We live in Canada. It’s winter for quite a bit of the time. But while we wait patiently for spring we still have the gnawing itch to ride.
So we try to soothe our desire by reading CMG and becoming CMGRC members (subliminal effect intended), going to bike shows to check out the latest rides or spending copious amounts of money on next season’s accessories.
But friends, there is something more we can do … (cue fanfare).
ADD STUDS AND GIVE’R
Last year, CMG’s attempts to determine the versatility of Yamaha’s WR450F were hampered somewhat by a broken hand, which I suffered late in the season when I managed to introduce a KTM to a tree.
As a result, the planned fall Enduros and Hare Scrambles were out – the bone finally healing up only when the snow began to fall. So really, ice racing was the only option left available to us.
As is CMG style, we entered this endeavor with zero knowledge of this sport before we decided to tackle it (well, that’s not entirely true – remember the B-Wizz scooter and my attempt at the Numb Bum back in 1998? – Editor ‘arris).
In order to apply at least a modicum of logic to the whole process, we decided to make contact with the local ice racing community to see what options were available to us and what exactly we needed to do the WR to get it ice-ward bound.
Our initial attempts to connect proved difficult, as general information was not readily available.
Through some dirt riding contacts, we eventually hooked up with George Jones – an enthusiastic man with
a penchant for all things ice-racing.
I’m not sure if he’s also the guy who broke Tammy Wynette’s heart, or vice versa, but he builds a bitchin’ ice race tire and was only too happy to help CMG in our quest for frozen glory (I’m sure there’s material for a country song in that somewhere).
Besides tire building and loaning all the necessaries to impoverished Internet magazines to go ice-racing, George was also organizing, and participating in, a series of three six-hour endurance ice races on Balsam Lake, just east of Orillia in southern Ontario.
Normally ice racing is done on ovals of fairly short lengths – effectively a sprint format with all riders launching themselves in a pack, on tires built specifically for left-hand turns (no studs on the right sides).
Since Mr. Jones’s endurance tracks are essentially road-race courses, only on ice (complete with sweepers, hairpins, and the occasional patch of open water!), he has developed ice tires for this specific application, allowing for tremendous grip in all directions.
TEAM CMG PEDIGREE
For the Balsam Lake endurance, Team CMG consisted of JP Schroeder, (former CMG rider in the Canadian Thunder Series), the brothers Macmillan (Jeff from the TechKnow Bag and brother
Paul), and myself.
I was unaware of Paul and Jeff’s racing pedigree (both big in the Canadian road-racing scene in the early eighties) until another entrant (Yamaha Canada’s ‘Mr. Everything’ – John Bayliss) told me we had brought in ringers.
This from the guy who was teamed up that day with Canadian road-race legend, Frank Trombino.
With time tight, only two warm-up laps were available before the race – allotted to the two ice virgins – JP and myself. I received lots of advice from the gathered racers, which basically boiled down to:
1) On the straights – nail it! This will clear the snow from the knobs.
2) In the corners – nail it! So that the tires will bite.
My first moments on the studded WR were in soft snow, that offered little grip and even less confidence in my abilities. Though my practice lap was horribly slow, I still managed to hit a snow-bank as I failed to navigate one of the myriad of turns. The straight-line grip was there but I still had no idea how to corner, despite all the stellar advice I was given.
With typical limited CMG preparation (one lap), it was time to race.
Paul (the ‘ringer’) Macmillan was selected to start for CMG, with instructions to get us some margin for when my turn came up. With Team CMG gridded fifth, the bikes were let lose one at a time, with a few seconds gap between each. No need for a major first corner pile-up at the start of a six-hour race!
It was an amazing sight to see the fast guys barely scrub-off any speed on the same corners I had just crawled through. I was starting to understand – as you enter a corner, counter steer to scrub-off speed and then flop the bike over, get on the gas as early as possible and as hard as you can (the tires hook better on the gas then off).
All you gotta have is faith. Oh and some courage … and some strength as well. Then a bit more faith, some courage again, followed by a shot of strength. Get the idea?
FOGGED UP GOGGLES
After Paul, it was Jeff’s turn. This was the cue for me to suit up.
Twenty minutes later I was looking through fogged up goggles and trying to avoid parking it in a snow bank – all the while gasping for air.
The course was long with more corners than I could count, let alone remember. There were no opportunities to rest as each short straight was met with a sharp turn on the torturous ten-foot wide track.
We had thought 20 minute sessions would suffice but more realistic duration’s were determined by arm pump, fogged goggles or just plain exhaustion from trying to pull the bike out of a snow-bank while in MX boots on the slippery ice.
Despite temps hovering around 2C, sweat was pouring from all of us by the time we came into the pits for a rider change.
Pit stops requiring fuel and rider changes were choreographed prior to the race.
Even so, they usually ended up with me either squirting Paul in the crotch with fuel, or slapping a hysterical potty-mouthed Mr. Seck in the face. BTW – this is the second such deserved motorcycle related slap Mr. Seck has received from me in 24 years, but the first that didn’t involve a police chase.
Team CMG got better as each rider got more laps in. I went from almost running over my teammates on my first pit stop, from exhaustion and lack of oxygen, to hoping to just get one more session in as the race wound down toward the six-hour mark. This stuff is fun and highly addictive – once you get the hang of it.
Despite being an endurance race, everybody seemingly rode as hard as they could at all times, but with such a large track spreading out the pack, you didn’t always have an opportunity to race someone.
Even so, I would still have a hoot trying to rail corners or trying to improve on something I had messed up on the previous lap.
Every CMG rider, including Mr. Seck (during his post-race jaunt), either went over the bars or stuffed it into a snow bank – all without injury to bike or rider. Try that on a GSXR eh! A snowbound Jeff even had a fellow racer stop and ask if he needed help!
On the track and in the pits, the vibe was always friendly and fun throughout the whole event.
THE END IS NIGH
Two crazy things happened on this wonderful day:
1) Editor ‘arris bought Team CMG sandwiches, and …
2) We didn’t finish dead last!
We actually finished sixth out of eight – beating out up and comer road-racer, Matt McBride’s team, albeit by one lap. Only just ahead of us (by a more convincing 5 laps) was the two-man Yamaha team of John Bayliss and Frank Trombino.
In hindsight, it seems odd we got that close, but then I think I saw them having a Swiss Chalet track side picnic around 1pm.
One of the great achievements of the day has to go to the George Jones team that placed 3rd, despite several crashes – one of which resulted in losing a silencer that required the bike to be pitted, another that shredded George’s new coveralls and his boot.
Then, to add insult to injury, the team’s rear tire went flat. Undeterred, they ran the last two hours of the race conservatively (that means they were still passing Team CMG racers), not stopping until the airless tire came right off the rim!
The WR fit right in with the other four and two stroke dirt bikes that made up the grid. It was completely reliable and I think power was on par for this type of racing (thanks to the guys at Machine Racing who re-jet the WR for the colder conditions).
As track conditions worsened, due to the abuse of all those studded wheels, the suspension did get a little harsh. It could probably have benefited with a bit of softening from the stock settings, but that would have taken valuable time. Next time we’ll know better.
We learned a lot in our first time out. Primarily, ice racing is way too much fun!
We all drove home sore, but completely amped up at what a great experience we just had. There were even the kinds of testimonials usually reserved for drunken binges, ‘I love you man’ and ‘we are doing this again next year’.
Okay, the love part may have been reaching..
Many thanks to George Jones of Giver Racing Products (905-571-1862) for not only the use of the fantastic ice tires and tire guard, but also for allowing CMG to get out there and experience how much fun you can have on a motorcycle in the winter!
George also wishes to thank the countless volunteers who offered equipment and/or their time to create and maintain the ice race track.
Thanks also to John Bickle for the use of the ice tire covers.
And finally to the gang at Machine Racing for prepping the WR for the ice race track.