Motorcyclists stay cool to race frozen lakes
January 26, 2018
NORTHVILLE, N.Y. — They kick-start their bikes during cold snaps, hit highway speeds on ice and take tight turns on studded tires, leaving crystalline clouds in their wake.
Call them freezy riders, motorcycle racers who seem to defy physics — and maybe common sense — by buzzing around slick tracks plowed out atop frozen lakes and rivers each winter.
"The adrenaline of going 70 mph and dragging across the ice is something you can't find anywhere else," Mike Parodi says after another run around Great Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondacks during a particularly bitter cold weekend this month. "Believe it or not, at 18 below, it actually doesn't feel that bad."
The riders on upstate New York ice this winter are butchers, contractors, maintenance workers, fathers and sons. Some compete for money, with first-prize purses of up to $500 on a recent race day. But most are amateurs, who put thrills and bravado above the ever-present risk of spinning out and slipping sideways across the ice.
"It's a lot easier on your body when you fall. You just kind of slide out. On dirt, you tumble, cartwheel. You can really get hurt," says Johnny Gocha, among the more than 90 racers who competed recently on an oval track plowed atop the 14-inch thick ice on Warner Lake near Albany.
Racers ride dirt bikes with special screws in the tire treads. Sharp heads on the screws allow riders to hit fast straightaway speeds and turn without sliding into snowbanks. Racers claim the traction is actually better on ice than on dirt or pavement.
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"You want to lean your bike as much as you can and power out of the corner as fast as you can," explains Shane Maynard from Hudson Falls.
Motorcyclists have been sticking studs in their tires for generations in cold-winter locations from Sweden to Wisconsin. In Cadillac, Michigan, next week, the American Motorcyclist Association will begin its annual Ice Race Grand Championship.
Ice tracks might be gentler than dirt, but they're temperamental.
Warm spells the last two winters sidelined racers. This winter's big chill across the Northeast was great for ice formation — about 15 inches thick on Sacandaga on a recent weekend. But those same frigid temperatures seemed to discourage riders on a day organizers had to cancel races.
"We got here it was negative 15 or something," Alex Quarterley says after taking some laps for fun. "It's really all in the face. You got to watch for frostbite."
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