A pedal-powered snowmobile
Ktrak bicycle apparatus turns mountain bikes into winter-conquering 'commuting tool'
Jan 06, 2009 04:30 AM
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Clayton Preddy would like it if you got your own bike this winter. Just because yours doesn't have an indestructible polyurethane track for a back wheel, doesn't mean you can just jump on his any time you like.
"Everybody makes me stop, and some force me to get off and want to ride it. Sometimes it's frustrating," the 46-year-old health researcher says. "It's like somebody coming up to you and saying, `I want to ride your car.' It's amazing how many people insist they have to ride it."
Preddy, who lives in Georgetown, is one of just a handful of GTA residents who owns a Ktrak bike kit, the latest and boldest step forward in man's incorrigible quest to conquer winter on two wheels. But why bother with winter biking at all?
Preddy said he rides for recreation and to stay in shape. His Ktrak kit converts just about any mountain bike into a kind of pedal-powered snowmobile, with a ski in the front and a track wrapped around a back wheel. A full kit will cost almost $550; the track alone, about $420.
And if the Ktrak's creator has his way, bikes like Preddy's will join the crush of winter traffic on Toronto streets before the year is through.
"I absolutely see it as a commuting tool," said Kyle Reeves, the Ktrak's 37-year-old inventor, from his home on Vancouver Island, B.C. "Most commuters aren't going to use the ski on the front ... just the track for its traction."
Michael Costello, a long-time winter cyclist and proponent of automobile euthanasia, rides his bike year-round for financial reasons.
"I put down my last car 14 years ago, and I save about $7,000 a year by using a bicycle," he said.
There are plenty of options – all less transformative, and less expensive, than the Ktrak – for cyclists looking to winterize their bikes.
Michael Cranwell, general manager of Duke's Cycle on Richmond St. W., suggests attaching fenders to your bike and swapping for studded tires, which cost from $70 to $110 each. Lights are important, too, for days when visibility is poor. "What's most important, is dressing for it – having the right gear."
But Costello alters his technique, rather than his bike in winter. "If I have to brake in the winter, I put my heel down. Using your hand brakes causes you to fishtail," he said. "I don't concern myself with changing tires, but I may go a little slower."
Going a little slower is something Brianna Lowe relies on, too. The 19-year-old Ontario College of Art and Design student prefers the freedom of cycling to the clown-car jostle of the TTC, even in the freezing cold.
"The TTC costs money, and it's so packed. When you have a bike you can just go," she said.
She said she "probably should" get studded tires, but it's not ice and slush that worry her. "The biggest problem is drivers. The driving conditions are hectic already, so they're all angry you're biking. It's not a good combination," she said.
There's little to suggest the Ktrak will make winter cycling any safer. The kit was originally developed for bombing down the face a mountain, not labouring up a paved a street. And once plows get to work, Ktrak is largely out of its element.
"You're not going to hurt it on concrete, but the problem you've got is ... when you get on hard surfaces it's going to want to keep going straight (when you try to turn)," said Reeves.
He and his team of engineers have developed a solution: A quick-release mechanism that lifts the track's tail off the ground, allowing for easier cornering.
And as for fresh snow, said Preddy, nothing beats the Ktrak. Just be sure to get one of your own.