Each year as Christmas approaches most of us are putting away our bikes to hunker down for another long cold Canadian winter. Some of us will start some large maintenance or enhancement project, some of us will plan to travel south with our bikes to scratch that itch, and others will just dream of warm days to come and curse all the times that we didn’t ride, back when we had the chance. Then there are the select few that embrace the onset of winter. Years back, I first heard of a few people that actually had motorcycles they only used in the winter! Can you believe such a thing? A motorcycle that sits dormant through spring, fall, and especially summer, to only be used in the winter. You may have guessed, I am referring to the new 1 %ers’, those trusty souls that ice race.
Motorcycle Ice racing historically was used to fill the long space between normal riding seasons in Canada, but rapidly evolved into a competitive sport. Typically taking place on an oval track whose length was determined by the patience of the plow driver, it was comprised of a NASCAR standard bunch of endless lefts. Classes were created for the different skill levels in attendance, and if enough competitors were attracted, engine size sometimes divided them further.
In southern Ontario, Ice racing has a couple of main hubs. One is not far from Toronto taking place on Lake Scugog, near the town of Port Perry. Here, the OCMC (Oshawa Competition Motorcycle Club) has been hosting ice racing almost every Sunday from Christmas till Daytona, weather permitting. The other hub, in Eastern Ontario plagues a small town west of Ottawa, named Perth. Outside this small town, a colourful character owns a small but impressive bike dealership and wrecking yard named Woody’s Cycles. On Woody’s property nestles a good size lake that is terrorized by Geese and Snapping turtles in the summer and scores of Ice race bikes all winter. Woody, plows and maintains a pretty serious tri-oval that had me searching for much taller gearing than stock for my CR250 back when I first attended one of his events.
When I started road racing in the early 90’s, Ice racing was attracting not only the guys wanting to ride their dirt bikes 12 months a year, but also those very serious about road racing. What better way for you to actually improve your skills over the winter while your competitors got rustier? Road Racers like Jon Cornwell, Owen Weichel, and Pascal Picotte to name a few, used the winter to hone their ability to slide both ends of a motorcycle under the constant pressure of competition to become better riders. Now, those that give it a try are amazed at the amount of fun they can have and enjoy a tremendous work out at the same time. Once it gets in your blood, it is there for good.
The bikes used for ice racing have evolved as well, even though I have seen GSXRs and Hyabusas prepared for the ice, the norm has always been a modified competition motocross bike. The small tracks favour light (single cylinder) bikes with decent suspension travel (motocross). The spinning studded tires leave deep grooves in the ice as the bikes accelerate off the corners, turning once smooth ice into very rutted terrain quite quickly, necessitating the long stroke suspenders. I have seen modified dirt trackers used to some effect on the ice, but the modern motocross bikes quality of suspension travel usually wins out in the end. Displacement seems to be a key as well, with the 250 two stokes and 450 four strokes being the weapons of choice. A 450 four stoke seems to be the ultimate way to go as the four cycle power plant will always make better traction than the comparably powered two stroker, due to the brief pause in power delivery provided by the exhaust cycle. It almost goes without saying that the four stroke is more tolerant of your jetting errors than a two stoke. While the four stroke might just run crappy when lean, the two stoke will leave you with a $750 repair if you are off a couple sizes of Mikeihns. Having said this though, don’t ever bet hard earned money against someone on a properly tuned CR500!
How do I modify my Mxer’ for the ice you might ask? The old norm was to call George Jones for a set of tires ($ 800 for a season), ditch the front brake, fabricate up a front guard that covers the wheel right down to axle height and wire in a kill switch tether. In mounting the rear wheel, you used to have to offset your wheel by tuning the spokes to give yourself clearance between the chain and the studs. We used to lower both ends of the bike a few inches too, just because. My last Ice bike I prepared followed almost the same rules, #1 call George Jones (905-571-1862)! #2 Call Picotte Performance (www.picotteperformance.com) for a set of beautiful Quebec made ice racing guards front and rear (they are a little pricey, but if you have ever built your own, they are well worth it and you can keep them for life!). #3 wire in a kill switch tether, #4 richen your jetting a bit and go racing!
On my last Ice bike, I had lowered both ends, but eventually raised the bike back up. The new tires George made combined with the design of the Picotte rear wheel guard kept the chain away from the studs nicely. I retained the front brake (and ordered appropriate tires) to run in the new, quickly growing road course ice race series. When you call George to order your tires, he will ask you if you are just doing oval, or ‘two way’ and build you tires to suit.
So, instead of winterizing your dirt bike, give it a Christmas present and throw a bunch of ice racing goodies at it and have the most fun you may ever have on a bike. Don’t thank me, just think of all the money you will save on Fuel Stabilizer!