The text came from Brent Thompson shortly after my latest blog was posted. My blog had mentioned how winter now had us firmly in its grip and after reading it Thompson suggested he had a good idea for my next writing assignment. Now I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer but I am proud to say that before you could say “double double” I had figured out what Thompson had in mind. I was going ice riding.
Thompson is the official leader of the motorcycle mafia that is affectionately referred to as the “B Team”. For years I have wondered if the label was given because his first name starts with B or was it simply a playful self-deprecating shot at his talent level when he hops on something with two wheels. Well after watching him ride for well over a decade I am going with the first name theory because this guy just flat out knows how to rip on a motorcycle and always has a pretty damn good time doing it.
After a quick phone call on Thursday night a date was set for Saturday afternoon at the pond in Oakland. Not one to leave things until the last minute, I waited until around supper time On Friday evening before I started scrambling to put together some gear to wear which involved me borrowing stuff from both my son and my wife. Saturday morning arrived and I was excited despite still not being positive that I had assembled the right wardrobe to protect me from the elements. Then came another text from Thompson as there had been a change in plans. With the weather forecast predicting temperatures colder than a certain part of a witch’s upper body, Thompson suggested heading to a quarry in the Welland area instead of Oakland as the quarry setting would at least protect us from the wind. After some convincing to take the longer drive, my daughter who was in charge of photos as well as her fiancé joined me and we were off.
When we arrived nearly two hours later it was a beautiful sight when we got our first glance. Smooth ice for as far as you could see and a few bikes had already started making laps on the pseudo track that was laid out using pylons and tires. Many of the regular Welland flat track crew were there as well as girlfriends, wives and even their dogs who were hearty enough to tough out the elements. There was a fishing hut set up for warmth as well as a bit of a campfire going but Thompson had been correct in his assumption. Despite the frigid temperatures the quarry walls were doing a great job of keeping the wind off of us and it really didn’t feel that bad.
Suiting up for my first ride on Thompson’s bike I discovered that my Dollarama balaclava would not fit under my helmet so I would be venturing onto the ice sans head condom as my daughter was calling it. I should point out that I am not a total ice rookie, I have a solid ten minutes or so of ice riding under my belt but the last time I was out it was on an old Ascot that had a sidecar welded to it. After a bit of advice from Thompson I made my first attempt at getting on his bike. Picture Bambi standing on ball bearings and then trying to swing a leg over a seat that seemed to be about five inches higher than my waist. I know Thompson had to be rolling his eyes as he helped me onto the bike but I finally made it into the saddle as was now teetering back and forth from foot to foot as it was impossible for me to touch the ground with both feet. Pulling in the clutch and banging the bike into gear I was off, other riders beware, and my ice riding had begun.
It was literally seconds before I had a smile on my face and although the feeling of ice under me was not familiar it was a great feeling just to be on two wheels again. My first turn on the bike lasted about five minutes and I’m sure my awkwardness resembled a newborn giraffe trying to stand for the first time as I came to terms with how the tires worked on the ice. For those who have never tried it the amount of grip you get from studded tires is insane and doesn’t compare at all to riding on dirt. The secret to going fast (from what I can tell anyway) is trusting your tires in the corner and pivoting on your leg as you power through the turns. I took three turns on the bikes including a rip on Tyler Thompson’s bike as well and I certainly never got fast but I do think I got a bit more comfortable each time I went out. Sadly getting onto the bike didn’t improve at all and each time I climbed on board I continued to resemble Bambi.
Although I really never rode with anybody while I was out there, I did have the opportunity to be passed by all the other fast guys who were present and holy crap was that impressive for the brief second that they were beside me. Doug Beattie is insanely fast and when he passed me in the corner he was pretty well horizontal and parallel with the ice as he gave me a little wave. Tyler Seguin passed me on one wheel and although I only saw him for a second I swear he was sipping a hot chocolate and I am pretty sure Brandon Seguin was untangling his fishing line as he sprayed me with snow on the way by. Although I never shared the ice with Thompson because I was on his bike, I watched in awe every time he was out there as he battled with the fast guys I have mentioned above.
Despite the cold and the struggle to get on the bike every time I had an absolute blast. I can’t thank the Thompsons enough for the invite and the possibility exists that I may join them again before the ice season is over. It has been a week since riding with the crew and my hips almost feel normal again. Maybe next time I will do a bit of stretching beforehand.
- From Todd Vallee