On Thin Ice

by Bill Hufnagle

With the sun seemingly gone on vacation in our hemisphere, December is the darkest month of the year. Sunrise and sunset can be viewed within such a short time of each other on these brief days, and there is something depressing about all the darkness. Many of us will rise each day in the dark and be rewarded at the end of the day with precious little after-work sunshine. It just doesn’t seem fair.

I miss the sunshine during the winter. As a habitual late riser, the effect is even more pronounced for me, and as a rider, it has a profound effect on available riding time. In the warmer months one can always roll out for a ride at nearly any hour; in this season one needs more patience. I have always been a year-round rider, since it is just too painful to leave the bikes parked for months, but not making adjustments for winter’s special conditions can be even more painful.

As I said, I am a late riser, so I am accustomed to getting a later start on my rides. This never bothers me much; it is only a challenge when riding with early-bird buddies. But during these months, a later start is pretty much all you can safely expect from anyone. Sol needs his time to rise to his low zenith and cast his feeble rays onto the pavement and melt away the black ice. If you are among the folks who winterize your bike in the late fall, you may have never had the adrenaline rush of sliding your tires across black ice. It ain’t fun. Black ice makes paying attention to road surface even more important on winter rides.

Back in my Jersey days, I used to ride a winter series call “Polar Bear Runs.” These were weekly Sunday destinations where many of us brave (or crazy, in some folks’ opinions) souls would ride to. They were scattered across the state, with one or two located in neighboring states. It was a wonderful way to spend a winter Sunday, riding with friends, meeting at some biker-friendly place and sharing hot food and tall tales. You logged your mileage based on the honor system. If you completed enough miles, you received a patch to mark the accomplishment. If you made it to every weekend’s destination, there was a much-coveted perfect attendance pin. I proudly have one of those pins and a few patches on one of my vests. It is a surprising challenge to ride every single Sunday during some northeastern winters.

While it was always fun to get out and ride those Sunday runs, we always stuck to the main roads that were most likely to be clear and dry. I became quite an expert on the smaller roads around my abode. I knew where trees or buildings kept sections of road in almost perpetual shade or the low spots where runoff from melting snow would traverse the tarmac or puddle and form small ice traps. I even knew the corners where there was always way too much sand left from the previous storms and the bumps where the spreader trucks deposited extra. What makes better traction for cars on ice is not good for bikes on dry pavement. But for all that observation and cautious choice of roads, every so often we would get daring, especially after a week or two of dry and unseasonably warm weather.

I remember one time coming back from a Pennsylvania destination and deciding to get off Interstate 80 at the first exit in New   Jersey. We thought the small road through the park there would surely be clear, since there had not been a bit of ice or snow anywhere we had been. Well, the first few miles were fine, until we got deeper into the park. In short order we found ourselves on a narrow park road where a sparse amount of clear tarmac was covered with a mix of white and black ice. There was no way to turn the bikes around and retreat. We spent what felt like an eternity creeping along, picking our way down that road. We crunched a path over the white ice that had an air gap between it and the road surface with only a few clear spots. It was one of those situations where you have plenty of time to consider the folly of your choices, except that it takes all your focus to guide and balance the bike. We made it through without mishap. At this point in time, I can’t even remember how many of us were there for that adventure, but I sure can feel that special tightness in my gut while I write about it, like it was happening right now.

While I would not seek out that experience again, I am glad I have it safely in my store of riding knowledge and experience.

Since I moved south a few years ago, I have found winters milder, snow on the roads more short lived, and the winter days have about one-half-hour more sunlight. All these things are more to my liking. I also discovered that some folks here don’t like to ride this time of year if it is below fifty degrees or has recently rained or snowed. With my winter experience, I kinda tossed that concept off, plugged in my electrics, and rode anyway.

Well, what they knew, and I didn’t figure on, was the always-present altitude changes in these mountains and the resultant cooler air and deeper shade. So, being me, I learned it on my own. One winter day, sunny and bright, I was hammering along the Blue Ridge Parkway on my Buell; it hadn’t snowed in weeks in my town. But it had snowed on the mountaintops. The road was clear as a whistle except for these strange wet spots every so often&emdash;they were not connected to the edges of the road; they just looked like someone had spilled water randomly in places. I came around one curve hot on the throttle, leaned way over so my boot’s edge was rubbing the pavement, and as I passed the apex I saw the source of the wet spots. There in my lane, in my chosen line, was a nice clean patch of snow. Thank God there was no one coming the other way because the only way to avoid that snow was to flick the bike into the other lane. I can only imagine the slide and launch off the side of that mountain. Suffice it to say I am much more attentive to the local wisdom as I learn my new winter riding environment. I hope you enjoy the chances to ride this winter. Just be careful out there.


Milwaukee Proud Beer and Cheese Soup

Oh my gosh, beer and cheese, I must be in Wisconsin. Wait, what is that thundering sound I hear, is it a Twin Cam 88 running wide open down Juneau Avenue? No, it is the sound of cayenne pepper pounding in my ears. If you are feeling homesick for Juneau Avenue, make a pot of this soup and pull out your copy of the Motor Company’s Parts and Accessories catalog and dream of chrome from back home at the factory.

1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium-size onion, minced
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
One 12-ounce bottle dark beer
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground savory
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese

1. In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch, stir well, and set aside.

2. Melt the butter in a medium-size soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, just until it begins to color, about 1 minute. Add the beer, vegetable broth, cayenne, salt, white pepper, cumin, and savory, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Slowly pour in the half-and-half, stirring constantly. Add the cheddar cheese and stir until melted. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir well. Let simmer until the soup thickens, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Biker Billy hosts a syndicated television cooking show, “Biker Billy Cooks with Fire”, and has authored three cookbooks. Just released in 2003 is his latest book, “BIKER BILLY’S HOG WILD ON A HARLEY COOKBOOK”. The book includes 200 recipes from HOG members and Harley riders across America and an ample supply of Biker Billy’s own fiery recipes.

The book is endowed with Biker Billy’s unique biker banter. It is sure to bring the adventure and flavor of the open road to your table and family.

The illustrated book is published by Harvard Common Press and is available in bookstores everywhere for $19/95, or on Biker Billy’s web site where you can have it autographed. Check out www.bikerbilly.com where you can also find information on Biker Billy’s touring schedule.

Column copyright Bill Hufnagle 2003. Recipe reprinted with permission from “BIKER BILLY’S HOG WILD ON A HARLEY COOKBOOK”, published by Harvard Common Press, Boston copyright Bill Hufnagle 2003.



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