Ice Rider

Story by Ron Keys// Photos by Ron Keys; Illustration: Dean Foster
May 11 2016

Sometimes taking a cab doesn’t sound so bad

At this stage in my life, some memories seem more humorous now than the actual events did at the time they happened. They sort of ripen with age, so to speak. The one-upmanship I occasionally hear when someone brags about riding late into December or going for a ride in January when we get an unexpected unseasonably mild day makes me smile. There are but few who dare to brave the frigid elements, but there are even fewer who use a motorcycle as their sole means of transportation for the entire winter.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in Oshawa, Ont., on a January day in 1966, and the temperature is hovering around the freezing mark. Indications are we’re going to get some freezing rain, but I am on the other side of the city at my girlfriend’s place. At 19, affairs of the heart take precedence over weather reports, bad things only happen to other people and raging hormones rule.

Tough Choices

Ice road bikingI am what you would call an avid, or maybe even rabid, motorcyclist – and some might just call me plain crazy. Fresh out of high school and with a
limited budget, my love for motorcycles has given me a clear choice – or maybe no choice at all: either I ride my motorcycle all winter or walk. I have chosen the former.

The light is fading as I pull on my leather jacket. It’s been raining for about a half-hour now, and as I step outside onto the glazed, wet sheet of ice, I realize I’m in for an experience. My faithful little 305 Honda Super Hawk starts, and with much aplomb, I slip and slide down the slope, skittering onto Adelaide Street. Ignorance, or shall I say lack of experience, can serve as a great learning tool – of which I am about to find out. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Fortunately for me, there are few cars on the road. Even four-wheeled vehicles stay off the road in weather like this. I find, after a few nerve-
shattering slides, that by keeping the bike in a taller gear, about two above what I would normally ride in, there is less available power to the back wheel to break traction, if traction is even the operative word. As I approach the first traffic light at Simcoe Street, I gently roll through on a green light. So far so good, but at the next light, I come sliding to a stop sideways with legs and feet splayed like outriggers to keep the bike upright.

Man Down

Ice road bikeAt Wilson Road, a new experience awaits me: a downhill right turn. Slipping and sliding, wallowing and wiggling, I make my change in direction and begin my slow, methodical trek southward. As I approach the hill on Wilson Road, I have no choice but to accelerate to make it up the hill. I don’t want to even think about sliding backwards, downhill, on ice. Although speed is fraught with all manner of new possibilities, it’s a necessary risk. Shifting up into fourth, the engine grumbles and shudders as I gently accelerate, trying in vain not to break traction. Over the hill and onto level ground, I breathe a sigh of relief, but too soon; my next challenge looms on the horizon – another traffic light, and it’s green, which is not good. A green traffic light means one thing: it can only change to amber – and then to red – big trouble for me.

Quietly praying that my luck will hold, the inevitable happens. The light changes to amber. Slipping and sliding sideways as the light changes to red, two cars start through the intersection. My life passes before me and everything slows as I go into reaction mode. Sliding left, I lay the bike down on its right side, or rather, it falls on its right side. The right foot peg digs into the sheer ice – my saving grace – and the bike slides to an unceremonious stop just a few feet before certain disaster.

Somehow I manage to stay with the bike, which turns out to be my greatest undoing. A small billow of steam rises from my wet pant leg and searing pain envelopes me. My leg is lying across the hot exhaust pipe, boiling my appendage. I let out a yelp of pain and drivers look at me strangely as I get up, slipping and sliding like a cartoon character. I move the bike to an upright position and roll up my pant leg to assess the damage. It doesn’t look good, and I’m sure it will hurt a lot more once I’m home and thawed out. I start the bike again, realizing that I only have another mile and three traffic lights to go.

Up and Over

At King Street I painfully turn left and follow the gradual incline, through the valley and then up over the knoll and through the green light at Harmony Road. As I build up some speed to make it up and over Hart’s Hill, my inertia carries me over the crest and I can almost see home.

Finally, as I slowly enter my driveway, I breathe an audible sigh of relief. Home has never looked so good to me as I park the bike in the garage and head for a nice warm bath.

There are but few who ride all winter, there are but few who brave the frigid cold, and there are even fewer who are crazy enough to ride on two wheels in an ice storm!


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