February 18, 2020

What It’s Like To Ride Motorcycles On Ice

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Nathan Muscaro of New Hartford pops a wheelie on his 2014 KTM 500 EXC. 

Winter is the time when most of us put our bikes into storage and stuff our riding gear into the closet, although there are a few hardy street riders who don’t mind bud-bylinea little salt on the rims. There is also a small sub-set of motorcyclists, generally off-road enthusiasts, who adapt to the season by installing tire studs and heading to ice-covered lakes and ponds. These ice riders – no matter their age or gender – are daredevils who brave the cold and slick conditions to get their two-wheeled thrills.

“Ice riding is very mental because your first thought is ‘How am I going to stick to the ice?’ Once you learn how to corner properly, you gain confidence. It’s so much fun. It’s a whole different animal,” said Dave Curtis of Barkhamsted, who spent part of a recent Sunday riding with his kids – 14-year-old daughter Alyssa and 13-year-old son Justin – on private ice at what was formerly a sand pit off of the Winsted Road in Torrington.

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Alyssa Curtis of Barkhamsted, CT rides the ice on a 2012 Kawasaki KX85.   

A day earlier, Nathan Muscaro of New Hartford had taken his seven-year-old son, Adam, to Winchester Lake in Winchester so that they could get in some ice time. “It’s exhilarating. You have to find that balance of traction and slipping. You can’t give too much throttle or you’re going to slide out,” he said.

Muscaro, who rides a 2014 KTM 500 EXC, rode with zest and precision, frequently pulling wheelies on the straight-aways.  “I’m always looking for the thrill. I have a lot of experience. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was probably eight years old – street and dirt,” said Muscaro, who is now 34.

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Nathan Muscaro of New Hartford counsels his seven-year-old son, Adam. 

At each site, a serpentine track had been fashioned; the layout cleared from the snow
covered surface. Curtis used a quad with a plow, while the group of riders at Winchester Lake used a snow-blower. “To make a course by myself, it’s going to take the better part of five hours. You cut that in half anytime you add (another) guy with a snow-blower,” explained David Gelerter of Winchester, who rode both days and upon whose invitation RIDE-CT got to witness the fun.

The layout on Winchester Lake, which is open to the public and where spectators are welcomed, was the third design of the year. “It’s challenging, taking the course apart and putting it back together in your mind. Every course has its own character,” said Gelerter. Each track has a mix of left and right turns of varying sharpness as well as straight sections.

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David Gelerter of Winchester pushes the limits of traction on his 2012 KTM 300 XC. 

Keeping the ice somewhat clean is a priority. Ice chips and snow crystals fly, caused by the spinning studded tires, and accumulate in the ruts. “The more snow you get, the worse it is. We plow it all day long and drag it. If you don’t, the screws that are in the tires load up with snow,” said Curtis, who rides 2005 Yamaha YZ450F.

Both of Curtis’ kids took up riding when they were youngsters. They dirt race in the summer and ride on ice when the dirt isn’t available. “We’ve got to do something with motorcycles (in winter),” Curtis said. “ It’s cross-training for racing. If you’re on a bike, shifting gears and turning corners, theoretically you’re learning something.”

Gelerter added, “It’s a great way to enhance your skills. It’s slippery but not as slippery as you think.”    But it is sufficiently slippery that crashes – with the rider suddenly losing traction and sliding off into a pile of snow – are not uncommon.

“You’ll probably crash every day. You have to dress to crash. You also have to dress warm,” said Muscaro. That means high boots, knee and elbow armor, chest protectors, 1-Dave Curtisfull-face helmet, protective gloves and more. Said Curtis, “Throttle control is very big. Too much or too little will get you in trouble in a hurry,” he said.

Dave Curtis leans the bike over in a curve. 

Gelerter, who rides a 2012 KTM 300 XC, accepts that going down on the ice is routine. “You really don’t get hurt that often. It’s a very safe sport. We’re not racing per se, we’re just riding. We’re keeping our distance (between one another). Everybody has to go to work on Monday.”

Among the crew joining Muscaro and Gelerter on Winchester Lake were Jesse Follert of New Hartford, Anthony Franco of Terryville and James Ross of Torrington, while Drew Roehl of Torrington showed up in Torrington.

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Taking to the ice on motorcycles at Winchester Lake in Winchester, CT recently were, from left, James Ross of Torrington, David Gelerter of Winchester, Jesse Follert of New Hartford, Nathan Muscaro of New Hartford, Anthony Franco of Terryville. In front is seven-year-old Adam Muscaro.

The ice riding season normally goes from the end of January through February, but cold temperatures this year have expanded the season. “This year we were out on New Year’s Day and we’ve been going ever since,” said Curtis.

At Winchester Lake, which has a state boat launch and where the bikes must be registered to ride legally, the ice riders share the 246-acre lake with other winter enthusiasts who enjoy ice fishing. “The lake’s big enough for everybody,” said Muscaro. “We stay away from them and they stay away from us. They come over and see what’s going on.”

The only downside to ice riding is when the temperatures plunge and when the wind picks up. “When it gets down to like 12 and the wind comes up, that can be a little brutal,” said Gelerter, who has installed heated grips on his KTM. But even that isn’t a deterrent to ice riding because of the thrills it provides. “It beats sitting inside. It beats going to the gym,” Gelerter said.

(Originally published Feb. 1, 2014 in “The Republican-American” newspaper.)

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Since 2010, RIDE-CT & RIDE-NewEngland has been reporting about motorcycling in New England and portions of New York.