I read this (from Toronto) and I don't feel "nearly" as crazy when I'm riding in on these cold but beautiful days! My favorite part: "his current ice-traction formula amounts to 751 screws per tire, inserted by hand one by one, in neat rows, and poking out two to three millimeters from the rubber". WoW!! I guess when you live in the deep winter areas, this could be considered quite a hobby - sitting around the hot stove! ;-)
Couriers race bikes on ice
Tomorrow night, 30 bike couriers put the screws to their tires on a city rink In this slightly insane competition, one man rules, writes John Goddard
Feb. 17, 2006. 07:51 AM
Trinity Bellwoods Park was snow-covered and empty early yesterday except for two people walking dogs and a man furiously riding his bicycle around the skating rink dressed in a Roman gladiator's uniform.
Albert "Ice Emperor" De Ciccio was staging his full-dress 7 a.m. practice for an annual race little known outside the downtown bike courier community.
"Last year, I lost my crown," he said on his way home through Little Italy, carrying the bike so as not to dull the tire studs. "But previous to that, I had six victories, the winningest record in this town."
De Ciccio very much wants a seventh victory.
He still looks hard-bodied and retains the swagger of a champion in his Roman-style leg armour, faux breastplate and a helmet topped by an upturned broom brush, or what he calls "a red comb - denoting rank."
But does he still have what he calls "the edge?"
In two months, he turns 40, and it has been nearly two years since he retired from the frantic 50-hour-a-week grind of delivering parcels in city traffic.
Road rage caused him to quit, he says. His own road rage.
"It just gets too mean out there," he said, flashing a broad grin over coffee at his kitchen table, declining further details of the pivotal incident. "It doesn't help extend your life, which is why I cut it out.
"I miss the exercise, the physical limit I was able to push. It probably took me six months to get over the exercise withdrawal."
De Ciccio gets another chance to push his limit tomorrow night in the 2006 Ice Bike Race at Dufferin Grove Park, near Dufferin and Bloor Sts.
The first heat for an expected 30 racers begins around 5:45 p.m. Men's and women's heats are scheduled - four racers to a heat, or sometimes six. Finals begin about 8, when gates open to give racers access to the entire double-rink surface.
It is an eccentric tradition, valued not so much for the prizes of cycling gear as for the spirit of community-building among natural competitors.
The first race took place in 1991. John Englar, now owner of the Jet Fuel Coffee Shop in Cabbagetown but then an ex-courier living on the Toronto Islands, was seeking to enhance the local winter carnival.
He started by clearing a figure-eight track on one of the frozen coves, then challenged bike couriers to race there. Thirty showed up. Villagers came, too, some to serve hot soup and mulled wine, and "it was a hit," De Ciccio recalled.
"The figure-eight added an element of danger, with the near-miss collisions."
The following year, De Ciccio won his first championship. The next year, he came dressed in a one-piece Louis Garneau ski-racing outfit and won again.
"I thought, why not make this a little bit WWF?" he said, meaning: Why not dress like a wrestler? Bit by bit, he kept adding to his costume.
"After my third win, somebody called me the King, and I thought that sounds small. Maybe it's my Italian blood or my interest in Roman history, but I thought, I'm the Ice Emperor."
Five years ago, the race was called off due to thin ice. Four years ago, it moved to the mainland. Three years ago, De Ciccio crashed into the boards in the first heat, opening a leg wound that took 35 stitches. A friend borrowed his bike, won, and came around later to declare the two of them co-winners.
"We were racing under Roman chariot rules," De Ciccio explained. "I organized the event that year and under chariot rules the owner of the chariot, or bike, shares the win. The other five wins, I won outright."
Equipment is half the battle, he says. Fitness might be important. But his success lies in his experiments on how to avoid flats and get optimum traction.
Asked how he avoids a flat tire, he said: "That's a secret."
But he allows that his current ice-traction formula amounts to 751 screws per tire, inserted by hand one by one, in neat rows, and poking out two to three millimetres from the rubber.
"Three hundred screws per tire is just enough to show up but not enough to win," he says.
Racing strategy counts, too.
"On ice, it's normal to want to put your foot out when you turn, so you don't land on your head, and you have to go past that safeguard," he said.
"You have to want to keep your feet on the pedals and push through the corners hard enough so that the back wheel skids out. That helps you straighten out the bike so that you're aiming for the next one."
De Ciccio now assembles bicycles for manufacturer Cervélo during the winter and works at La Carrera Cycles in summer.
He placed third in '05, but his championship days aren't over, he says, sharing one last secret.
"Power thinking. I go into the race telling myself that in 15 minutes I'm walking off victorious. Then I find a way to do it."
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