Living in the northeast, it’s sometimes a challenge to find motorcycle-related activities when temperatures hover in the teens and the ground is covered with snow. It’s even worse when the dreaded black ice hides in plain sight on the pavement, making street riding awfully risky. And frozen, unplowed driveways prevent many riders from even getting their bikes out of the garage. But this past weekend, I thought I had it all figured out.
On Saturday was the Cheap Thrills Motorcycle Show & Swap Meet, which although only in its fourth year, has become a greatly-anticipated early February event that draws cycle enthusiasts from all over. The show was a blast. After staying the night in Asbury Park, we set out for another fun day; I’d learned from an event flyer on social media that some of the crew planned to get together for motorcycling on a nearby lake that had finally frozen over.
Along the way I stopped for gas, which is when I learned, also on social media, that the get-together had been canceled. I started making calls and it seems that the State Police shut it down before it even started. I made a few more calls and was told that everybody was moving to another lake. Hallelujah!
We arrived at the new, undisclosed location where the fun was well underway. Snowmobiles, three- and four-wheelers, dirt bikes and Harleys were out on the lake, whipping around the oval that had been cleared by some of the guys using their quads as snow plows. Riders, both male and female, spanned all ages and moto interests. Some of the riders on more nimble bikes leaned so far over we were sure they’d wipe out (well, a few did, but they suffered no injuries and jumped right back up again). And the Harleys, well, those street Ironheads and Shovelheads and Evos and Twin Cams most definitely weren’t intended for riding on ice. It was a real trip watching these bikes get pushed to their limits, with the studded tires barely able to prevent front ends from washing out on corners as the ice turned slightly slushy in the afternoon sun.
There was some talk about the cancellation at the first lake, with varying opinions as to what happened. One old timer opined, “They never should have made it public. I’ve been riding on the lake in the winter for 50 years and it’s never been a problem.” Somebody else wondered whether lakeside residents had called to report it, but that notion was quickly quelled. Frolicking on the icy lake had been a tradition for decades, just as the old timer mentioned. Some of the riders were convinced that they were ratted out by someone jealous of how successful somebody else’s moto scene on ice had become.
And therein lies the rub. Things start out as just a few enthusiasts looking to have some fun, then inviting their friends. And then friends of friends. When I was younger, it was the same with roving parties, or riding bikes through farmers’ fields and nearby woods, snowmobiles on private land, and other such happenings. It was strictly word of mouth, and everybody pretty much knew everybody else. It was rare that anyone outside our tight-knit group would find out about these events, and rarer still that they’d actually show up. We were self-policing, only sometimes asking landowners for permission, and didn’t bother with permits or anything else that even hinted at playing by the establishment’s rules. If anyone got out of line, we’d handle it ourselves. If anyone got hurt, which hardly ever happened, we’d handle that too. We knew that once the cops or the town council or anyone else in authority caught wind of what we were doing, it would be shut down. And depending on the activity in question, or on whose land we were trespassing, there might be some fines or arrests as well. We also knew that the more people knew about it, the greater the risk of getting busted.
Through the years I’ve seen the same theme play out over and over; ever-widening networks bringing more and more people to gatherings that started out as just get-togethers among close friends. And with the advent of social media, what starts out as a grassroots activity can quickly reach hundreds or even thousands of people in no time, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but then it’s no longer under the radar. There’s a fine line between sharing the good times with our friends and opening ourselves up to unwanted scrutiny which then brings a slew of rules and regulations until it’s no fun at all.
Something I noticed while we were out on the ice is that everyone was equal. It didn’t matter if you were on two wheels or four, or even runners. There was no “Why are you riding that rice burner?” or “Where’s the oil marking your spot?” If there was something wrong with a bike, everyone pitched in. If the oval got a little rough, somebody would go out with their plow-rigged quad and smooth it over. Riders brought their kids, their dogs; it was a real family affair. It’s a damned shame that someone saw fit to have the earlier venue shut down. Wouldn’t it be grand if we could all just co-exist in our love of the moto scene? Doesn’t everybody know there’s more than enough fun to go around? And what’s more fun than an old-time, unregulated dash around the lake, or the woods, or the fields?