Five minutes with... a sand racer featured image

Five minutes with... a sand racer

27 Jan 2020
Mablethorpe beach in Lincolnshire is the last to host frequent motorcycle races. Tom Busfield explains what it takes to make life a beach...

While most bikers are thinking about tucking their bikes away for winter, some are just rolling theirs out of the garage. 

From October through to March, Mablethorpe’s south beach plays host to the 50-year-old beach racing tradition where pretty much anything goes. SBS Mag spoke to reigning 250cc road bike champion Tom Busfield, who’s raced a Honda XL250 and now a Yamaha TDR250 in the class for five years. This is why he thinks beach racing should be your next bike-related obsession…

Why should other people try sand racing?

It’s just so much fun. The group of people that go are so friendly and it’s such a good laugh. For the £35 entry cost and how much fun you have, it’s brilliant. It’s like a time warp when you go there – they have a website and a Facebook page but other than that it’s kind of old-fashioned, and I love it. Signing up can’t be done online, instead it’s cash when you arrive.

The track is laid out using a load of old cones and the start line is a piece of elastic that has been broken and tied together five times. I feel like it hasn’t progressed with the times but it’s good fun. It’s not tied down by rules and regulations either, you just turn up, go through a rough scrutineering and get out and go. There’s nobody telling you what to do, you just have to figure things out for yourself but I like that. You often see people come for the first time and they don’t know what to make of it.

Photography: Adam Pigott

The other thing I enjoy is the diversity. My bike is an old two-stroke from the 90s but there’s everything racing from massive V-twinned monsters, to grasstrack bikes to little 100cc bikes. Anything and everything at some point has been raced on that beach. I think people quite like going and seeing the sheer variety.

It’s for all ages too. The guy to beat is Steve Lomas (former pro speedway rider). He’s in his 60s, and when he takes his helmet off and you see people double take, but he is so fast! You get everyone from a nine-year-old kid on their first bike to people like Steve. It’s something people just carry on with.

Photography: Adam Pigott

It’s very much a community. If you do crash or something breaks on your bike, two or three guys will come straight over and offer to help, even if they’re racing in your class. I’ve had people offer me parts and it’s great like that. Everybody is in it for the fun. If you win absolutely everything you get a plastic trophy and a round of applause. There’s no prize money, it’s really just for bragging rights.

What’s it like to ride on sand?

Sand moves… a lot! In the very first race I did I thought “Okay, I don’t know how to slide a bike, I’ve never raced a bike, but I think I can give it full chat on the straight.” I set off and realised that even in a straight line the whole bike’s moving around underneath you. It shimmies and slides and then there’s water on the track too. it takes a bit of getting used to.

You just have to practise, push a bit, fall off a bit and you kind of work it out. I’ve picked up bits and bobs from some people but it’s basically just time spent. It takes a bit of time to get used to it, because sand racing is not really like anything else.

Isn’t beach racing just speedway on sand?

They’re similar in style and have a similar ethos but a sand track is usually a bit longer. Beach racing also varies with conditions, so the guy who sets out the track will try and adjust to them. Sometimes we’ll race on soft sand, sometimes there are patches of rocks and things that have washed up. We got there one week and there were thousands of starfish on the beach, so we had to adjust the track to get round them.

Photography: Adam Pigott

Also in beach racing you start near the pits, but speedway starts on the start/finish line. We have one great big drag race to the first corner, which is good fun because you get to go flat out. Beach racing is very varied, too. You’ll find speedway, flat track, motocross and road bikes, instead of just one kind of bike.

Do you need to be good at fixing things to do sand racing?

Very much so. The paddock is full of technical people – carpenters, engineers, people who work in garages and breakers. One of my best mates there works with air conditioning units! The common thing is they can all take a bike and tinker and tune and fix.

One guy was on the start line bike and his bike cut out, so I went running over and started twiddling wires and noticed a broken one. I pulled the end of it with my teeth, jammed it back into where I thought was right and that was it – he tore off! You have to be able to improvise.

There are some incredibly capable people there. A lot of the bikes are old so you’ve got to be able to patch and repair and keep stuff running to make the end of the races.

What does beach racing do to a bike?

A lot of people look at beach racing and think “I’d never go near that, it’ll destroy the bike,” but they’re really hardy things. You do have to be on top of maintenance because the salt and sand get everywhere. You have to do a lot of waterproofing because the conditions play havoc with anything electrical. Some people use Vaseline or grease around electrical connectors and tape them up, but some people run them quite open so they can pull them apart after each race.

There are certain things you would do before a race. You need to make sure the chain’s lubed, but sticky lubes don’t work well - sand sticks to it. A lot of people use old engine oil because it flings off and the sand lets go of it, so there are little ways of protecting the bike.

Photography: Adam Pigott

If you got home after a race and decided not to sort your bike out that same evening, you’d come back on Monday or Tuesday morning and it would be orange with rust. You’ve got to get home, rinse it off and go through everything and not let salt water or sand sit on it. It doesn’t take hours and hours, and eventually you’ll have your own routine.

Is it a good way for someone to get into racing?

Definitely. Ollie Brindley (AMA Flat Track racer) raced there for years and British Superbike guys have raced there too. There are some proper talented people who’ve started off racing on the beach.

If you can push around the track and be okay with the bike sliding around it can really help if you decide to move on to other classes of racing. You don’t need all the latest technology, safety gear or a cutting-edge bike either. You can get on anything and have a go at racing it, so if you decide sand racing isn’t for you, it’s a low risk.

The worst you could do is hit a cone... or maybe a starfish

It’s a very cheap thing to do too. The entry is only £35, tyres last years rather than a day and a gallon of fuel will see you for an entire meeting. It’s good, cheap fun and you can spend what you want on it but the cost is manageable.

I helped a friend of mine with his sand racer, I paid £100 for the bike because it was a nail and almost fit for the scrapyard. But the total cost of getting him to the start line was around £250.

It’s like any kind of racing so you can get hurt. But if you keep a bit of a lid on it it’s fairly low risk and a great way of getting started. The other nice thing is if you go to speedway tracks for example you’ve got walls and barriers, but the beach has space and a big open track. The worst thing you could do is hit a cone or maybe a starfish, but on the whole if you’ve got your wits about you it’s reasonably safe.

How do people get involved?

Getting involved in the racing is easy. Pretty much anything with two wheels and an engine will be eligible in one class or another. You need a lanyard killswitch to cut the engine if you come off and some knobbly tyres are probably a good idea too.

There are things the organisers don’t like people doing, but it’s all common sense. It’s not like a TT or something where everything is so closely monitored. It’s more like “Is it attached? Is it working? Is it a death trap? No? Okay, I think we’re good!”

As long as you’re safe and sensible you’ll have a blast.

You can find out more about the beach races and how to get involved by visiting their website.