American Ice Track Racing - A Sport Full Of Studs
If you’ve ever spent a day at a fun place like Six Flags or a Disney theme park, you’ll notice as the day winds down, and parents wear out, that the kids will do anything to stay a bit longer. You’ll see the child fighting against falling asleep, you can witness some incredible negotiation like the child offering to eat as many brussel sprouts as required for dinner, cleaning their room, or even being kinder to their sibling. As an all-out final effort, if their negotiating and anti-sleep techniques don’t work, you will likely become witness to ear-splitting screaming and fighting like a wildcat freshly trapped in a cage. The range of emotions is rapid, impressive, and they typically cycle through the highs and lows of them all until they run out of options.
Why the emotional theme park references you ask? These moments of extreme emotional despair are not strictly limited to those of the unhappy child at a theme park days end. You are just as likely to watch or experience these moments of extreme unhappiness as the motorcycle, or more narrowed field of motocross riders watches their season slip away. You can see the rider slowly add layer by layer of clothing to combat the fall temperatures and rethink their lighting setup to counter the shorter days of sunlight. You’ll start to notice the fall rider fighting the motorcycle riding conditions, and fighting against light snow and cold days as long as they can. Until finally, they too succumbed to the theme park that was their summer riding coming, as it comes to an end. A changing of the seasons becomes an emotional time of year for the motorbike rider.
Outsmarting The Seasons. How to beat the cold and ride all year long
Not all riders will put the kickstand down and walk away. Some have chosen the “If you can’t beat them, join them” mindset , to deal with the riding season ending in snow and ice. These recreational and competitive riders are known as ice track racers. Yes New Mexico & Louisiana, this is a thing. The cold grips the ground, the ice penetrate into the lakes like setting cement, and a deathly blanket of snow smoothers the landscapes to a muted hush. Well, muted until the ice is fully established, the snow is cleared, and you can hear the braaaaaap of two and four-stroke engines with heavily studded tires ripping shards of ice from the lake tops all in the name of motorcycle fun.
For the recreational rider, you can quickly check the thickness of ice on your local pond or lake, then clear a track with a truck or quad snow plow to create the race loop. To check the ice thickness, you can drill through the ice surface to ensure an 8” thick sheet of ice across the lake surface. 8" of ice should be enough to walk and ride on. However, if you plan to bring a vehicle out onto the ice, you might want to have a consistent 12” of ice across the lake. Ice will vary quite a bit across the surface of a lake, so its best to check for consistency across a wide range of locations where you plan to ride.
How to prepare your motorcycle for ice track racing
Motorcycles are incredibly versatile pieces of machinery. If you want to ride them on the highways, you tighten up your suspension a little and put appropriate road tires on. If you're going to ride the same bike off-road, you soften up your suspension a little and switch to a more aggressive tread pattern. The tread pattern will depend on if you plan to be on dirt, mud, or a mix of both. Or if you want to rip across sand dunes, you swap your tires for a paddle style tire that will paddle you through the soft sand. Then, if you are really looking to test the limits of your bike you can put an even more aggressive paddle on the back and see how far you make it across the water. Everything is possible on a motorbike, one aggressive rider even made it across Lake Como in Italy on a modified Suzuki.
Setting up the suspension: To prep your KTM 450 or four-stroke Honda for a season of racing around the frozen pond, you’ll need to make a few minor adjustments. If you are just looking to ride recreationally, you can easily stay with your stock suspension or whatever set up you have for trail riding. If you are looking to get more serious about your time on the ice track, you may want to make some further adjustments. To better handle ice ruts or braking ruts that form during races, you’ll probably want to soften up your suspension. The softer suspension will help cushion the impact as you blast through the ruts. Often riders will shorten their shocks or forks several inches to lower the bike's center of gravity and make it easier to handle on the ice track.
Fender modification: If there is anywhere in the world you’d want to avoid a fender-bender it would be with your throttle cracked, zipping around an ice track with studded tires hungrily biting at your shins. One slip, crash, or contact with another riders tires, and you'll be gangster-limping for the rest of your days. You can pick up ice racing fender kits from various online suppliers like Slide Racing for around $150 for each end of the bike. Or if your crafty steel-bashing skills are up to snuff, many riders design their own set-ups that are typically heavier, but extremely durable. The fenders are a bit like steel armor for your tires. With the aftermarket or bespoke designs mounted on your bike, you are likely to occur no more than some fender bashing or low-impact wipeouts. A minor wipeout would be a short-term inconvenience that could otherwise become a long-term walking problem.
Motorcycle modifications for ice track racing
• Optional softer suspension for competitive racers
• Lower the bike 3-5" for a lower center of gravity and better motorcycle control
• Adapt a fender kit that covers your studded tires
• Alternately build your own fender kit for custom reinforcement
Motorcycle Ice Track Tires. How to stud tires for track racing
When you are looking to get into ice track racing, you won't get far without a set of studded tires. Some aggressive knobbies will get you started for a few practice rides on packed snow when you want to test the waters. However, for cornering and braking on an icy surface, nothing will compare to the grip of screw heads protruding from your rubber treads like ice picks scaling a set of frozen waterfalls.
Like all conveniences in life, you can purchase pre-studded tires from online retailers who are targeting this segment of riders who aren't willing to let winter slow them down. Amazon sells studded tires, eBay sells studded tries, so do a host of independent retailers.
For those looking to save money on buying pre-studded tires to pay for winter riding gear, you can go about studding in a couple different ways. One is to follow the outlined rules and regulations by professional organizations like the American Motorcycle Association. The AMA has a standard that ensures a level of safety, competitiveness, and measure in which they can use to sanction races.
To stud your tires to regulation standard, you'll need to adhere screws in a tread pattern that works for throttling, braking, and cornering. This means you'll need to place the screws at various angles to maximize all three of these racing needs. The job is ion painstaking slow and requires about 1200-screws in the rear tire and around 550-screws in the front of an adequately studded race tire. There is a well-documented video by five-time national ice racing champion Bryan Bigelow on how to do this to achieve the full effect. For races that aren’t held to the same standards, you can more easily run cement screws through your tires and secure them with nuts. The full details can be found on a selection of YouTube videos that will take you through step by step of what to do. Both setups will require running an inner layer of rubber to protect from the screws rubbing against your tube. As well it will also take the patience of a kindergarten teacher to get through the task without giving in to the “BUY” button on eBay or Amazon.
Depending on what side of the snowy border you are on, Canada and America have different racing rules. If you plan to race, the AMA has a full list of rules available for American racers. Along with dates for the national championship held every year.
AMA Ice Track Rule Highlights
• Use AMA approved studded screws or sheet metal screws with a ¼” hexagonal washer head
• Screws must have no more than one straight screwdriver slot
• Maximum head height of 3/16 from under the washer
• Maximum head washer diameter: .350”
• Screwdriver slot not to exceed .085"
• Screw height not to exceed 3/16" above the tire
• Tires used in the under 651cc class must be a motorcycle type tire not to exceed 510
• Motorcycles must be equipped with a clothing attached, tethered, kill switch
• No front brakes
• Front and rear fenders meeting the outlined standard are required
What to wear. More than just mitts and steel-toed boots
Despite needing to be wrapped up like a hot dog and smoothed with the warmth of hot chocolate before a race, while you're out on the track, your body temperature should be pretty warm. You’ll be aggressively riding, and your blood will be flowing like lava. That’s not to say you can get away with summer riding gear. You'll want thin layers of flexible clothing that allow you to move around on the bike. Compression clothes to hold the heat to your body, all covered by breathable cotton layers in the inside. On top of this, your standard impact armor that will save you in the event you end up skidding across the lake without your bike. If you thought falling on a dirt track left a severe bruise, wait until you’ve had an unfortunate encounter with an ice track.
Next, you'll want to have on your riding pants and a thermal lined riding or winter jacket. Different riders either opt for motocross boots or thick treaded winter boots. Just remember that your foot is going to spend a lot of time bracing itself against the ice. Depending on your choice of helmet you’ll want a balaclava along with a breath deflector to keep the fog out. Or well-ventilated goggles for an open face motocross helmet. Keep your hands warm, yet flexible enough to get a good grip on the bike. Winter riding mitts could do the job, or those incredibly ugly handlebar mitts will also keep the warmth in. Whatever you chose, your clothing will get beat-up, abused and dirty. You'll likely want it to wear old or durable equipment that can take a few bites from the ice.
How do you get into ice track racing?
Like all motorcycle sports, the club is less exclusive than you probably imagined. Men, children, and Chicks With Picks, like female racer Courtney Schmale, have all turned their two-wheel obsession to a year-round sport. Search the northern states for races in your area, then clear off the neighbor's pond for a bit of practice, or get in a few trial runs on some packed snow to get a feel for the sport. Whatever you do, don't let the winter weather take away your motorcycle fun!
Photo credit “Royal Broil” Flickr