Spare Parts: Cheap Chills

By Ernie Cooper

Good riding stories, or riding stories of any kind, can be hard to come by in the Northeast winter months. But, fear not; I have a few squirreled away.

First, as Sam Jones has proven, there isn’t a rider worth their salt who hasn’t taken a ride in the snow. For better or for worse, it is a siren song that beckons to be answered. There is something deep inside us that begs us to make our motorcycles the perfect, year-round vehicles. Our family once had an old Trail 90 that we decided would be perfect for towing a skier in the snow. Maybe it was the knobby tires, or the two-speed, Posi-Torque reduction gear in the transmission. Those features made the little bike seem ideal for snowy weather riding. We hauled the little trail bike out to the country on chrome bumper racks attached to our car’s real-life chrome bumper. Maybe it was all brought on by cabin fever and poor judgement? When we arrived at a road called “the Blind Lane” we unloaded the bike and tied a tow rope to its little chrome luggage rack—a perfect attachment point. Now, you probably already know that motorcycles aren’t very good in real snow, so the adventure was a mild failure as opposed to a catastrophic one. It just didn’t go very well even with the knobbies and low gearing. The end result was, we loaded it back on the bumper racks and just used the car to tow ourselves, until a farm dog gave chase and that more or less ended the entire experiment.

The most fun I ever had in the snow on a bike or trike was on an ATC 90 with big floatation tires. It was a three-wheeler, later deemed too dangerous for public sale, but one winter in the ’70s we were the Kings of the North Hill on one. My friend Richard and I worked for our neighbor Joe selling Christmas trees in exchange for the chance to get his dormant trike running. Joe had a lot of dormant toys like boats, semi-trucks and big-block Rancheros. If we got the trike running, we could use it. Yeah, he saw us coming, but that’s how you learn, right?

Eventually, we earned the right to work on the little trike in the freezing cold, draining stale gas onto our freezing fingers, and pulling the rope of the lawn mower-styled starter until our shoulders were sore. Then it began to run at roughly the same time it began to snow and snow and snow some more in one of those winter miracles that brought normal traffic to a complete halt. I think the original idea was that we would ride the trike in a large church parking lot next to Joe’s, but the snow eventually shut everything down and, boys will be boys, the streets were ours!

In most cases, this little trike would have one wheel too many or one too few to be any fun, but in these conditions, it was the perfect tool for having a blast. We whipped it around the neighborhood, “power sliding” in the fresh powder at every opportunity. No tags, no license, no insurance. We towed sleds, inner tubes and skiers. We rode solo, timing our “laps” to see who could go the fastest, but mostly we just had a flat-out blast, turning left to go right and hangin’ it out.

There was so much snow that normal traffic was idled for a day or two. And our streets weren’t primary routes, so they probably weren’t cleared for nearly a week. I think we rode the three-wheeler in one way, shape or form every minute of that week. Eventually, Richard’s much older brother Bob wanted to give it a whirl and he did. At low speeds, the thing pushed like a dump truck. Bob whirled it right into the neighbor kids’ backyard swing set. He was uninjured and that’s more than can be said for the swing set, which unfortunately was owned by a state trooper who was starting to have a lot of questions about the ownership and paperwork of the ATV.

That was about the end of our perfect winter recreation week with the trike. The roads were clearing anyhow, and it wasn’t nearly as much fun on pavement.

My last snow story involves our family’s Powell Challenger, a sweet little mail-order mini bike that my Dad outfitted with an old Whizzer gas tank, so it looked cooler. The tank came from our neighbor, T. H. Dad wanted to have winter fun with it too. In those days we seemed to be consistently operating under the misguided impression that something that worked well offroad in the dirt would work equally well in snow. It was never the case. Dad spent a month or two building a set of skis in the basement shop to replace the front wheel. Let’s just say the engineering on the skis provided less-than optimal results. It basically only went straight, and it barely did that. Dad was disappointed.

Unlike revenge, motorcycles may not be a dish best served cold.

2 thoughts on “Spare Parts: Cheap Chills”

  1. I guess i’m an old fart but i find it hard to read your articles. Any chance of you changing the background or color of print. I really do look forward to them

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  2. drove my Harley fxr in 6 inches of n.y. snow to get to a dock for loading on my truck Daytona bike made it worth it . when the ice is good Honda 250 with studs in tires is fun. fall done a lot. living on a lake in upstate n.y. can be fun

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