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Ice riders saddle up for a Tour de Chance

Studded tires help cyclists stay upright in a race called St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Globe and Mail, February 12, 2005

By Oliver Moore

John Lindsey is praying for a cold snap this week as he gets ready for the cycling race he has been waiting for all year. Preparing for it has involved painstaking work: He has fit the knobby tires of his bike with 1,512 tiny screws. And to hone his racing skills, he has snuck down to City Hall at night to practise -- on the ice rink in Nathan Phillips Square.

Mr. Lindsey is one of dozens of ice-racers expected to compete today in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, an annual event that is traditionally held on Ward's Island but in recent years has shifted to the rinks at Dufferin Grove Park.

Participants are supposed to be coming from Montreal, Ottawa and the United States, an organizer says, joining the local contingent as they vie for bragging rights and small prizes.

This will be the fourth year Mr. Lindsey has raced at the park and he says skilled ice riders can push the laws of gravity further than road racers can.

Riding on ice is disorienting at first, but "once you get used to it, it's as good as a velodrome," he says, referring to the steeply banked track used in some cycling races. "It's like a very, very small and tight velodrome -- you're pretty much always in a turn."

Customized bikes and tires help. "It's something hard to grasp . . . but you can actually hit corners better on ice with studded tires than on the road with regular tires," he says. "After the first two wipeouts, you find out your boundaries."

Mr. Lindsey says the first heats can be the most tense. There are a lot of riders on the ice at once and not everyone is familiar with the surface. Serious injuries are rare, he says, but the experience can be unnerving for novices.

The event has been held in Toronto for at least a decade, with varying degrees of participation and legitimacy. During recent years, it has become more popular, but its core backers seem to cherish the outlaw vibe that has come to be associated with it.

"What makes you think it's above ground?" counters organizer Derek Chadbourne, sounding a bit miffed when asked when the race went mainstream.

But everyone is welcome, he concedes, and it won't be strictly a courier crowd. Entry costs will be minimal, probably in the range of $5 to $10, and money raised will go to a bike-messenger relief fund and a cycling-advocacy group.

Mr. Chadbourne plays down the possibility of injury and says people with properly spiked tires should be able to keep control of their bikes. "The only sliding that goes on is by the people who do the final race, the rubber race, with regular tires."

Those unwilling to test their luck racing on the ice can instead join the GoldSprints, an afternoon of competition, music and racing films at the Harbord Street Café.

GoldSprints organizer Navid Taslimi says these are indoor races done on fixed-gear bicycles similar to those used in the city's spinning studios. Races are between two people at a time and anyone can step up to try his or her luck at a 500-metre race sprint, a flat-out effort that takes experts as little as 30 seconds.

"A lot of people are intimidated the first time they see it, but by the second or third time, they want to hop on," he says.

Mr. Taslimi says the races can be incredibly tense despite their brevity, with the difference between winner and loser as little as 1/100th of a second.

"It's a very popular sport right now as an underground event," he says. "It's a big show, and the beauty of it is that it's a show that is not scripted."


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