungie cord holds it in place.
Here are some higher resolution photos of the plow with a top
hitch (no longer used since it caused tilting) and no plastic
on the Path
The plow in action.
photos courtesy of Gary Ross.)
A test scraper attachment is stowed on the top of the
attaches behind the plow and is designed to skim down the hard
crust that the main plow can't get.
This is what the plow does. Note the relatively clean ski
to the sides of the plow track.
These photos were taken only three days days after a snowfall
Here is what the path looks like where it is not plowed.
ski tracks and foot prints.
And nearby where the plow has been. Again, note the ski
and foot prints.
Wet snows in February 2004 showed the need for more lift
the exiting snow. After a few snowfalls the plowed path
sides and the current design is not able to fling the snow over
edges of the trough. Wet snow then tends to pile up in
the plow and can become heavy enough to stop the bike. You
see that happening somewhat even with the shallow track in the
A modification has been made to open up the outer top half of
to allow a more vertical and outward exit for the snow. A
design is in development that will also shape the sides of the
outward similar to the action of the wings on the push plow.
I have received many requests for drawings or parts lists. Click here to see more details and have a
the next generation!
Although I did not anticipate this, I have received many thanks
walkers, runners, bikers and even skiers. It seems people
walk in the most compacted path. A plowed path keeps most
walkers out of the ski tracks.
I have noticed even dogs will prefer to walk in the clear track.
The plow does not remove the snow perfectly but it certainly is
than nothing at all.
Dry pavement is easier
to ride on than snowy pavement.
Thin snow is easier to
ride on than deep snow.
Smooth snow is easier
to ride on than lumpy snow.
Smooth ice is easier
to ride on than lumpy ice.
Even during a cold spell when the temperature does not exceed
for many days, the plow track will be clear and dry in a
day or two just from sublimation. The plow does not have
scrape the pavement completely clean for this to occur.
I have been asked "Why don't you just drive the car when it is
snowy?" There are many reasons why I decided to try to
path to ride on; the commute along the bike path is so much more
than driving in traffic, it gives me an hour of (usually) low
at least 5 times a week, many of the side streets are
the bike path is a small but critical portion of the ride, and
other people can get out and use the path too.
Someone called into the Sound Off for the March 1, 2003 edition
Kane County Chronicle and said
"I want to thank the thoughtful person
or persons who, after a snowfall, shovels a single-lane footpath
side bike trail between Fabyan and Batavia. It makes our
less hazardous and more enjoyable."