Ever try a K-Trak? It is a snowmobile like tread used on bicycles in deep snow. All you do is replace your back wheel with the K-Trak. The unit has a rear wheel and 3 idler pulleys to keep proper tension and alignment. My Trek required removal of the rear fender and a seat post mounting tube barely cleared under my rear rack. The seat post tube requires removing the seat post to install and you can buy a ski for the front wheel in really deep snow. The K-Trak is great for riding down ski slopes because you don't have to pedal and can hit really high speeds with it.
The main difficulty with the K-Trak is that it is a 6 gear cassette which did not shift properly with a 7 speed freewheel on the Trek. I was able to find some gears that worked just to try it out but eventually the chain derailed. After that I used the triple crankset gears to shift instead and this worked better, giving me two useful gears up front and 3 rear gears.
First impressions were that it was much harder to pedal than riding a bike on pavement. It has to be remembered that cycling in the snow requires more effort in the first place whether it is on studded tires, a fatbike or a K-trak. The following video shows Doug (who provided the K-trak for this ride) taking a quick spin around the park while I had to take a breather after 5 minutes of fast pedaling and two loops around a larger section of park. The K-Trak has an awesome amount of traction. It was still possible to spin the rear wheel in a low gear as the snow was close to 4” deep.
Here's the K-Trak Video in which you can see Doug's fatbike:
After the K-Trakking, Doug offered a fatbike to show me the difference between the two. The fatbike had a very smooth ride but it had less traction and spun out climbing the slight hill out of the park. With big tires you just plow into and over curbs. The good thing about the fatbike is that is was much easier to pedal since more of the bike wheels are above snow. With the K-Trak and and normal front wheel which sat about four inches into the snow, I was pushing a fair amount of snow and also throwing a lot of snow off the K-Trak which took a lot more energy to do. With a front ski it might require less effort in deep powder. In light or packed snow I'd suggest sticking with a front wheel.
It was awesome to try out three completely different approaches to winter cycling in order to determine the best way to pull a bicycle snowplow. Would a K-Trak, fatbike, or regular bike with studded tires do a better job of pulling a plow through deep snow?
The new bicycle plow does a pretty good job of clearing snow and especially digging into deep snow rather than riding on top of snow which my last plow tended to do. This triangular plow is designed to plow snow up to 4-6” deep. Just cycling in 4” of snow is pretty much the limit for traction in really light snow. Like last year, I'm using a 55 lb cruiser bike with a very knobby rear studded tire that is 2.1” wide. Normally I used 1.9” winter tires on my regular bike for winter cycling. My impression is that the wider rear tire plows more snow but on packed snow it has better traction.
Today I cycled on salt and peppered snow which is the most difficult stuff to ride on because the snow won't clump together to provide traction. Even patches of the stuff cause tires to slide sideways, making sidewalks or rutted packed snow better for traction. Later, I reduced the tire pressures from 50psi down to 25 psi and noticed more of a fatbike effect where the tires hardly ever slide sideways in salt and peppered snow. Some people call this brown stuff, snalt (snow+salt).
The following YouTube videos show the plow tunneling through deep snow. I went out to my favorite pathway which the City of Calgary does not plow and did a clearing run through previously plowed section. The plow does a pretty good job except in deep snow, much of which ends up back in the trough just plowed. After the following ride videos I added a small triangle to the plow to deflect snow outward and downward when plowing in deep snow. Will have to see if it helps keep the track clear of deep snow better.
In a few inches of snow the plow does a great job clearing a two foot wide path. In deep snow, the path is down to usually a foot wide. Further trials will be done to determine if these snow deflectors are helping plow a cleaner path in deep snow or just helping to jam the plow like a plug into a bottle.
The first video is: Plowing Airport Trail Pathway. A rough and deeply drifted section of snow up to the axles of whoever drove through there. Only after watching the video did I realize the plow became airborn. Holy ballistics, Batman! Here is the YouTube link for the video:
That's all fine and well to re-plow a previously plowed pathway. But how does the plow work in fresh snow?
Well, I found just the thing. A section of road beside the pathway that no one appears to use. Instead, people drive on the pathway regardless of the fact this is dangerous and illegal. People have to cycle on sidewalks and roads when pathways aren't plowed and people drive on pathways cause its too much effort for them to walk. 6 of one. Have a dozen of the other.
I found a section where the snow was down to about 2” deep for a stretch. This is my preferred snow plowing depth since it is quite easy to cycle through. There were about a half dozen drifts of snow across the road which made it really tough going. So this is a more common situation that you are likely to encounter when bicycle plowing. So how well does the plow work when pushed to its limit?
Heading away from the camera I pedaled at full speed. The second drift was about two feet deep so I had to get speed up in order to get through it or the wheels would lose traction before the plow was pulled clear. As you see from the video, I barely was able to cycle through that drift which took all my energy and there were about another four drifts not as deep and not as taxing to pedal fast through.
Turning around on a narrow road in the snow is best performed by picking the bike up and spinning around. The rope between the hitch and plow allows the plow to turn sharply behind the bike. The front wheel on the plow castors so that the front of the plow can move in any direction.
I use this U-turn maneuver to re-plow a deep section before cycling on in order to plow down a little deeper and clear out a drift section better. It works well, allowing an immediate U-turn in a tight space without having to cycle in a wider circle. Great for plowing two sides of a pathways while switching from one side to the other as it allows placing the plow in the trough rather than plowing banks of snow across a track.
Immediately heading back without catching my breath I hit the deep drift again and decided to walk through it and the next drift. You can see that the snow going over top of the plow. I figure anything over 3 to 4” is going to require getting off the bike anyway in order to pull the plow unless it is very dry and light snow. This short walk through the drifts does show how deep the snow is in relation to the plow. The deepest side of the drifts is on the right side.
Fast Bicycle Snow Plowing through drift after drift! Two feet deep!
If you have the power to go this fast on a single speed bike to plow snow, it won't take long to clear a pathway. A 6 km round trip plow time with several U-turns to clear out more difficult sections takes around 50 minutes at an easy pace. Usually I keep the speed down to around 10 kph in order to plow a clear track without the plow bouncing and skipping spots. However, on these two videos I decided to give the snow hell and blast it to smithereens. So much fun!
People think it is difficult to bicycle plow. In six inches of snow I pull the plow with a rope since traction is unlikely to be enough to pull the plow with a bicycle and since the plow will probably be tunneling through snow more than plowing it. In 2 or 3 “ of snow it is faster and easier to ride the bike. Lowering the tire pressure also provided really good traction for plowing. I shall have to remember this trick for next time! So much traction the rear wheel didn't slip at all except momentarily in the two foot drift which is pretty good considering that normally 4” is the limit of traction.
Generally, if you are bicycle plowing, you'll want to plow as soon as there's a few inches of snow because it will clear a wider path more cleanly and also you'll go faster and be done sooner with less effort.
Regular studded tires work best for snow plowing as does a heavier bicycle to put more weight on those studded tires.