While riding a motorcycle on snowy streets isn't such a good idea, a frozen lake can be a really good time—even for Harleys. What's even better on ice than an 855-pound Road Glide, though, is a tiny little dirt bike or dual-sport with spiked tires. These have a surprising amount of grip and can scoot quite well if you know what you're doing. Ken Condon of Riding in the Zone is learning how himself and gives us a few quick tips.
The tires are what make all the difference here. Unlike studded tires for cars, these spikes stick far out of the rubber. These are what make contact with the ground... I mean, ice, instead of the rubber. They actually provide a better grip on the ice than knobby tires give you on dirt, says Ken.
Given the proper tires, the technique of going around a corner quickly on the ice is similar to what you'd do on dirt. Brake before you turn, pitch the bike in, then countersteer as the back wheel kicks out. Keep your outside elbow up, extend your inside arm to lean the bike into the turn beneath you, and counterweight the outside footpeg. Unlike dirt, though, you can put down your inside foot so it slides along the ice to help you balance a little better. Working the gas and brakes is pretty much just like normal.
Ken is riding around a simple oval track with his friend Paul, who is faster than him. In his quest for more speed, Ken does what many of us do at times like this—he crashes. Neither he nor his bike is hurt. Paul saw the whole thing and said Ken's mistake was staying too far to the outside in the turn. It's critical to get the front wheel all the way to the inside where it can find clean ice to dig into. Farther outside, Ken was riding through the ice chips they had sprayed up during previous laps. Like the "marbles" on a race track, it's more slippery off-line, and this is why he crashed. Soon Ken is back up to speed, and on the proper line.
I've ice raced cars before and found it to be an excellent way to practice car control with the traction limits significantly reduced. A bike is quite different, however, as a dirt bike's grip actually improves with spiked tires. I've watched bikes so equipped pop wheelies on frozen lakes. As with anything, it's best to start at a speed where you're comfortable, then increase gradually from there. Eventually, you'll make mistakes, as Ken did. Then you'll be able to learn from them and improve your riding. Best of all, you're not on the street, which means problems like traffic, pedestrians, and speed limits simply aren't there.