The Weston Beach Race is gnarly. Always cold and wet, it's three miles of knee-deep sand and 1000 dirt bike loons. For three hours. Hogan the Innocent thought he stood a chance...
The WR250 and me are screaming our heads off as we approach what looks like a block of flats covered in sand. We hit the climb with the throttle pinned, then the bike takes over the decision making process and decides it would much rather be upside down. I sail over the top of Weston's very first dune doing a 20mph star jump. The bike lands on me and we roll to the bottom on the other side.
It would seem that Tim bit off more than I could chew when he entered me in the Weston beach race, a three-hour endurance event on the Somerset coast. I was in entered the adult solo class along with Stefan Everts (10-time World Motocross Champion), David Knight (twice World Enduro Champion) and 990 - yes, nine-hundred and ninety - other riders.
All of varying levels of ability ranging from world champions to top quality club riders, with a dash of complete inexperience and ignorance provided by me and a few of others.
Yamaha UK and off-road guru Geraint Jones very kindly supplied an immaculate WR250F, which apparently offers the perfect mix of power and weight. Most importantly though it has a push button start.
And what else is required to compete in what some view as the UK's most extreme off-road event? Race experience, probably. But I don't have any. Off-road experience? One motocross school. Natural talent? Don't be daft. Let's go racing!
Race day dawned with me having ridden the WR no more than 30 metres. I met up with my oldest friend and pit crew Luke (not Ponsford), a huge fan of off-roading. He knows one end of a spanner from the other and even raced for a season, finishing last in two races and finding unconciousness in all the others. Just the ticket.
At 12.15pm we filed into parc ferme (French for 'leave your bikes here'). With 10 minutes to the start everyone revved the bejesus out of their bikes to warm them up. I just wanted to get stuck in so, giggling with nervous excitement, I sat on the WR and revved the bejesus out of it.
By the time I got to the beach for the 'start' all hell had broken loose, with the top men apparently allowed to go whenever they felt like it. I sat on the Yamaha's tail light, just like I'd seen people do in photos, and pinned it. Look! I'm a beach racer!
The first corner was still busy when I got there so I hung back and watched. Spying a line though the corner and onto the straight before the first dune I went for it. The crash that followed didn't hurt so I picked up the bike and got stuck in again. Everything was new, the bike, the terrain, being in a race. Then I face-planted into the next dune and began to question what I was doing. The whole thing felt bizarre, like being a spectator with a really close-up view of what was going on. I crashed and laughed my way round a few corners until I was faced with the mother of all dunes, so I just hammered it. After all, I'd been a beach racer for nearly 15 minutes and should know what I'm doing by now. But as soon as I hit the dune I slid off the back of the bike like the seat was made of ice. Now what?
I turned round, heading towards the oncoming riders, to get a run-up and try again. The plan was to hit the dune in third and nail it, then as soon as the top was in range I pinged the clutch and jumped off the back of the bike, firing it over the top and down the other side (er, sorry Yamaha). The crowd cheered, so I waved and carried on.
Bikes littered the course. I saw one guy so bogged in there was no way out. Realising his race was over he wound his KTM up, went through the gears and buried it until the seat had disappeared into the sand, then he jumped the fence to watch his bike get battered. I was the first of many to use it for traction. Hearing Jack Burnicle's voice on the Tannoy I realised I'd almost completed a lap, so I pitted. Luke was jumping up and down and patting me on the back. It had taken well over an hour to complete one lap. It felt like 10 minutes.
A couple of fags and a Red Bull set me straight for lap two. Managing the first quarter of a lap without crashing I stopped for a breather, then an orange C90 flew past so I set off in some kind of pursuit. I got past him and sort of into a rhythm when Stefan Everts came by. Imagine a race from a set of lights, you're on a pogo stick and your mate's on an R1... Everts's bike and kit was immaculate and he seemed to be floating over the ground. I crashed in admiration.
With about an hour left I was actually enjoying myself and even started picking people off here and there. I didn't care if they went straight back past me or not, which was lucky because most did. The ruts were now so deep I was running along the top of them while wheel-spinning the bike through but the dunes had gaps in them big enough to ride through, not over, at last..
I hardly crashed at all on lap two. Then, with a quarter of a lap to go, the WR died. The electric boot (exhausted from over-use) was having none of it but kick starting proved not to be a problem. Then it died again, then restarted, then died... This continued for the rest of the lap so I pulled into the pits. Then the hooter sounded signalling the end of the race. Three hours racing round a three-mile circuit and I managed two laps. Average speed? That'll be two mph.
It doesn't sound all that great but the numbers alone do nothing to represent what I went through to earn a tacky but cherished finisher's T-shirt. David Knight won the race, completing 18 laps. I was 764th out of 825 finishers. Would I do it again? Probably. Did I learn anything? Definitely: if you're going to be dumb, you've gotta be tough.
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