Rather than sit around waiting for the winter months to pass, these Americans fire up their vintage Harleys and go ice racing
Following World War I, western civilization saw significant advancements; the birth of film, commercial airline flights and telephones made for radical cultural shifts. Motorcycles saw a similar acceleration. Since the first American motorcycles were built at the turn of the 20th century, bikes morphed from simple utilitarian devices into a culture of speed and bravado. It’s this golden age of freedom that unites a legion of winter riders known as the Frozen Few.
It began with the Oilers Car Club, the vintage auto and bike club that brought the now famous Race of Gentlemen (a beach race on all pre-1935 bikes) to Wildwood, New Jersey and Pismo Beach, California. It was at the race in Wildwood that a gentleman approached ring leader Mel Stultz with an offer to ride on an abandoned industrial property in Milwaukee. Stultz showed up with his 1919 cut-down JD Harley, essentially a stripped down chopper, roaring between the ruins of America’s past. And then he spied a river.
“Does that river freeze?” Stultz asked. Stultz and his crew of hand-picked crazies – Bobby Green, Sushi, Matt Walksler and the crew returned in the dead of winter. They put screws in their knobbies and became obsessed with cruising on ice and snow, racing in and out of the derelict buildings and careening up a two-story berm of snow they had built, drawing lines all over the icy wasteland.
“We have these good events on the beach, but I never want to beat those to death or create a watered down version,” says Stultz “I compare it to your favorite punk rock record. It came out of nowhere, and you thought, ‘I’d die for this music.’ But then two or three albums later it’s just watered down crap. We don’t want to do that. We have the East Coast and West Coast things on the beach in the warm weather and the ice racing would be nicely sandwiched in between those.”
The ‘would be’ part refers to the fact that the Frozen Few haven’t found the perfect location for an event racing vintage motorcycles on ice yet. Plus, as Stultz adds, “It’s hard to fire people up to come out when it’s below zero.” But they’ve carved out something of a niche for themselves, working closely with Harley-Davidson, who he considers family. “You’re cold, bored as hell and there’s really nothing else to do in the winter. So you go out and find some fun. It’s kind of like sleigh riding with your best friends.
There was just so much adrenaline that no one’s worried about being cold.” In addition to the beach races and their icy psychotic sideshow, they travel to Sushi’s native Japan once a year, where they rip through the streets on flatheads and knuckleheads. Everything they do, from nostalgic props at events to club rides are throwbacks to times when motorcycle riders could run wide open.
Most recently, Stultz and Sushi purchased a 55-acre 1950s Boy Scout Camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, where they plan to create tracks for racing, miles from any neighbour who might complain. And that will mean not only winter riding, but four seasons. “It reminds me of what they used to call Jack Pine racing – kind of dirtbike racing before there were dirtbikes,” he explains. “It’s like our commune for motorcycle riding, a place to create. “We may selectively pull a few trees, but those will used to build furniture. We’re all always making things. We’ll have these big family dinners every night and we’ll have a wood-fired hot tub. When you’re riding all day in the cold, you don’t think about the pain, so a hot tub is pretty nice.”
‘there’s really nothing else to do in the winter’ - Mel Stultz
‘The first year’s event was in Canada. one day it was -26C’ - Bobby Green
Built: Where were these images of the Frozen Few taken and how did this all come about?
Bobby Green: the weekend of riding was held on a small lake outside of Milwaukee Wisconsin. This was the second time we had all met up for our winter ice riding.
Who came up with the idea of going ice racing on vintage V-twins?
The Frozen Few was the creation of Mel Stultz and Bobby Green with the help of Glen Martin of Infrastructure Energy. The original idea for an event was put to us by Glen Martin a couple years before.
Where exactly were you riding and what kind of temperatures are we talking about?
This year the temperature was wonderful, around freezing. In fact it was so warm is was difficult to find a lake in the area that was still frozen. The first year’s event was in Canada and one day it was -26C.
What’s it like trying to get vintage V-twins running in those sort of temperatures?
Some were very difficult, especially the race bikes. I had a 1928 JD with a Knucklehead top-end conversion that was an old hill climber and had high compression. It took a very long time to bump start while being pulled – kickstarting was impossible. The same went for Sushi’s WR racer – very hard to get started – but the JD and the 45s that were well worn-in didn’t have much trouble.
Are you guys all in a bike club – or just a bunch of mates with similar interests in vintage V-twins?
Someone nicknamed us the Crazy 8s – that first gathering was the eight of us – but there are a few more now. We just call ourselves the Frozen Few. We’re not a club per se, just a group of friends.
What do you do for grip on ice and do you make any mods to the bikes?
We use Kold-Kutter screws that are made especially for ice racing. We screw them in with a drill and there areabout 125 in each tyre. The best performing bike of the weekend was Matt Walksler’s JD cut down. It was light, had a low center of gravity and tall tall tyres. It was so good that Matt made four more of them for us to use. On your Facebook page there are pics of you guys hanging it out on other tracks.
Are you all former dirt track racers?
No, unfortunately not. But we certainly try! I think Matt Walksler has the most past racing experience. We all just have a passion for old bikes and are adventurous enough to travel and freeze our butts off for a thrill. You even race indoors on concrete. How do
you even get those things turned?
Ha! That event was wonderful. It was put on by some local Milwaukee guys and it was a smooth concrete floor that they sprayed Dr Pepper soda syrup all over which made it super tacky and sticky. The traction was amazing and you could really lean it over in the turns.
Do you ride these bikes on the road too?
We all live in different locations. I’m in California, Adam in Canada, other guys from North Carolina up to New York so we don’t often get to ride together but we meet up at the Race of Gentlemen a couple times a year and at shows like Born Free.