At ice cycle competition, bikers come to grips - or not - with the elements
WEST STOCKBRIDGE — While most are trying to dodge icy patches when cycling in the winter, two dozen Berkshire residents geared up this weekend to do the polar opposite.
On Saturday, cyclists of all ages screwed a variety of studs into their tires and pedaled out onto frozen Card Pond, where they whipped around a 383-yard crit race course, trying their best to stay upright.
"We're happy that the warm weather we had last week didn't completely thaw all the ice," said Jay Elling of Berkshire Bike and Board in Pittsfield, which sponsored the Flat Track Ice Cycle competition. "Even when we started [planning] this whole thing three weeks ago, there wasn't any ice out here."
Despite the relatively balmy days last week, there was 10- to 12-inch-thick ice on the pond by Friday, Elling said. On race day, temperatures lingered in the 20s, with wind chills in the low teens.
"What's really exciting about this, though, is that we're able to get the community out, even in the frigid February weather," said Andy Clark, another organizer. "Usually, cycling is a summer event and we really don't get to see this kind of action n the winter. We were thinking how wonderful it could be to bring the community together year-round to do some special-event races."
Because ice cycling isn't a formalized sport with regulations or guidelines, Saturday's event was somewhat experimental. Those who used plenty of studs on their tires were able to avoid falling over during their three-lap races.
The event employed a bracket system, whereby the winners of each one-on-one event went on to compete against other winners.
"I think the predictions today are: 'I'm going to fall down,' " Clark said, jokingly, early in the day.
"If you don't have enough screws in your tires, you're going to fall" said Jeremy Manzolini, who finished in first place.
Manzolini's daughter, Hannah, 13, was one of the youngest riders. She and 10-year-old Chase Candee were the first to hit the course, acting as guinea pigs, of sorts, for the older, and perhaps more fragile, riders.
Both kids are seasoned cyclists, but the sport proved to be a bit trickier when whipping around tight turns on ice. Still, neither one took a spill.
"When it was the last lap, the last stretch, I just tried to go as fast as I can, even though my legs are tired," Chase said.
Chase's dad, Jason Candee, finished second.
For those who didn't feel like testing the frozen waters — and for those looking to warm up in between laps — hot dogs and No. Six Depot coffee were served around a bonfire.
Chris Wilke, who manages Berkshire Bike and Board, said that those who did the best Saturday had used Kold Kutter studs — screws with "a pretty aggressive bite" that traditionally are intended for ice-bound motorcycles or ATVs.
"I would say if you have a bike that's properly studded up, I think it can be really fast, but you have to have the bicycle-handling skills," Wilke said. Some cyclists reached 30 mph Saturday, according to Wilke.
Overall, Wilke hopes that the nontraditional event kicks off ongoing cycling outings through the group's recently formed club, The Wheel Benders.
"We're putting on a lot of events that kind of incorporate food and bikes; you know, two things we're really passionate about," he said afterward. "We want to incorporate the beautiful terrain we have in the Berkshires."
The to-be-planned events will feature scenic backroads and "gravel grinders" on a mix of sand, dirt, mud and snow, Wilke said.
The intention behind The Wheel Benders is to ensure that everyone interested in seeing the Berkshires by bike, even novice cyclists, have the opportunity, according to Wilke.
"We're pretty much welcoming anyone," he said. "We don't want to be some exclusive club [where] you have so be some sort of top-tier bicyclist to join in."
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.
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