Ultra Compact Folding Bicycle Snow Plough and Tire Chains

Plow Closed Plow Open

After several weeks of unusual warm weather, it was time to rebuild my first bicycle snow plough.


After building a few snow ploughs, I learned that there are two types of bicycle snow ploughs needed. One that digs into deeper snow, is smaller, pointy, and slices up ice and the heavy snow from hell. This requires a much stronger plough because I often put my full weight into pulling the thing and also hit drifts at high speed with a bicycle so it has to be able to stand up to such punishment on a regular basis.

The second type of plough can be made of just about anything, a piece of flat plywood, a large tube cut in half lengthwise, or just hooking a snow shovel up to the bicycle.

Using the previous design, a pointy plough with sloping sides that digs into snow instead of sitting on top of snow (not very useful), I decided to scavenge and rebuild the idea of a folding bicycle plough for ease of storage and hopefully, the ability to carry it on a bicycle rack.

The new folding plough is 42″ wide whereas the smaller one is only 25″ wide. In a light snowfall, this wider plow should be able to clear a wide path quite easily. The v-shaped plough cuts through snow well but has the limitation of not being able to push snow off a pathway so the wider, the better.

In deeper snow, the smaller plough is needed as the amount of force required to pull a plough in snow sky rockets the deeper the snow gets. At around 4″ of wet snow I just hook a rope up to the plough and pull it while walking.

It is supposed to snow tonight. 5cm of dandruff from the sky. Let you know how the plough works. The hope is that I’ll only have to plough out and back once instead of several times.

The new plough has steel blades and is made of the usual 3/4″ plywood. The design adds larger wheels, a fixed front wheel and castering rear wheels since I may make several sizes of spreader bars to adjust the plough width. Doing so changes the angle of the rear wheels which is why castering wheels are used as they will track in whatever direction the plough goes. Hopefully it will still track relatively straight. In order to keep it compact, only a nylon dog leash will be used to pull the plough. No slippery coating is used on the plough until some testing is done. 3 1/2 feet wide should clear a sidewalk in one go or a pathway in two trips thus reducing the number of ridges of snow left behind.

Recently, it was time to upgrade my plough bicycle. A classic cruiser worked quite well except in deep snow and is limited because of a single gear that prevents maintaining a decent pedaling speed at low speeds, typically 10-15 kph.

A three speed hub is relatively cheap and offers the same reduced winter maintenance of a single chain and gears but has the benefit of being able to change gears while stopped. Two gears are lower than the cruiser and one gear is slightly higher. The Giant Simple 3 was on sale and considering the cost of upgrading the cruiser it only slightly more expensive than fixing and upgrading the old work bike.

Lower gears are a definite advantage up to a point. That point is where it is difficult to balance the bike in snow while trying to pull a plough with a couple of square inches of tire, deep snow, and high resistance to ploughing in less than ideal circumstances like wet, freezing, or wet snow and as you can see, there is only so much can be gained from bicycle ploughing. In light dry snow or only a few inches of snow, there isn’t a lot of resistance to pulling a plough and this is where bicycle ploughing excels over a snow shovel.

This traction issue hasn’t been a huge issue because of using an Ice Spiker winter tire with 304 studs that has huge knobbies and in snow that packs fairly well, I can stand on the pedals and apply full effort without the tire slipping at all.

With the bigger plough, the resistance can be much greater than a smaller plough that has worked extremely well in snow up to 3 or 4″ deep. So lower gears are needed for more pulling power and more traction is also needed which takes us into the new SlipNot bicycle tire chains and issue encountered the first day the chains arrived.

Since 3 of my 4 bicycles use the same 26″ rims, I have access to 3 tire sizes used on my bikes (1.9″, 2″ and 2.125″ wide tires). These different tire widths however create issues with tire chains even when ordering 26X1.9 to 26X2.125 chains. You’d think the chains would fit all three sizes right? Wrong!

One bike had center pull brakes. The brake levers hit the chains on the side of the wheel. The front 1.9″ tire was too small. The 2.125″ rear tire was too big unless I used all the turnbuckles from both sets of chains (used to adjust the fit).

The old cruiser bike has a brake built into the rear hub. No issues with brakes getting in the way but the fender clearance was insufficient. The chains did however fit the tires from what I could tell.

The Giant has a huge clearance around the wheel. It comes with very big tires that fit quite close to the fender. However, I had a 26X1.9″ front tire with more of a knobby tread and the fit was near ideal (unlike the other 1.9″ tire that was too small by about 1/2″.

The Ice Spiker rear tire is 2.125″ wide but since it has a lot of knobbies, the chain fits in between the bumpy tread and fits when using two sets of turnbuckles. Go figure! It would seem that the tires that are most likely to cause issues are 2.125″ wide tires with very little tread such as summer tires (which is exactly why one would buy tire chains for use in the winter).

With the tire chains and studded knobby winter tires, traction should be close to idea, somewhat like the James Bond bicycle, a K-Trak or a fatbike. The gearing options should maximize power under different snow depths.

The narrow plough can handle high speed ramming into two foot drifts and tunnel through drifts that bury the plough. The third wide plough is however, untested. Will it work in reasonably deep snow, with the new bike, and studded tires with or without tire chains?

Its snowing. Guess I’ll find out tomorrow. In the meantime, SlipNot is sending a set that should fit. Awesome!


Bicycle Snow Plough Required

This winter has brought the same old problem of pathways not being plowed in Calgary as in years past. The city now plows 350 km out of 800 km, up from 300km. Still, it is a long way from being adequate since pathways seem to be the main transportation mode abandoned each winter. Ever live in a place where roads are closed every winter. That’s what many cyclists face in Calgary.

After reading Tom Babin’s book, Frostbike, I learned the early history of pathway plowing was not started by the City of Calgary. It was started by cyclists who started towing home made contraptions behind bicycles, hand shoveling pathways themselves, or towing large triangles behind pickup trucks. Back then, the City of Calgary didn’t want anyone clearing snow off the pathways since the City did not want to do it. Misery loves company.

Then during a heavy dump of snow, the home brew dedicated pathway plowers were stumped. The towed ploughs were not able to clear the snow. But a strange thing happened.

People thought the city was clearing the pathways and started complaining about the lack of pathway ploughing. Turns out, you can shame the City of Calgary into ploughing pathways but it doesn’t work very well at getting all pathways cleared.

Like many people in Calgary, each winter there are vital pathway links in the pathway network which are abandoned to winter. One day I tried to cycle to Chestermere along the Canal pathway and barely made it to 50 ave se There are more pathways being ploughed now by $78/hr machines but over half of the pathways remain neglected. Far from satisfactory for cyclists who pay taxes only to have all their tax money put towards creating more traffic congestion instead of providing useable infrastructure during winter.

Last winter I had to cycle on roads to get to and from work because the Airport Trail Pathway which is right beside the road was burried in snow. It was the year in which Associated Cab drivers in particular, would harass me by passing too close when I had to use the right lane and a little further on they’d be making a left turn two lanes over. Despite the fact that there are 3 lanes, drivers like to hog a cyclist’s lane. So I took steps to remedy that situation and began to get a little respect from drivers.

If driver had to endure harassment every time they drove on the roads, they’d soon be complaining too.

Reading about pioneers of bicycle ploughing lead to checking the internet for bicycle snow plough designs. There is very little available. The information was sufficient to get me started on a campaign against winter.

I built one plough which worked great in light snow and one day decided to clear the sidewalk. I received cheering from a lady who saw me cycle along the pathway towing a v-shaped plywood plough. People want bicycle ploughing. The kilometer took about 15 minutes to plough by bike and would have taken an hour by snow shovel.

The plough ran into problems in more than a few inches of snow, necessitating a new design that would dig into the snow and get to the bottom of it. The second design was triangular shaped and pointed. It worked much better at digging through snow, tunneling through drifts, and cutting a two foot wide path through light snow. It did have one big problem… it left ridges of snow on both sides and in deep snow, chunks of snow it cut through would roll back down into the trough. In a few inches of snow it cut a clean path with no problem and because of the triangular shape, it was extremely time consuming to try and push the snow over to the edge of the pathway with the plough. For cutting a path through an even layer of snow it was fast and efficient. In a few inches of powdered snow I was able to maintain 10-15 kph which became a normal towing speed because the plough seemed to work best at that speed. There were crazy times in which I went full bore and tore my way through the snow, laughing all the way at 20 kph or faster. Lots of fun to torment winter.

The issue with bicycle plough is that if you make it really wide, it is really hard to pull in deep snow. Make a plough small, it cuts throughd deeper snow more easily but doesn’t clear much of the pathway. With the triangular plough I began cutting just two paths along the pathways, one on either side. That seemed to work best. The 7 km route took about 40 minutes to plough at an easy pace on a quick out and back sortie where I didn’t bother to replough a section or try to push snow off to the side with the plough, both very time consuming projects.

The ridges of snow left behind were annoying though. This required building a four foot long push plough out of a plastic water barrel. In a few inches of snow I cleared the whole 7 kms of pathway over several days. The plough was easy to push in a couple of inches of snow and left no ridges. The end result was as good or better than city ploughing equipment. Now I could clear the pathway like a professional.

Then came 11 cms of snow and the task at hand was becoming very demanding. I took a plastic folding shovel out on my bicycle ploughing journey and dug through 3 foot drifts. There wasn’t a huge amount of snow but it drifted into a disaster area. Still, the pathway was opened again and commuting resumed.

Then the wind came up again. This time there were four foot drifts right across much of the pathway. The next piece of plough equipment was a snowblower to deal with these winter disasters. A snowblower is slower, in fact, walking pace seems almost meteoric in speed compared to a snowblower. The gas monster took 13 hours or thereabouts to clear the entire pathway to full width. Warm weather came along, melting the snow and making the 7 km walk very difficult but in the end, the pathway was cleared. Even the push plough is faster in lighter snow when it is possible to run and still clear the pathway without much effort. Maybe there should be an Olympic push plough category for runners.

The problem with city ploughing is that it never seems to happen when its needed. The city always seems to be playing catchup much like I have been. Plough, next day it drifts or snows and needs to be done over again. At first I built a foldable plough to take to and from work. The triangular plough is larger and difficult to carry on a bike so instead, I make an early run before work and sometimes after work if it contined to snow. The bike plough clears a route quickly but doesn’t clear the entire pathway without many, many repeat trips but it does plough in a hurry so that people can bike or walk.

Along the way I met some interesting people who appreciated the huge effort to keep the pathway open. Eventually about 2/3rs of the pathway was being cleared by large machines and this was great because it let me get back to a bare pathway which meant it was easier to maintain for a while. Often, I’d clear the entire pathway before the machines even showed up. At other times, I’d be surprised to see the pathway had been ploughed but snow was still falling. I came home in 3 inches of white powder and it was an awesome ride, since much of it was flat or downhill and the bike was easy to pedal through that much snow.

Have to admit though, bicycle snow ploughing has made the winter more fun than last year when I was only commuting with antagonist drivers and their snobbish attitude that only cars are allowed on roads. Sometimes cyclists don’t have a choice and rather than constantly complaining about the lack of pathways ploughing I decided to do something about it instead of waiting for hell to freeze over.

In order to determine how useful a bicycle plough is compared to other snow removal means, I’m keeping track of how much bike ploughing, push ploughing and snowblowing I do. Is bicycle snow ploughing useful for keeping pathways open all winter? Other than deep drifts and 11 cms of snow it has worked well.