The very first Snow Quake.
It’s a mild May Sunday, in the middle of Milan. The Deus Portal of Possibilities is packed with the owners, builders and fans for the 2015 Deus Bike Build-Off. As the editor of Sideburn magazine, I’ve been asked to be one of the 2015 judges.
In a brief lull in the proceedings, Deus’s Alessandro Rossi, leans over to me, and asks ‘Could we make a Dirt Quake in Italy?’ I pull a face. Then reply, Why don’t we organise something different? Why not… I think for a minute, Snow Quake?
Over the next few months Alessandro shakes trees. The godfather of European flat track and founder of the Di Traverso flat track school, Marco Belli works with Luca and Giulio of Deus Milano and the Deus Café to find a suitable track and Pirelli come on board as a sponsor.
Eight months later, I’m struggling to pull an old lady’s fake fur coat over my armoured leather jacket, my hands still cut and nicked from replacing dirt track tyres with sharply studded rubber. It is -8 Celsius in the makeshift paddock of the Ice Rosa Ring race track, situated in a deep Italian valley, surrounded by jagged peaks, including the famous Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in the Alps.
Thirty racers from all over Europe are trying to convince their motorcycles to start. A few of the infernal internal combustion engines comply, most find a reason they’d rather not, at least not right now. Two hours later a rare Borile, brought from England, is still being kicked. There is a 65-year-old Harley WL raced by fashion designer Nick Ashley, a fuel-injected MV Agusta 800 and just about every two-wheeler on the spectrum from Piaggio Ciao to Honda chopper. All that links the machinery is the studs and screws in their tyres and the adventurous stripe running through their owners.
It’s clear that few people know what they’re doing, including the race organisers – me in their number. Motorcycle ice racing experience is thin on the ground in Europe. Snow Quake is an experiment with invited riders, we’ll make it up as we go along.
There were loose plans for classes, which bikes and specifications should be grouped together, then even those were junked – just race who you want. No one really cares who wins or loses. We only demand that no one dies. Please.
Like every race, each rider is having their own private battle, some with their choice of tyres and the curving Ice Rosa Track, others with a competitor in front, or just behind.
Incredibly, two riders Mauro from Classic Co in Madrid, Spain and Marco Belli chose to race Yamaha XJR1300s. Mauro is on El Solitario’s BBW that he tuned, Marco is riding a Deus four-cylinder with clip-ons on vicious Pirelli spikes. Julian from Deus Venice flew in from California, via Berlin, desperate not to miss the event. He rode a rare Kenny Roberts Rotax, prepared, and delivered, for the ice track by Geoff of Co-Built in England. With other racers coming from France, Switzerland, Corsica, the UK and Germany it was an international event.
Practice stretches for longer than normal to allow people to acclimatise, before three rounds of heats and a final. The slapdash attitude towards the organisation stretches to lap scoring. It is decided that the first three riders in each heat will score points and they can mark their position on a white board. It’s the honesty principle. No one’s going to say they won if they didn’t. It works, here at least, with this group.
After six hours on the ice, it’s time for the 12-rider final. Young English flat tracker George Pickering is on pole, with Marco Belli, Filolocio on Triumph Bonneville and former WSB, World Supermoto and current World Endurance rider, Giovanni Bussei also on the front row. El Solitario’s David Borras also makes the final on his Triumph ‘Sal del Diablo’.
The four-lapper ends with Pickering ahead of Bussei and a heroic Belli. The podium is carved out of snow, the trophies look like ice. Then the real race starts – to pack up vans and head the two hours back to Milan for the party at the aptly named Deus Portal of Possibilities, where we daydream about following this unforgettable day.
Words: Gary Inman, Sideburn Magazine
Photos: Marco Renieri