A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

Biking the snow away

02/01/08

After seeing a documentary on Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Antarctic expedition, in which men ate shoe leather to survive in bone-chilling temperatures, David Peterson felt kind of silly about letting snow stop his bicycle ride to work.

 

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Photo: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

Biking the snow away

After seeing a documentary on Ernest Shackleton's 1914 Antarctic expedition, in which men ate shoe leather to survive in bone-chilling temperatures, David Peterson felt kind of silly about letting snow stop his bicycle ride to work.

“There was no excuse,” he says. “I've never had to eat my bicycle.”

So he built a bicycle snow plow.

On the snowiest days, a half-dozen bicycle commuters form a line behind Peterson and his plow as he clears a path to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois, where he works as an engineer in the antiproton source department.

“They all ride behind me shouting words of encouragement,” he says. “Sometimes they take turns on the plow if it's really deep or if I look particularly sad, pedaling.”

After experimenting with several different styles of blades and attachments, Peterson settled on two basic methods. For snow more than seven inches deep, he designed a “drift cutter” that can be pushed while walking. In shallower snow he pulls a 70-degree angled wedge plow behind his bicycle; it clears a swath about 18 inches wide. When not in use, the plow pivots on a hitch and hangs over the back tire, inches above the ground.

Peterson gets thank-you e-mails, and occasionally requests for new routes, from walkers, runners, and other bicyclists. In the five years since he started plowing, he says, others have started to pitch in with shovels, snow blowers, and plows hooked up to all-terrain vehicles, although he knows of only one other bike plow like his. “It's like some kind of underground insurgency of snow clearing,” he says happily.

Asked if he would ever patent his bike plow, Peterson says no: “I look at it in the same vein as open access publishing. I benefit from things other people put up on the Web, so why should I charge them to look at my plow?”

See symmetrymag.org/plow/ for more details.

Tona Kunz