Snow Bikes at the Pole!

You've probably heard about "Extreme sports," though it's hard to think of anything more extreme than exercising at the South Pole. But every New Year there's a "round the pole" race, as we showed you in our PASSPORT TO ANTARCTICA program. Last research season added "extreme biking"! Of course, there's a serious, scientific reason for just about everything that goes on here.

Researchers working on CARA's telescopes have to walk three quarters of a mile from where they live to where they work, twice a day, in freezing temperatures. Often motor vehicles are unavailable. Was there any solution?

Image courtesy Steve Butler,,
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Students at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh took up the challenge. They came up with these special bikes.

The bikes have small, fat tires with deep treads to grip the snow and ice. The frames are carbon fiber and aluminum, off the shelf, with custom modifications. Extreme conditions make rugged simplicity important, so there's just one speed, 10 miles per hour.

There are, of course, some special design requirements. Controls must be easy to use through heavy gloves. And, no plastic parts: they'd crack in temperatures of 76 below. Saddles must not compress the riders' trousers: that would leave their bottoms freezing!

Randy Landsberg from CARA decided to try "mountain biking" down a snow slope, towards the tunnel leading into the Dome. Even with custom bikes, you can see it's pretty heavy going in the high, dry air of the South Pole.

Image courtesy Steve Butler,,
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Image courtesy Steve Butler,,
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Part of the test was to check riders' heart beats to make sure pedaling around the Pole was not too strenuous. It seems the bike design is a hit! South Pole residents requested future bikes have gears that let them go a little faster. Turns out they see this as a new form of recreation, as well as utilitarian transportation!


 • CARA/AIP Snow bike
Links to articles on the snow bike
 • The CARA Snowbike - Ice Prowler
Additional images of the snow bike.
 • Antarctic Ice Prowler
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh's (bike's designer) website for the snow bike
 • Travel Log: January 22nd, 2000
Randy Landsberg's travel log of testing the snow bike in Antarctica
 • Art students' polar bike gives new meaning to 'extreme cycling'
Article about the designing and testing of the snow bike.
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