Jim Mugits of Mariaville, New York races on Great Sacandaga Lake. Picture: Hans Pennink / AP

Northville, New York - They kick-start their bikes during cold snaps, hit highway speeds on ice and take tight turns on studded tires, leaving crystalline clouds in their wake.

Call them freezy riders, motorcycle racers who seem to defy physics - and maybe common sense - by buzzing around slick tracks ploughed out on frozen lakes and rivers each winter.

"The adrenaline of going 120km/h and dragging across the ice is something you can't find anywhere else," siad Mike Parodi said after another run around Great Sacandaga Lake in the Adirondacks during a particularly bitter cold weekend this month. "Believe it or not, at 18 below, it actually doesn't feel that bad."

They ride standard dirt bikes with special studs in the tyre treads that allow the riders to turn without sliding into snowbanks; they claim the traction is actually better on ice than on tarmac or dirt.

Mike Parodi, left, and Floyd Billington, both of South Glens Falls, practice ice racing on Great Sacandaga Lake. Picture: Hans Pennink / AP

The riders on upstate New York ice this winter are butchers, contractors, maintenance workers, fathers and sons. Some compete for money, with purses up to $500 (R5950) on a recent race day. But most are amateurs, putting thrills and bravado above the ever-present risk of slipping sideways across the ice for thrills and post-race laughs.

"It's a lot easier on your body when you fall," said Johnny Gocha, among the more than 90 racers who competed recently on an oval track ploughed into 35cm thick ice on Warner Lake near Albany. "You just kind of slide out. On dirt, you tumble, cartwheel. You can really get hurt," 

Shane Maynard from Hudson Falls explained: "You want to lean your bike as much as you can and power out of the corner as fast as you can."

Practice on Great Sacandaga Lake is a free-for-all for bikes and quads. Picture: Hans Pennink

Bike racers have been sticking studs in their tyres for generation in cold-winter locations from Sweden to Sakatchewan; the American Motorcyclist Association's annual Ice Race Grand Championship will begin in the last week of January in Cadillac, Michigan.

Ice tracks might be gentler than dirt, but they're temperamental. Warms spells in the past two winters sidelined racers, but  this winter's big chill across the Northeast was great for ice formation - about 38cm thick on Sacandaga on a recent weekend. But those same frigid temperatures seem to discourage riders. Organisers have recently had to cancel races.

"When we got here it was minus 15 or something," Alex Quarterley said after turning a few laps just for fun. "It's really all in the face. You got to watch for frostbite.