Riding New York In The Snow

Driving on four wheels through the worst of winter seems daring enough, but what's it like with half as many contact patches? Nick Goddard took the plunge over at his motorcycle haunt Hell For Leather. — Ed.

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 New York In The Snow

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.

Riding New York In The SnowS

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.

Riding New York In The Snow

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.

Top photo: Chris Ross