Winter is always a rough time for motorcyclists who don’t live in a warm climate. It means we have to actually winterize our bikes and find something else to do that doesn’t involve motorcycles. We have to park our machines and count down the months before we can ride again.
Or does it?
For another group of motorcyclists, the month of December is also spent winterizing our motorcycles. But instead of putting fuel stabilizer the tank, we’re mounting studded tires and breaking out the starter fluid. We’re getting our bikes prepped to ride on the ice.
I used to hate winter. I was fortunate that one of my mentors invited me to try out the ice early in my riding career, because suddenly winter became an equally amazing time of year for motorcycling.
A Day on the Ice …
It’s ten o’clock on a cold winter Sunday morning, and we’re just parking the car at a frozen lake in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin. We aren’t the first ones here, and in fact it’s difficult to find a parking spot. I take another sip of my hot coffee before exiting the car.
My friend Bob has been kind enough to haul our bike to the lake, along with another friend’s bike. He’s already unloaded the bikes and is gearing up for the day. There must be fifteen other guys out here doing the same thing, or they’re trying for the 20th time to get their bike to kick start. One guy gives up on his bike and lets a friend give it a round. On a cold morning, you find out who your true friends are.
I know how to properly gear up for the day. There’s a substantial difference in layering when it’s 10 degree versus 30 degrees outside, and I’m at the point where the cold doesn’t really bother me. Besides layers, I wear all the typical things I’d wear for any day I ride: armored jacket, armor pants, sturdy motorcycle boots, a dirt bike helmet, and gloves. Heated gloves, actually - they are a true game changer for staying comfortable. It takes me a little while to put everything on, but after a 10 minute dance in the car I’m ready to go ice riding.
When I tell people I go ice riding, they immediately assert that I’m crazy and that ice riding sounds incredibly dangerous. To be honest, it’s no more dangerous than other type of motorcycling. And it actually prevents me from going crazy during the winter, because I don’t have to deal with a parked motorcycle for half the year.
The other concern I usually hear is about falling through the ice. If you’re careful, this is actually pretty difficult to do. When the ice is just freezing over or the weather is starting to warm up, a group of guys will start drilling all over the lake to ensure the ice is still thick enough. But once it gets very cold out, there really isn’t much concern. The ice gets so thick during the season that plenty of people will drive their trailers or trucks straight onto the ice without fear. But that isn’t to suggest that someone hasn’t accidently sunk their vehicle due to lack of proper research – and that’s always an unfortunate day when that happens.
There’s a few lakes that we venture out to. Some have a flat track style course laid out, while others have a road style course with left and right turns galore. Today we’re at a flat track style course, and one of the guys has his kids measuring the track so it can be perfectly plowed. The kids are pros at this, they always have to go measure the track for everyone else. Once they set up a few markers, one of the guys drives out on the ice with his truck and plow. It’s very cold, there is no danger of the truck sinking today.
My boyfriend and I started riding on his DR-Z 400 this season, and last year we split my DR 200. Often times, we have one of the newer bikes on the lake. It’s always fun to see what turns up on the ice. Jeff of Godfrey’s Garage shows up on a bike named “The Mongrol.” It’s aptly named from the variety of bikes it’s been built from. Others show up with an assortment of weird and old bikes that aren’t happy to start up in cold weather, but are a hoot to watch once they do.
Riding on the ice is completely different from riding on the street. On the street, you lean into a corner. On the ice, you want to keep your body upright while you push the bike down underneath you. As you approach a corner, you want on your weight on the front tire. If you’re doing this right, you don’t even feel the back end sliding around. All you feel is the intense amount of joy that comes with motorcycling – the freedom, the excitement, the thrill. It’s taken me some time to get used to riding this way, but now I look forward to it when the street riding season is over.
We get into our typical routine: my boyfriend goes out for a few rounds, then I go out for a few rounds. If I come back in but still want to ride, someone inevitably offers me to try out a different bike. It’s a pretty amazing community of riders, as the motorcycling community often is. Often times I end up parking myself in various corners of the track with my camera. The day is as fun for riding as it is for taking photos – and after a full day of wrangling a motorcycle and running to get photos, I’m pretty beat.
Another good Sunday on the books …
I know the guys are done riding when the beers and cigars come out. The light is starting to fade, even though it’s not even close to dinner time yet. That’s a part of winter that I never liked.
My camera is full of great shots and my inner thighs are sore. I’m ready to pack up. We roll the bikes back up and begin to wrap the tires back up with their protective covers. The bikes get loaded and everyone makes plans to get brats, beer, and cheese curds. It is Wisconsin after all! After a well-deserved meal, we part ways while I look forward to a great night’s sleep. It’s been a perfect Sunday, and I’ll be back out there next week if it’s warm enough.