For most of us in the world’s temperate zones, the season is changing. The birds are gone, the leaves are gone, and the air has started to hurt. For some, the cold means winterization for the bike and storage. For a select few, it is time to brutalize the bike with modifications and head for the lake for some ice racing.

2 Ice Racing Riders

Many people trudge through their winters without ice racing. If you are one of them you need to get to know this hardy, brutal speed-filled version of dashing through the snow.

The History

This exhilarating sport originated in Scandinavia almost 95 years ago. In her article A Brief History of Motorcycle Ice Racing, Jenny Smith tells us that the first recorded ice track race was held in Sweden, around 1924. Evidently, Viking blood will not be contained, and who would appreciate this type of fun more than the Russians? The first official race was later organized and held in Moscow, in 1939. Currently, the AMA oversees the Ice Grand Championship, usually in the American Midwest. Canada also offers organized races, with her own sets of standards and regulations.

The Race

Conceptually, the race is simple. It is held on a traditional flat track, either in a simple oval running counter-clockwise, or as a regular road-type course that contains both right and left turns. The best tracks are made on a frozen lake while some are carved in very deep, packed snow. The softer snow courses behave much more like the summer dirt tracks, and lack the evil charm of the solid, slippery, and unforgiving ice courses. The objective is also simple: go round and round as fast as you can, and don’t get hit by another bike.

The Bikes

Riders can modify any type of bike for these races, as long as they meet the specifications for the type of ice race. Specialized bikes with many flat track modifications (including no brakes) are used for organized events. The most obvious modification, however, is in traction. One division allows knobby tires spiked with metal studs to move on the slippery surface.

Many racers prefer to perform the arduous task of studding their tires themselves, one spike at a time. For those who don’t have the time or patience, some tire manufacturers offer spiked tires in the traditional sizes of a 21-inch front and a 19-inch rear. These special tires consequently require reinforced carcasses and extra protection for inner tubes. Canada and the U.S. differ in regulations, so racers have to be cognizant of their venues.

Spiked Ice Racing Tire

Now that the riders are astride what amounts to a high-powered table-saw, one extra precaution becomes necessary: over-sized wheel fenders must be added to prevent contact to the spinning spikes and flying ice shards. These covers should be attached to the front forks and the swing arms so that they travel with, and consistently cover, the shark-toothed tires.
Ice Racing Starting Line

The Weather

Winter causes fickle air conditions. Extra cold temperatures can dry out normally humid air by freezing the moisture, which then falls to the ground. It also exaggerates differences in altitude. Riders who use older, carbureted bikes need to become experts in re-jetting and adjusting their machines.

Many riders agree that a dirt bike’s normal suspension is adequate for a flat track, but some like to lower and tighten their suspensions for the oval track, much as they would for any flat track.

Another concern is temperature. The bikes tend to handle the cold and wind chill better than do their riders. Attention to coolant, oil, and rubber is all that is needed for the bike, but riders need to pay extra attention to their skin and body temperatures. While normal snow gear will work well, riders should make some extra effort to protect their hands and feet. The cold will work its way through gloves, and amplify instances of arm pump—the problem of losing sensation in fingers and palms after some time racing. Arm pump is caused by a combination of chronic pressure and vibration, which slows blood flow to hands resulting in profound numbness. Add low temperatures to those influences, and it becomes a question of when, not if, a rider’s hands go to sleep. This numbness can be accompanied by distracting bouts of paresthesia, or pins-and-needles, as your hands and forearms try to wake up. The problem is a loss of feedback from your handle bars, and a loss of control. Feet are at risk as well. While the engine does a good job of keeping the riders’ legs warm, their feet miss out on the heat. Without some form of warmth for toes, a rider runs the risk of losing track of the shifter and break levers. Heated clothing or grips is a must, especially for extremities. Most racers agree that using motocross gloves protected by winter wear is the best strategy. The motocross gloves protect circulation, and specialized mitts that cover the grips, hands, and wrists are available to protect the motocross gloves from the freezing temperatures.

Modified bikes and hazardous conditions, even in the most controlled races, punish any who lapse into an unwary moment. On the 30th of March, 2011, Peter Koij was riding in the Västerås International Open Meet in Sweden when his bike slipped out from under him in the opening lap and he fell, later dying from his wounds. As in all motorsports, especially competition motorsports, the evident danger in is real.

The Finish

Besides winter excitement, ice racing is an excellent way to maintain and improve flat-track skills year round.

Ice Racing Corner

Credit: Isiwal/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0 [CC BY-SA 4.0]:

Ice racing is an exciting sport in and of itself. Slippery tracks, dangerous bikes, and low visibility because of weather or traffic all contribute to an adrenaline-fueled event. If you’re the rider that takes a few months off, ice racing is an electrifying option for enjoying your sport and staying in form during the winter months.

Would you race on ice? How would you modify your bike? Let us know what you think.