Ripping Across Frozen Lakes On Studded Tires: A Motorcyclist’s Winter

What frozen motorcyclists do during the winter

It's reliably the first question whenever someone in the California-centric motorcycle industry finds out I live in Wisconsin (which, I can only reasonably conclude, most of them consider the southernmost Canadian province): "What do you do during the winter? How can you stand not riding for so many months?"

What do I do during the long, cold, desolate Wisconsin winters? I ride motorcycles—as often as I can, sometimes multiple times a week—on frozen lakes. That's right. You can ride a motorcycle, at least one properly equipped with studded winter motorcycle tires, safely and successfully on frozen water. What's more, riding ice has become, far-and-away, my favorite form of motorcycling.

Riding a motorcycle on ice means installing studded winter motorcycle tires to ensure that you have the appropriate amount of grip.
Ice riding may look scary, but it’s not after you get the hang of it.Aaron Frank

Riding A Motorcycle On Ice

To answer the obvious questions: No, it's not scary. A well-built winter motorcycle tire delivers traction to rival a slick on hot pavement. No, it's not cold, either (not usually, at least). Anyone who has ridden a dirt bike off-road knows how physically demanding that activity is. With carefully chosen layers, I've ridden myself into a sweaty froth in ambient temps as low as zero degrees. And no, it's not that dangerous. Provided you stay out of the studded tires, which are essentially fast-spinning buzzsaw blades, if you fall off you just slide through the snow. It's rare to get badly hurt.

My parents live at the northern tip of Wisconsin's Lake Winnebago, so when I went home for the holidays this year, in addition to wrapped presents and tins of Christmas cookies, I also stuffed my Kawasaki KX250F into the van. I looked forward to spending a bit of the holiday break in my father's warm and well-appointed workshop, getting my bike ready for the upcoming ice season.

I stripped off the light kit I installed for fall enduro racing, installed the custom-made fenders that cover most of the studded winter motorcycle tires (required for ice racing), and I changed the shorter woods gearing to taller ratios more suited for wide-open ice. Then I rolled the bike out of the shop and down the hill to the lake, to test the setup.

Studded winter motorcycle tires give you enough grip to have the perfect amount of fun during the winter.
Studded tires plus a frozen lake equals a winter of fun.Aaron Frank

Wisconsin's winter is off to a weird start. The ice came weeks earlier than expected, and a recent warm spell made conditions far from ideal. There was a big crack 200 yards offshore and open spring holes everywhere else, but a quick walk revealed a football field-sized patch of safe ice. I kicked the KX over and headed out.

It didn't take 10 seconds to remember why I love riding ice so much—just long enough to tap the top of fifth gear and pitch the little KX sideways, feeling the back end come around just like Brad Baker on the Springfield Mile. Getting slideways, which can be so scary on a streetbike and so unpredictable on dirt, is so surprisingly easy on ice—and positively addictive, too.

Everything was perfect. My winter tires—painstakingly handbuilt by Illinois enduro legend Jeff Fredette—hooked so well I could turn slow circles until the inside footpeg touched down, then snap the throttle and slide out sideways, getting away with things I’d never dream of on dirt or pavement. It’s ice-cold motorcycle riding bliss.

Riding ice on studded tires is pure freedom.
Riding ice is pure freedom.Aaron Frank

Riding ice is pure freedom. No lanes, no curbs, no corners, no laws or rules or regulations, just a clean, unmarked sheet for you to go out and create your own beautiful trajectory, wherever your wheeled whimsy might take you. So what do I do during the long, cold, Wisconsin winters? I ride motorcycles, on ice with studded tires. And on a day like this, there's no place I'd rather ride.

Riding on a frozen lake is otherworldly.
It’s like riding on another planet.Aaron Frank