Winter Motorcycling Season
The winter motorcycling season (WMS) in the upper Midwest actually begins in late autumn, about mid-October or so. The first event in the WMS is a tune-up. No, not for your motorcycle, but for your snowblower.
Try to ignore the snowblower’s demands for a pre-snow tune-up and work on your Suzuki street fighter project instead, and you run the risk of being attacked as was captured in the image above. No point trying to fight it—a snowblower’s auger is a nasty weapon and a crescent wrench is no match.
Read our Tips for Winter Motorcycle Riding
Besides, a snowblower tune-up is pretty quick and basic: oil change (no filter required), fresh spark plug (or spin it out and wire-brush the carbon off and set the gap, if you’re really cheap), drain and clean the fuel system sediment bowl (if equipped), grease the Zerk fitting, lube and adjust the chute, chains, cables and levers, air up the tires, top up the tank with fresh fuel with gas line anti-freeze, adjust the drive wheels and that’s about it. Sounds like bike, no?
The payoff for your efforts is a carefree winter of high performance snow removal, known locally as the Sears Craftsman Snowblower MotoGP. There is a motor howling at full throttle—nearly 3,000 rpm, handlebars being cranked on, thrills, spills, and flying debris; everything that makes blowing snow the next best thing to riding a motorcycle. Sort of.
That the similarities between running a snowblower and riding a motorcycle is pretty much limited to the fact that they both have tires, an engine, handlebars and a propensity to break down at the worst possible time leads to some shack-happy Midwestern souls to drag their motorcycles out of the garage and into the snow, no matter the hazards.
This leads to the odd conjunction shown in the attached image. Once the snowblower has done its thing, it creates the cockeyed notion that riding a motorcycle is possible; perhaps even a good thing to attempt.
Taking the bike out in the snow and ice can be justified by the fact that there are those who even race motorcycles on ice. Of course, those bikes have long studs in the tires creating the kind of grip on ice that not even the most exotic MotoGP rubber can match on pavement.
There are those who argue that the only place ice belongs anywhere near a motorcycle is in the beverage cooler in the travel trunk.
Then there’s Madison’s Steve Suter who holds a world record for his 131 mph blast on lake ice back in 1992. He studded his tires using his own design skills—because the tire manufacturer’s engineers refused to discuss how to go about studding a drag slick when he called for their technical advice on it. Imagine that.
This grainy image is one of the very few that exist of that record run, so here’s a slightly better image of him with his drag bike Silent Thunder. Suter owns Suter’s Speed Shop (www.sutersspeedshop.com/) near Madison, Wis., a mecca for motorcycle speed enthusiasts and vintage owner/restorers alike since he has one of the largest motorcycle and snowmobile salvage yards in the Midwest and knows a few things about how to make lots of horsepower.
I admit to giving in to the urge to ride a motorcycle in winter—without metal studs or any other traction-enhancing methods in use, not even knobby tires. Just plain street tires and an old Honda very much like the 1974 CL200 I first attempted riding on hard pack with when that bike was brand new.
Despite having ridden many times on snowy roads over the years, I never wiped out; not even once. If I had, maybe I’d be the wiser for it. The danger is, having gotten away with it for so long, I still harbor the notion that it’s OK. Maybe even that I’m good at it and that, for sure, is wrongheaded.
Still, it is with an oddly high level of confidence that I took to the snow back then and even in recent years on a 1975 Honda CB500T. The bike is familiar feeling; the same “awful waffle” hand grips they came with back then, identical controls, surf board seat, non-threatening power band that is perfect for low-traction environments, the whole thing.
Riding on snow is an acquired taste, born of a mixture of winter shack-happiness and necessity. If you decide to do it with street tires, change speed and direction, gradually and smoothly, ATGATT, do it on hard pack in very cold temperatures (ten degrees above zero or less I find is best—melting snow is really slick) and have your insurance policy paid up. Best advice, switch to snowmobiles.
Abusing a snowmobile can be a lot of fun, particularly if it’s somebody else’s snowmobile. In the attached image, I’m enjoying an afternoon abusing my brother’s vintage Ski-doo. It’s not as much fun as a long, sunny, warm afternoon roaming the countryside on a motorcycle, but it beats running a snowblower.
In the end, maybe the best, safest use of snow and motorcycles together is as a setting for a photo. A still life.