Motocross doesn’t stop in the Peace Region just because there’s snow on the course.
In fact, Fort St. John motocross enthusiasts actually move their tracks onto frozen Charlie Lake for the winter every weekend to participate in ice motocross.
Six locals travelled to Sandy Beach, Alberta last weekend to compete in the Sandy Beach Numb Bum 24 Hour Ice Race Feb. 16 and 17, which is part of the Alberta Endurance Ice Racing Association.
The Fort St. John team the Ice Pirates, made up of Jesse Dyer, Clayton Dyer, Hendrik Korfmann and Sean Whitford, has been going to the 24-hour ice relay for five years now, and came fourth out of 26 teams this year, finishing 118 laps in a time of 24 hours, four minutes and 48 seconds.
“We were expecting to do a little bit better,” said Ice Pirates rider Sean Whitford. “We blew a fuse on the lights system and had trouble with that three separate times and lost three laps. We were actually one lap off of third and two laps off of second, so you do the woulda, coulda, shoulda.”
Four riders took turns doing roughly nine laps at a time of the 20-km course over a period of 24 hours. Two volunteers with the team ensure that the bikes stay fueled up every hour and a half and flag the riders in when their turn is up.
“It’s a pricey sport to do,” Whitford said, “That’s what it boils down to, and it takes a lot of teamwork.”
“When the rider goes out we time them so they don’t run out of gas, and we bring them in at an hour and a half and we swap out riders.”
In the past five years, the Ice Pirates have placed fourth twice and third two times. By practicing out on Charlie Lake every weekend all winter, the team works hard to do well at the Numb Bum each year, so Whitford says having something like a fuse blow is a bit of a downer.
“Everybody puts in a lot of practice and we all know how fast we are and that we should at least be in the top five,” he said.
“We ended up eight laps behind first place, that kind of puts it into perspective of how lucky first place was and how fast they were.”
Naturally in ice motocross, modifications have to be made to regular mx bikes to handle the slippery course and the bitter cold of northern winters. The Ice Pirates chose a KTM 525, a bike they’ve used in the past and one that’s proven to be reliable.
“It was all set up for powering lights and heated grips. It was the smartest bike we could afford to buy that would do everything we needed,” he said.
“It’s kind of the bike we’ve been using for a couple years. We have lots of parts for it basically and we know it inside out. We build the tires and put on some heated grips, which are nice when it’s 25 below.”
Racing for hours on end in the bitter cold in a 24-hour relay isn’t just exhausting; it’s dangerous. Riders have to ensure they dress warm and that their skin is well covered to avoid frostbite.
“They don’t cancel the race if it’s 35 below,” Whitford said. “It’s quite dangerous at that temperature because you can get frostbite quite quickly. You have to be really careful.”
Not to mention the riders create their own wind chill. The Ice Pirates’ average speed at this year’s Numb Bum was 88 km/hour with top speeds of 160 km/hour.
If you haven’t heard of the well-named Numb Bum 24-hour relay, it’s in its 24th year according to Whitford, and originatied in Fairview before eventually migrating to central Alberta.
Teams from Calgary, Edmonton, northern B.C. and Alberta, Saskatoon and even one from Washington State called the Ice Holes attended the 2013 Numb Bum. Other comical team names included the Slow and Lonely, the Old and Frail, Studs on Ice and the Royal Canadian Ice Force.
“One thing about ice moto is there are always a lot of funny names,” Whitford said, laughing.
After possibly losing second place due to technical problems this year, Whitford said he and the Ice Pirates are more driven than ever to go back to the Numb Bum next year and win it all.
“Oh yeah,” he said, determinedly, “We definitely want to win it.”