Riding NY in the snow

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It seems silly to spend evenings daydreaming about the adventures to be had riding around the world on an R1 or GS — through thunderstorms, deserts and swamps — before hopping on the subway in the morning because it’s too cold or rainy to ride. If I only ride in the sun, am I a real motorcyclist? Wednesday morning, I woke up to a snowstorm. I take the subway when it’s pouring or if I’m really into a book, but emails about train delays were already pouring in from coworkers. The Brooklyn Bridge’s bikepath would still have snow on it, so my motorcycle was looking like the best option.

A few weeks ago, I fooled around during another snowstorm after seeing a video with a French guy on a Honda Passport backing it in down an alpine pass. The warm snow on my street was incredibly slippery; clicking down to 2nd would make the rear tire slip and the back end would wag about. The 70cc motor would light up the rear tire under hard acceleration, and I laid the bike down a few times during attempts to dirt track it around corners. Now, I’m more comfortable in the snow and I was looking forward to the prospect of a snowy three-mile battle. So I kicked the motorcycle over and headed off through my neighborhood.

Riding in a few inches of powder is a blast. It may be slippery compared to a dry road, but the small amount of grip is at least consistent. Though it feels crazy and magical cruising down empty white streets, things can get hairy fast. Someone had shoveled a sidewalk’s snow into the street, and I hit it the loose clumps while accelerating with a spinning rear wheel. The bars darted back and forth, but any input I put in didn’t seem to make much difference—the bike was all over the place. I had to push off the ground with my feet a few times; I still can’t believe I stayed on. It was a real thrill—and nobody seemed to mind that I was on the verge of a slow-motion version of an Isle of Man-style wreck.

The drivers on the main roads were unbelievably timid. They would merge way ahead of time if one of the lanes was snowy and generally moved at about two-thirds normal speed. I’m sure only a handful were on snow tires (I was on summer tires myself, Michelin’s M62). The snow was packed down to a smooth, icy layer that offered nearly zero traction. I sneaked my way to the front of one traffic light, but the rear wheel spun up as it went green and an impatient taxi driver had to wait for me to slither away. That was the only moment when I thought the whole adventure might be a really bad idea.

The Brooklyn Bridge would have been clear and fast had everyone been on motorcycles, but it was just a slow-moving wall of single-passenger SUVs. The lanes were slushy, but the old “skid the rear wheel” test indicated the road had about two thirds the traction of a rainy road. Salty road spray poured off every car; the C70 and my helmet had a nice coating by the time I arrived at work.

Even without the proper tires, I enjoyed the heck out of the ride. In the Northern US, you have got to enjoy the snow when you can; they plow and salt the roads so readily that good snow is only around for an hour or two after snowfall; after that it’s a slog through salty puddles. This time the snow was timed as well as I could hope and my ride to work was for once as crazy as my non-riding coworkers think it always is. I would much rather have an adrenaline rush at each corner than deal with ice cold subway stations and canceled service, shoveling out cars and having to wade through salty puddles at every crosswalk.

Wednesday I rode as an experiment, but yesterday I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw a foot more snow on my fire escape in the morning.

  • Paul

    Well Nick,
    I guess you are officially hardcore. I got out and slid around a little on the DRZ the other weekend, but to deal with New York traffic on an icy day, you sir are awesome.

  • http://www.brammofan.com Brammofan

    That looked hella fun. The slideshow of the slide show, har har, was especially good. Favorite image for me was #16. (note: is anyone else seeing a broken link for the second image on the article?)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      do a screencap and email it to us.

  • dan

    You’re nuts. I drive in any type of rain or cold but when there’s ice or snow on the road, no thanks.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    I’ve only riden once in snow/slush. It was one of those random 60 degree days in December, took my old Honda CB400 out to visit a friend, who lived on a half-plowed side street. After almost dumping my bike taking the turn, I had to essentially walk it 200 yards through 6″ slush and ice. I can’t imagine doing that in traffic, never mind NYC traffic!

    The real question is; how did that little Honda keep up with traffic, while carrying your massive brass balls?

    • nick2ny

      It goes about 45–which is fine on the FDR from Brooklyn Bridge to about 96th st, and the Henry Hudson to 79th st. I’ve ridden it to Old Greenwich Ct. on Rte. 1 a few times, back when I stored it for the winter. But it really does just “keep up” with traffic.

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

    God that bike looks fun.

  • PCPaul

    You, Sir, are a Loon. And I applaud you for it.
    Thank you!

  • zato1414

    Dang good adventure! The only thing worse than NYC boxcars, is timid driving boxcars. We got the snow now I got to get me a put-put.

  • ike6116

    Just a note to my friend Coleman who also reads this site and likes to talk shit from out there in Northern California:

    Fuck you, shut up. Im not taking my bike out in this nonsense. Roads are trash and my bike is not a light 70cc moped that if I drop it’s ok because I can lift the thing up and carry it anyways.

    Thanks guys, that will save me some time later on when he comes across this.

    • NitroPye

      Sack up.

  • Kevin

    Amazing story, would love to see the Moped Army do a run over the Willy B Bridge in this weather.

  • Deltablues

    You have the most appropriate steed for riding in the snow and slush. If you had more aggressive tires it would be even better. Awesome, Epic, ect. The craziest thing I have seen all winter here in the Rock was a guy trying to get on I-630 on a stretched Hyabusa with one of them 300-size rear tires. We had about 8 inches of snow on the interstate that night. An Arkansas State Trooper had him pulled over on the on-ramp and would not let him go any further. The crazy thing is that normally these Busa guys won’t even get outside if the temp is below 80 degrees. Anyways, great article!!!!!

  • http://michael.uhlarik@amarokconsultants.com michael uhlarik

    Proof once again that the Cub is the GREATEST MOTORCYCLE EVER.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    Nick: you totally dominate.

    Can you get snow tires for that thing? Fantastic pictures too.

    • nick2ny

      I’m glad you like the article. Cheng Shin, IRC, and a few others make trials tires in 17×2.5. It would be nice to have a really soft casing (Bias-ply I think) to run low pressures, although the suspension has a short travel and little damping. I think the stiff casing protects the rims when you bottom out the suspension. I’m really enjoying the snow though so I may yet put some knobbies on.

  • Plotts

    Where’s the “Like” button?

    Well done man, fun story. I like the honesty of “That was the only moment when I thought the whole adventure might be a really bad idea.” Those moments are the ones that make it worth while.

  • Ray

    Wow, I trepidate riding this terrain in good weather, do it regularly. That took huevos. A sidecar would make it a real possibility for a regular ride too.

  • parkwood60

    That looks like fun. The passport/cub/c70 is the greatest beer run bike ever made. Less work getting there than a bicycle, more fun than a car.

    In the snow I think I would prefer a trail 90 though.

  • http://pics.zenerves.net/index.php?gallery=vehicules tropical ice cube

    Excellent piece, thanks!

    From the other side of the world, in Brussels, Belgium, I loved riding in the snow. It would be the sole time of the year where automobilists would ease off the pedal, if not stop entirely, with caution upon seeing me and my bike. I had the opportunity to enjoy this first while driving my ’92 Enfield 350 Bullet Standard; I must say I was astonished, but so were the drivers crossing my path, as they looked at me ploughin’ through, sitting straight on the saddle with a big grin on my face (and frozen bones inside). But then the Enfield 350 was quite a sight in itself… Later on, I traded it for a 77 CB400SuperSport (yes, the 11.500rpm screamer): I was afraid of this one in the snow, but cars stopped ‘as usual’ and that in-line 4 engine was so forgiving at 3.000rpm. Later on, I must confess I kept on, but with a trick: that’s when I bough my Dnepr MT11 with Side-car. Max enjoyment, slow-mo drifting style, and still everybody at a standstill around me at every crossing.
    Royal, indeed!

    I, too, would rather ride on a fresh, untouched coat of powder rather that the brownish slush of salt+traffic; besides, traffic + extreme cold means snow get compressed into ice, and there is nothing you can do against ice on two wheels. Actual snow, the Christmas-grade whitey stuff in thick layer does provide some grip, will slow you down… And will even welcome you much more softly when you end up falling because it was a bad idea after all.

    Now, if we have to start a fight on this, I must say the Honda Dream is much better than the Honda Cub, period. When you have 4 people to move, plus groceries and all, nothing beats the 100cc dream.

  • DoctorNine

    Small, light cycles are the bomb in the snow or sand.
    Absolutely proves you love the sport. No question.

  • seanslides

    I rode my GSXR through a short hail storm once, but if I’d known ahead of time, I would have left it parked. Riding that bike in the snow looks incredibly fun.

  • Viron

    I took my KLR out last week in Millville, NJ to ride the six miles to work. The road was clear of snow and the temperatures warm compared to the rest of the month. I hit a cool dark shady curve and got a jarring reminder of what black ice can do to man and machine. I picked up the bike and assessed the damages, I road back home to get my truck. No need to tempt fate for the remaining four miles. Be careful my friend. You may have grip and confidence, but getting hit by a Latte sipping, texting SUV driver would ruin your day.

  • charles

    I ride to work daily in Northern Westchester. Never missed a day in the last 2 years. But last week when there were actual ice sheets on the road really scared me. Snows no problem at all especially the fresh stuff but ice sheets are diabolical. I was too scared to turn back that day so I kept going but I wanted to cry.

    Btw I use a honda ruckus- the fat tires work well

  • http://twitter.com/JamesLeeFoley# J Foley

    Nice to see I’m not the only one riding year round. I’m doing in on a Bonneville, but I’m sure something lighter would be much easier!

  • Core

    One thing I can say about being up in Newyork when trucking was a career path, is this, good drivers, I never got delayed because of a wreck, that was for sure.

    NOW in Atlanta Georgia, all the freaking time on that loop!

    I guess my point is this, even though they’re such good drivers up there, I don’t know if I would.. you know, go testing and seeing if I could do it. But then again maybe I would.

    I bet half the cushioning was missing from that seat by the time you made it to work though. haha…

    Good job man.