Ice, Ice, Baby!

by Kevin Driscoll 

That was the subject line of the office e-mail I received. Since it was sent from Craig, one of our resident moto-freaks, I assumed that it had less to do with Vanilla Ice than it did with motorized vehicles traveling fast on ice. I was right. Craig was setting up an ice ride. Since I had recently purchased a used set of ice tires for my Husky I was more than a little excited to take my first shot at ice riding. My wife pointed out that the ice this time of year was poor at best; that I am old and out of shape; and that the last time I was out having fun on ice, some young clown out racing on his snowmobile ran me over.

The Husky didn’t need much prep work beyond changing the tires. I had both ice tires on in about three hours and without pinching a tube. Once the tires were mounted, the only chore remaining was to remove the blinkers and mirrors. The mirrors come off in seconds, but the blinkers have their wires connected in an inconvenient spot that takes a few extra minutes. After these tasks, the Husky was ready for ice.

The guys at work have been talking about ice racing for a while and frankly I found the stories to be a little suspect. But then I remembered how the World Round motorcycle trials at Duluth completely crushed my understanding of traction, momentum, gravity and one or two of Newton’s laws, so I decided to take a wait-and-see attitude. I mean, if a guy can ride a bike straight up a fifteen-foot mud-covered rock face, then maybe it is possible for me to corner like Valentino Rossi on ice. Yeah, right.

I arrive on time and we spend the next few hours clearing a course on the lake. The shape of the course was determined by the location of the best ice. This involved a lot of hunting and trial and-error. Craig would start many strips with his Massy Ferguson lawn tractor with plow only to abandon them when the ice proved to be suspect. The rest of us pitched in with shovels on the detail work.

Now to say the ice was poor is being very generous. Under the snow was a few inches of slush, with hardened ridges where snowmobiles had crossed, and large puddles left from ice fishing holes. Once the snow was off, the slush firmed up and the track turned out damned nice.

The first straight was semi-frozen slush with bumps, ridges and ruts that were a lot like dirt riding, except that the ruts are less forgiving. Then came a series of easy S-turns, followed by a water-filled right-hand hairpin. That flowed into another series of shallow S-turns before entering everyone’s favorite section, a sweeping left 180 that emptied into the final straightaway. This last section had the best ice. The guys pulled through with their handlebars inches off the ice and roosted out onto the final straight with front wheels in the air. The New Guy was, of course, not doing quite as well.

I started slower than a herd of turtles. I think Craig lapped me on his lawn tractor…while plowing! Soon I gained confidence in the traction created by the studs and started turning faster laps. I washed out several times in the turns, giving nearby fishermen a couple of yucks. I’d come in to rest up, get some advice, and try it again, but never seemed to get that solid ‘hook up’ on the ice. I just figured it was my lack of skill and/or my heavier bike that caused me to repeatedly slide out. Toward the end of our session Kris told me my problem likely was my tires. I always love a good ‘Its-not-me-its-my-equipment’ excuse. Since my front tire had lost about 25% of its screws and a good dozen knobs had been ripped clean off I figured he might have a point. “Take my bike out,” Kris said, “and feel what its like to hook up.”

Ho-well-lee crap! Asphalt never felt this good! Slot cars wish they could hold a line like this! Kris’s WR with its professionally-studded tires made my bike feel like I was running bare rubber. It was Yee-freakin’-haw insane. After a few laps I took the sweeping left with the handlebar lower than my left knee and popped out with the front wheel in the air. So that’s what it feels like to ‘hook up’ on ice! While I am not in the same league as the rest of these guys, I did get that hook up feeling. I have now been assimilated into the ice riding Borg collective. Resistance is futile.

Well, what do you know? Winter and bikes do mix. You ice racers have a great secret. Thanks for letting me in on it. Now get out there and ride. If I can do it, you sure can.

Epilogue: I thought I would have to accept the fact that no front tire could stand up to 550 pounds of bike and rider being run hard through the corners and therefore lose knobs. Mike, the guy who sold me the tires, told me that my front was an old tire he found hanging on a fence post out in some field, he grabbed it, and studded it up. I chose to reject this reality in favor of my own.


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