Joe definitely made the best of being woods rider by going to the opening round of the national enduro series last weekend but I did my best to get some ride time in here in Wisconsin. I don’t know what has kept me from riding more in the winter other than its cold and it doesn’t truly measure up to riding in perfect dirt but I’ve suddenly grown fond of riding on frozen terrain, A few weeks ago I did laps a Homan’s farm (where it really wasn’t entirely frozen since we had a weird January thaw happening). That was great fun and it started me thinking that cold weather riding could really hone certain riding skills.
This past Sunday I got out on Rock Lake. Rock Lake is pretty big as lakes go so there’s plenty of room for all winter (or summer) recreational enthusiasts to do their thing, But I never considered riding on the lake because I assumed it was illegal or just plain too much of a nuisance for the lake regulars to tolerate. My idea of fun would be countless laps at speed on a relatively loud motorcycle – that contrasts greatly to a leisurely Sunday afternoon of ice fishing.
No matter, really, since I was determined to give it a go. I did my best to overpopulate a Pirelli mid-soft set of tires with as many worn out ice screws as I could and told the family I’d be back in 2 hours.
I had taken a look at the ice earlier in the week and wondered what would be best: for me to park across the street from the lake and ride to the ice (and not have my stuff with me if I wanted to make changes or warm up in the van) or to park out there and have to deal with the slick ice while unloading and reloading my RM-Z. I chose the latter but took a bucket of sand with me to help with grip.
Driving the van down the boat ramp an onto ice that was so clear you could see its thickness at fissure intersections was a little concerning. I have no idea if my insurance would cover any recovery expenses if we all fell through but I doubt they would. The way is saw it was that there were several cars out there that day, the weather had been very cold for the past week and I’m often up for an uncalculated risk from time to time.
Communities of fishing houses were near the shore and a small group of ice sailboats had gathered just past the ice huts. The middle of the lake was wide open. The fishermen must know the fishing isn’t any good out there so that made plenty of space for the ice boats and me to do our thing.
It was a calm day and quiet out there on the ice, except for the surprisingly frequent thumps and bangs the shifting ice makes. It was a little unnerving firing up the bike for the first time being that I was about to make a lot of noise in an otherwise quiet setting. The middle of the lake – which is a long way out there – was empty so that’s where I was headed to put as much distance between my loud bike and the rest of the world.
The ice was hard. I suspect there are as many types of ice as there are types of dirt. The rains we had weeks ago were followed by cold, clear days which is why I think the ice seems so hard. I did a few starts and stops on my way to the middle of the lake and quickly learned that my front tire was hooking up well and the rear was not. That is opposite of what I expected being that the rear had three times as many screws as the front. I’m unclear on what makes a studded tire really work.
But because the rear had less grip than the front I immediately understood that it would be a great day to learn about throttle control and balance. I can only think of a few times where you could hang the rear of the bike out forever and ever when on the dirt but on the ice with a home-made rear tire, you can hand it out there for as long as you have gas.
I brought some pink ribbons with me and laid them out at turn markers. I made a 10-turn road course that had two long sweepers and several tight 180-degree turns. On the long sweepers I could get the rear to step out and hand there while shifted from 3rd to 4th then to 5th before slamming it back down to 3rd for the next tight turn. All the way thru the gears the rear of the bike would dangle just 6 to 12 inches to the right or left while I controlled it with the throttle. Really good fun.
The front, like I said, had remarkably good grip. I began to trust it more and more and eventually could drift both ends of the bike into a turn before getting back on the gas rounding the corner. I almost made it through the entire 1 hour, 20 minute ride without falling but lost the front in a slow right, lowsiding me into a lazy slide across the ice. I went back to see the tracks that I had made but only saw that the front let go and I couldn’t catch it with the gas or inside leg. No harm done but I was thinking I was cautious enough yet skilled enough to make it through the ride without a fall. Not to be.
Visibility and glare got to be a problem late in the afternoon so I called it a day. The sand saved me big time when I put the bike back into the van; pushing it engine off up the ramp would have been impossible. I even got a thumbs up from a guy parked nearby. He didn’t seem to mind me being out there making noise. Sure feels like most would not like it, though.
So now I’ve got a bug for riding on the ice a well as in the woods. Who knows if the weather will preserve the ice for much longer but for sure the woods could be good until the overnight temperatures stay above 25 degrees. Time will tell.