December 11, 2017 | Rahoul Ghose | Photos supplied by: Girard Fox
Icy, two-wheeled tradition celebrates 100th anniversary, Jan. 21
It’s not an event for the meek or weak of heart. Picture riding in the pitch dark of a winter’s post-midnight, in sub-freezing temps, following map directions designed to trip up even the best navigators … for up to eight hours. Not your typical ‘Gumball Rally’.
Hosted by Rockland County, NY's Ramapo Motorcycle Club (n.1938), the infamous Crotona Midnight Run celebrates a chilly century this coming January as the longest continuously run, on-road motorcycling event in the nation, with organizers expecting diehards from as far as Massachusetts, Virginia and Connecticut to attend.
The mid-winter, overnight road enduro first hit the city’s icy streets on New Year's Eve, 1917, and has been an annual trial on the winter moto calendar since, save for brief hiatuses during World War I and II. That's 13 years before construction began on the Empire State Building.
Ramapo MC secretary – and past president – Simon Begler, says that first event kicked off in Times Square and featured three legs with two breaks.
The 65-year-old, who challenged the Crotona four times, including one landmark perfect run, has been helping on the organizational side since the early 2000s when the Ramapo MC took over the event from originators Crotona MC to preserve and maintain the AMA-sanctioned rally’s legacy.
“We now only have one break,” Begler says, adding in 2018 he is hoping for 45 to 50 entries to commemorate the centennial running.
“If it’s a good night – 30F temps – we’ll get that. If the weather drops then (only) the diehards will come out,” he says.
While the club does not take pre-registrations, Begler says there has been a lot of interest expressed by potential entries.
certificate of diehard moto enthusiasm | girard fox
-- Simon Begler, Ramapo MC secretary
Despite the event’s obvious hardships, five-time Crotona veteran Girard Fox can still see the humor in participating in what can often produce Benny Hill-esque scenarios.
Fox, who runs Basket Case Productions with partner Tim Warner, is returning to the wintry fold this year after a 10-year absence.
“I’m still not completely sure which bike I’ll ride … but I’m currently leaning towards taking my 1922 Henderson DeLuxe motorcycle,” Fox says with an obvious twinkle in his eye. “With a dim, yellowish headlight that lasts for about four hours on a good night, my choice of auxiliary, battery-operated lighting will be crucial. What could possibly go wrong?!!”
Indeed, considering the event can last double that, in riding hours. And then there’s trying to follow precise directions on a time constraint, while literally freezing your nether regions off, avoiding black ice and potential collisions with other participants.
“You are almost continuously passing and being passed by others,” Fox says. “Most worrisome is when you see riders heading past you in the opposite direction. It comes down to trusting your own best judgment, and sometimes your intuition. Often the directions on the route sheet are just vague enough to force anxious moments of self-doubt. I once turned around to follow a group of riders going in the opposite direction, to discover that all of us were now lost.”
Over the years Fox has competed on a variety of bikes with various degrees of success, Ducati mounts (a 2000 ‘748’ and 2006 Multistrada) being the most prolific and earning him a duo of coveted ‘finishers’ medallions.
“I once left my home in Brooklyn in 7F temps,” he says, recounting one year where barely eight riders showed up to the start. “By the time I reached the starting point, the thermometer was hovering near zero. All of the roads had slowly melting ice from a fresh salting of the surfaces … water was running towards low points and reforming as black ice. I somehow missed my very last turn and managed to become disqualified, but the Ramapo MC generously handed out medallions to everyone whom braved an attempt at all.”
Older bikes – including a 1966 BMW R60/2 and Fox’s favored 1946 Indian Chief – have not fared as well for a host of reasons, he says, citing a teammate’s poor clothing choices one year, severe cold and just being plain lost.
getting ready to roll out under freezing conditions | girard fox
-- Girard Fox, Basketcase Productions
His 1934 Sunbeam Model 80, 350ccc single, one year, broke down about one-third of the way through the course, near Bear Mountain.
“While trying to diagnose the magneto problem in pitch darkness, I heard an extremely loud crashing-through-bushes heading directly towards me,” he recalls. “I was so startled – with the ‘bear’ part of Bear Mountain in mind – that I found myself running for my life. With multiple layers of leather clothing, I must have sprinted a quarter mile, before stopping to catch my breath.”
When he finally returned to his abandoned Sunbeam, Fox had to push the bike two miles to a service station, leaving it there along with a lengthy note.
“I had to take a very expensive cab ride home and then return the next day with a van to retrieve it. It sure would be excellent to have footage of that. My brother Greg – another veteran rider of The Midnight Run – is convinced that it was probably a squirrel crashing towards me in the dark.”
Cue the Benny Hill music …
The event itself is not a race, but instead follows Time Speed Distance (TSD) rally rules, with competitors riding each segment of a course in a specified time, at a specified average speed (30 MPH) on a pre-planned route, with surprise checkpoints along the way.
Computer mapping, GPS units, and directional smart-phone apps are not permitted. Motorcyclists must rely on conventional maps and watches, following a two-page route sheet on a ride that can take anywhere from six to eight hours in freezing conditions.
“A large clock with sweeping second hand is preferred,” Fox says. “There is a mathematical equation that can be used to determine how much time should have elapsed between route sheet directions. What is the equation? Took me years to figure that out and I think I’ve already forgotten what it is anyway.”
Bike choice, as well as rider and equipment prep, are essential.
focus on lighting and timing if anything, and a secure way to mount and read the route sheets | girard fox
-- Girard Fox, Basketcase Productions
“I had to get several push-starts on my 2000 Ducati 748 on that 7F run,” Fox says, adding a few helpful hints for those considering the challenge this January. “If you own a bike that can handle the draw of current from a heated vest and heated grips/gloves … do it! The biggest worry, aside from bike trouble, is battery failure in your flashlights (yes, plural), map lights, etc. Also, keep in mind, on several runs, almost no gas stations are passed. Fill up those tanks. I carried a 1.5-gallon auxiliary tub of gas the year I rode my 1946 Indian Chief, and I ran through all of it.”
Focus on lighting and timing if anything, and a secure way to mount and read the route sheets, he says. Extra batteries are also a must.
The Crotona Midnight Run for 2018 again uses public roads, starting and ending at the RMC Clubhouse Veterans Memorial Association (66 Lake Road) in Congers, NY. Riders are released at one-minute intervals, times are taken at hidden checkpoints (early or late), and points are deducted (from a starting tally of 1000) from each rider.
In deference to the conditions, the event includes a mid-course stop at a 24-hour gas station for a warm-up, refreshments and encouragement for those braving the elements.
Trophies are handed out to the finishers (1st, 2nd and 3rd in expert and novice categories) who come closest to the accumulated, pre-calculated travel times between checkpoints. All riders who finish within the time limits are awarded a commemorative medallion.
Crowds are also encouraged to come out and cheer on the riders at the start and finish. You know where this is going though.
“The word ‘crowd’ doesn't really describe the situation,” Fox says, again with a smirk. “It’s usually a handful of confused looking wives or friends that mumble a few ‘good lucks’, and then jump into their warm cars to return to their normal worlds for a night of sleep.”
Past years have also seen what can only be described as a surreal finish.
“After a long night of freezing, trying to squint at questionable directions on a dark sheet of paper, and fighting-off the onset of visual and aural hallucinations out in the middle of pitch-black and frozen fields … you arrive at the 'Finish’ to find … nothing … no welcoming committee, no cheerleaders in snowmobile suits, no information about your last eight hours’ performance … NOTHING! And then comes the long, freezing ride back home, where your family nervously observes your alien-like behavior, before you drop into a few hours of nightmare-filled sleep.”
If anything, the Crotona Midnight Run develops some serious character in its stalwarts … and attracts some incredible characters.
Begler, in particular, points to the hardy souls who oversee the ride and man checkpoints on the night, including road captain Dick Roberts.
“It takes a lot of people to pull this off.”
If you want to participate in January’s landmark run, or just cheer on some true moto enthusiasts, check out all the details below.
THE ESSENTIAL DETAILS
Start & Finish: RMC Clubhouse, Veterans Memorial Association, 66 Lake Road, Congers, NY
Sign-in: Saturday, January 20, 10:30 PM (Jan. 20 in case of snow)
Key Time: 12:00 Midnight
Directions to Start:
NYS Thruway Exit 12 to Route 303 North
3.3 miles to left on Lake Road, Congers, NY. 0.3 miles to VMA Hall on right.
Entry fee: $25/Rider, $15/Passenger
Event Info: Simon Begler: 845.223.6090 or firstname.lastname@example.org
For day-of-event last minute (after 2 PM) weather-related updates – RMC Hotline: 914.422.1806
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Looking forward to attending my first Midnight run. Very excited for it to be the 100th year!Paul Siciliano
Very nice article, Rahoul Ghose. The year I did it, everyone said it was easy because it hadn't rained or snowed in weeks, so no black ice. I remember it got as warm as 14 degrees at one point, mostly my bike thermometer was showing single digits. I had two chemical bootwarmer packs in each boot, electric vest and heated handgrips, and about 33 layers under my Aerostich.Adam Zuckerman
I talked to my brother last night, about this. He did it on a BSA in the '60s and agreed. Once is enough!Shredne Volmer
Omg. This is truly an adventure!! ... I'd so dig doing this as crazy as it sounds.Ronnie Pichson
Yes! I was checking this out last week. I’m down!T FZ Rida
@nyc_motorcyclist - IN!!Tim Warner (@seeeverything)
Intrigued!Valerie Figarella (@motorgrrl)