Snow Quake Italy

Welcome to last winter’s most excellent event, where riders wearing charity shop fur coats raced dirt track bikes round a snow-covered kart track in the Alps. As you do…

We’re in northern Italy for a one-day event cooked up in the minds of madmen. For the previous few weeks a crew of riders across Europe have been modifying tyres with wood screws, fitting snow guards, booking time off work, arranging vans and explaining to their friends that they’re going to Italy for a day to wear an old lady’s fur coat and some viking horns to ride their motorcycle round a go kart track in the Italian Alps in the snow. Snow Quake is organised by Deus Ex Machina and Sideburn Magazine and as I walk into a restaurant where some of the competitors are meeting it’s clear the vibe is, appropriately, going to be chilled. One table has more than ten Brits round it, all ages, all walks of life. There’s much laughter and piss-taking and many tall tales. Interestingly though, there’s no one thing that seems to bond these people together apart from motorcycles; they’re all shapes, sizes, backgrounds and accents.

The next morning flaming oil drums melt a neat ring of snow as they roar with welcome heat near the military style tent emblazoned with the Deus logos. A grill sizzles with sausages on top of the drum and beside it two huge vats warm over a pile of flaming logs; one goulash, one mulled wine. Fur-clad Europeans queue up to sign into the race and there are bikes everywhere. Stylish Italians laugh in groups, thick fog hanging in the air with every word exchanged. Riders, organisers, press and a handful of spectators gather around either the bikes or flames – the thermometer in the car read -10C this morning. The track sits in a deep valley, permanently in the shade, the light catching the tops of the mountains surrounding the action but never gracing the event.

As a result, there’s ice on the track and the riding conditions are perfect. Last minute preparations are made to a huge range of bikes, using tools from the back of an international herd of vans – I spot plates from the UK, Italy, France, Switzerland and Germany. The bikes themselves range from stripped down BSA, Rotax, Yamaha, Bultaco, and KTM flat trackers plus lots of classic dirt bikes and a few more modern customs including a couple of Ducati Scramblers. There’s also a strong scooter contingent – mainly French with a few Vespas gracing the ice with flamboyant riders. The inappropriate road bike class stays true to form with the appearance of an MV Agusta Brutale 800 (piloted by MV’s Technical Director, Brian Gillen).

‘As the day progresses, confidence grows and speeds increase’

‘As the day progresses, confidence grows and speeds increase’

A full day of riding kicks off, with all abilities, all kinds of bikes and approaches. As the day progresses, confidence grows, speeds increase and the competition hots up. For me, standing on the edges of icy corners buried up to my shins in snow, the style of some riders is the real show – whether they’re in the lead or not. The British crowd from the restaurant the night before are my heroes of the day. Tom Clemans on his Yamaha shows true class out of the sweeping left at the bottom of the track, every lap an exhibition of style and grace. Watching Leah Tokelove on Anthony Brown’s Co-Built climb the hill up to the waiting crowd is a real pleasure; not only is she the only female rider, but she takes second place in her heats on a borrowed bike with no brakes. Anthony Brown himself has a smile that he can’t seem to shake as he turns his classic flat track style into speed on the Italian ice.

George Pickering starts the day strong until his KTM catches fire with an electrical issue. He finishes the day well, flying on top of a CR75. What an event. It’s just so real – no bullshit, no one type of person, no particular style, no pretence, no testosterone. There’s a purity to the day that the vast majority of sporting events would kill for, the spirit sitting somewhere between fun, weird, obsessed and determined, but mostly just enthusiastic. Every single person gathered in the freezing cold, risking life, limb and hand built bikes, is there because they care. Not especially about flat track, or ice racing, or Italy, or nice bikes. They care that people like Sideburn’s Gary and Deus’s Alessandro bother to organise stuff like this. Judging from the success of Dirtquake both in the UK and the USA, the true beating heart of the grassroots racing and custom motorcycle culture have a home and that home is fresh, fun, friendly and most importantly, accessible to many.