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Freightliner Manitoba co-owner Rod Snyder rides his Ducati 1198 superbike in a race in Nebraska in 2010. (CHRISTIAN MOTORSICKO/COURTESY OF ROD SNYDER)
Freightliner Manitoba co-owner Rod Snyder rides his Ducati 1198 superbike in a race in Nebraska in 2010. (CHRISTIAN MOTORSICKO/COURTESY OF ROD SNYDER)

THE SPLURGE

Easy rider credits business success to motorcycle passion Add to ...

This continues our new series called The Splurge, where we take a look at how entrepreneurs have spent their money on indulgences -- purchases that may be interesting, fun, satisfying or enjoyable, but not necessary!

As a young adult, Rod Snyder was never much of a risk taker. Then, in 1986, he started racing motorcycles for fun with a friend – and has not looked back since.

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Mr. Snyder, the vice-president and co-owner of Freightliner Manitoba Ltd., a medium and heavy-duty truck dealership with 100 employees in Winnipeg and Brandon, owns 30 motorcycles, including five high-performance Ducati racing bikes, two of which are worth $40,000 each.

He now spends his spare time and money racing in superbike motorcycle events across North America. He drove to more than 20 races in Canada and the United States last year, and spends at least $10,000 a year on maintenance and equipment.

Mr. Snyder says he enjoys racing because it forces him to explore his limits.

“It’s about me, the motorcycle and testing myself against other people, and it’s about trying to manage everything that is going on at the same time,” he says. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you like the challenge of pushing your mind where it doesn’t want to go. And when you achieve that, it is very satisfying.”

Mr. Snyder, 50, says he owes his business success to his interest in motorcycle racing. He says he never applied himself in school, had no particular career plans and spent his early twenties happily working at a meat-packing plant in Winnipeg.

Then, in the mid-1980s, Mr. Snyder, who had ridden dirt bikes as a teenager, bought a Suzuki GSX750 Katana street bike and started street riding with a friend. He started racing in 1986 in Gimli, Man., where the Manitoba Roadracing Association has a track and riding school.

The experience, he says, sparked a latent ambition to break into the business world.

“Applying my mind made me believe I was way smarter than what I was achieving,” Mr. Snyder says. “I realized I could do a lot more than I ever thought I could.”

He left his job at the meat-packing plant, earned a degree in commerce and industrial sales and marketing and, in 1986, went to work selling diesel engines for Cummins Mid-Canada Ltd.

Mr. Snyder’s employers at Cummins eventually asked him to give up racing because of the high risk of injury, so he gave up his interest in motorcycles for several years. He became a partner in Freightliner in 1991, and started racing again in 2000 at the Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minn. He has been racing high-performance bikes as part of the Canadian Superbike Championship series and the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association since 2008.

The superbike racing circuit takes him across the United States and Canada, where he gets to test his skills managing a 130-kilogram bike travelling at speeds of up to 300 kilometres an hour.

He says the key is to be physically and mentally fit, both of which are important to controlling the bike.

“Your heart is pumping, you’re short of breath, you’re surrounded by five guys who all want to go to the same spot as you and the wind is trying to rip your head off. You have to have your mind pretty focused on what you are doing – how much front brake, how much rear brake – because there is not a lot of room for error,” he says.

Mr. Snyder has broken his hand and separated his shoulder in accidents, but he says that has never made him want to stay away from the race track. He says he spends extra money on equipment, such as new tires for each race and a helmet with special protection for his jaw.

He has won numerous races, taking pride in coming in first in three and second twice in AHRMA national events this year. He says his goal now is to win his first championship.

“It sounds crazy even to me and, every spring when the season starts, I’m as nervous as the next person, but then I start doing it and it’s the most amazing thing you could do,” he says.

“On the other hand, I look at bungee jumping and I know I could never do that.”

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