Every now and then you come across an invention so well-realized that it's hard to imagine how the world's gotten this far without it. Such is the case with Rob Wotzak's homemade bicycle snowplow, which sparked a minor frenzy among millions of winter-weary Americans this week after a video of its successful test run went viral on Facebook.
The concept of a pedal-powered snow shovel isn't entirely new. Surprising for this day and age, though, it's always been the province of curious tinkerers; you can find a few guides online on how to make a crude one yourself, but you can't buy a production-quality unit from any manufacturer anywhere. That frustrated Wotzak, who, like many of us, hates shoveling his driveway. But unlike many of us, he decided to do something about it.
"The bike plow came about because I hate shoveling snow but love riding bikes," he told USA Today. "Plus, legs are stronger than arms, so a bike plow should be easier to use than a shovel, right?"
Wotzak's bicycle snowplow is unique in that its DIY appearance masks some truly smart, simple engineering that would be easy to replicate on a larger scale. The unit is composed of a small bicycle frame, an old lawn tractor plow, and a dead-simple front axle. It's actually his third prototype, and while he admits it's not perfect, it's got some key touches that we haven't seen before.
The seat has been moved directly over the powered rear wheel to maximize traction with the operator's body weight. Front axle steering utilizes the bike frame's original head tube and handlebars, albeit with a hefty dose of custom metalwork. And the sturdy tractor plow, which maintains its adjustable angle, can be easily attached and removed via a safety pin system ahead of the front wheels.
There are a few obvious issues—for one, it looks like an ergonomic nightmare, and the gearing could use some work to slow those legs down a touch. But all those things are easily fixable, and anyone still wondering whether a bicycle snowplow actually works should look no farther than the video of Wotzak using the contraption to easily clear a few inches of snow off his driveway.
Yes, you could accomplish the same thing with an ATV, a side-by-side, a snowblower, or, you know, the lawn tractor for which the plow was originally designed. But those all require gas and maintenance; by contrast, this is about as basic as it gets. And if the 2 million views and enthusiastic comments on the original Facebook video are any indication, there's some serious pent-up demand for pedal-powered snow movers.
"If I had my way, I’d be designing and building fun stuff like this every day," Wotzak, an online brand manager for Fine Homebuilding Magazine, said to USA Today. "So it’s very satisfying to know that other people are getting enjoyment from my creations too!"
Enjoyment, sure. But hopefully not money. At least a few commenters have warned Wotzak to consider applying for a patent to protect his creation, lest it get copied like everything else that blows up on the internet. Given what he describes as an "overwhelmingly positive and supportive" response from the public, that might not be a bad idea. Raking in a profits off a licensing deal sure beats shoveling and bike plowing.