Snow, Ice and spiked tyres…..welcome to the Deus Swank Rally!
Winter time in Europe can be slow for racing. Mablethorpe provides a great series of beach racing during the offseason in the UK but there is other action. This year Deus Ex Machina held its Swank Rally at an ice track in Riva Valdobbia in the Italian Alps. I love Italy and Deus events, so as soon as it was announced, my flights were booked. So there I was, battling for position round a tight left hander, a Honda behind me taking advantage of my slight hesitation and cutting in front.
I didn’t like the look of the barrier so I held my position, reasserted my place and made it out onto the straight victorious. And that was just leaving Milan in my hired Fiat Panda. The crazy Italian traffic certainly gives a bit of perspective on the skill and confidence of the Italian riders on the track. Living with that mayhem every day must do wonders for your reactions. The Ice Rosa Ring is a real, proper ice racing rack, with a long straight, chicane, tight corners, uphill and downhill sections. For the Swank Rally, however, the organisers have re-designed it, introducing more technical enduro and off-road sections for riders to navigate.
The format of Swank Rallies is always the same: turn up on a cool bike, behave like a gentleman or lady, start the stopwatch yourself at the start line, stop your watch again after a lap and record your own time on the board. Who needs timekeepers? We covered the first ever Swank in Built #6 – that was in the ruins of an old steel works on the outskirts of Milan. Since then the Italian crew has organised two more successful events; one in the mountains, another at Monza – and now here we are, high up in the snow-covered mountain.
True to form, folk turn up on a Tuesday morning in January, oblivious to the harsh conditions. Vans, RV’s, trucks and trailers stream through the gate. The track is in the shadow of huge snow-covered peaks either side, and has to be one of the most beautiful race locations in Europe. Riders make last minute preparations to the thawing race bikes. Tyres are studded with various screws, patterns and techniques. All of the bikes are required to have mud(snow) guards, many of which are makeshift and show impressive engineering ingenuity.
Riders from Italy, the UK, Greece, Belgium, and Holland don their snow racing attire and prepare for a day of gentle riding, or fierce competition, depending on who you ask. As always, the home crowd out-style the rest of Europe. Gareth Howes, an English rider from West Sussex, turns up on his 1971 Honda C50 with a South West Customs 140cc engine, custom exhaust and tyres peppered with Cold Cutters. A few English riders have pooled together for a trailer to transport bikes with Tom Clements, one of the SnowQuake stars at the same track last year. Tom made the hefty drive down and the rest flew out.
Was Gareth’s C50 the right choice? “Not really but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “I felt that it was in-keeping with the spirit of the event. There aren’t many people who are out here to win. Most of us are here to have fun with friends and put something we’ve built, modified or maintained, through its paces. This little C50 has been a really fun project. It’s pretty fast and puts a smile on your face. It’s got an MOT and is road legal in the UK.
Next year, I might think about improving the suspension somehow because it struggles in the offroad sections but is otherwise so much fun to ride.” There are plenty of cool vintage two-stroke enduro, motocross and trials irons in the car park, sorry race paddock, including a couple of CR250R Elsinores, a beautiful Bultaco Astro, old YZs, a CR500, a couple of great Ossas and a Husqvarna 400 Cross that used to belong to Steve McQueen. Then there’s the totally inappropriate bikes like a Sportster dressed up as an XR750, a Piaggio Ciao and a couple of Vespas! But who cares about speed? What matters is that it’s a great day of racing and a toasty warm atmosphere (despite the fact it’s firmly in the minus figures).
Fires blaze on the snow, heating vats of goulash and mulled wine, there are smiles everywhere, many beautiful people, good music and some impressive riding too. Everybody is here for the right reason – to have some two wheeled fun. And, amazingly, nobody gets hurt. We’ve all heard the mantra; ‘These are go-bikes, not show bikes’. Well, in the case of the Swank Rally on Ice, these are ‘snow-bikes, not show bikes’.