Taking on the mighty and wild Weston Beach Race on a Husqvarna FE350 – how the race went, what kit we used and how the bike (and rider) faired…
The annual sand blast that is Weston Beach Race is not for the faint hearted. Three hours of mayhem that is as brutal on the rider as it is on the bike. Why the hell do we do it?
We (Enduro21) did do it. For the second year running we entered the infamous annual beach racing festival based in a coastal town in the South West of the UK along with 1000s of off-roaders.
The buzz at the race start at Weston is awesome and just like the best events I’ve raced like Ezrberg – loads of anticipation and waiting around is eventually broken with Weston’s famous run to the bikes where almost 1000 riders burst through fences to claim their bikes from parc ferme and ride on to the beach. It is mayhem and mad fun.
After another elbow fight as the mass of bikes snakes through a narrow channel onto the beach, all hell breaks loose when they pull the fences back and we’re away. I got out the gates ok but was way too hesitant at the first dune. I should have just nailed it or sailed on around it like so many did – instead I spent about 0.75 of a second thinking about where to go and got engulfed by bikes!
If that wasn’t a wake-up call the two kilometres of spray, bikes and the unreal mixture of adrenalin and fear which followed sure were. It is crackers racing flat-out on a dirt bike but with people and bikes everywhere Weston takes the biscuit.
The Husky 350 was fast though. I have no idea the actual speed but I think I only spotted 450s were coming past me during any one of the 15 times I flat-sticked it down the straight, half blinded by spray and salty water. I’d dropped the rear sprocket size to a 50 (stock is 52) for some extra speed and it worked.
Just suck it up
The first laps were chaos, truly. Some of the dunes quickly got plugged up with riders like the worst of motorway hold-ups. You get stuck, you get filled in, you nail it, you get stuck some more, you try to go around a problem, there is no way around…it is sandy madness.
Some of the trick to making progress in a mad bundle of riders like that is down to luck, better judgement helps as does being there before everybody of course! But you have no choice once you’re in the middle of it and just have to suck it up.
Ride your own race
That said some riders have a different solution which is to ram the fences down to cut corners and dunes. I’ve never seen so much cheating as I did this year at Weston. Sometimes the marshalls let bikes go around a dune to ease the log-jam but to witness blatant ramming of fences and people cutting out large sections of track is not part of the game.
If ever there was an event all about riding your own race and getting as good a finish as you can, Weston is it. The top guys like 2018 winner Todd Kellett and David Knight are miles ahead of the rest of us and doing their own thing. The solution for everyone else is to do the same, have your own race and for that I love it – you just have the beach to race against.
Weirdly, I trained more for Weston this year, felt fitter, stronger, and like I was riding better than last year but still finished well down, just outside the top 100 from 852 finishers.
The race was more technical this year and more enjoyable to ride for me personally because it wasn’t just a beach blast. It needed a bit of skill sometimes to get through. I’m no sand expert but felt more comfortable at my second attempt and finished with a smile again. Next year? Err…we’ll see.
Having raced our long term KTM 250 EXC TPI last year we switched to four stroke power and a Husqvarna FE350 for 2018. As mentioned already, the four stroke 350 is good for speed on the two kilometre Weston straight (and the mighty sand dunes). The lazier, torquey power promised an easier ride on the strength-sapping sand and it delivered because I felt fresher through the race.
With very few hours on the bike though it did feel bad to rock up and dish out a sandy beating to it!
Pre-race the prep was minimal because the bike was so new. I checked through electrical connectors to be sure things were clean and dry, removed the kick stand and taped up head and tail light lenses (for technical inspection rules).
With it being such a new bike the usual things you’d fit new for a three hour beach race were all good to go: chain, sprockets and brake pads. That smaller rear sprocket mentioned earlier (two teeth smaller than standard) for some extra speed.
With the stock Husqvarna FE350 we used mesh-type radiator protection covers from the Husqvarna parts catalogue. They provide a crucial barrier for the sand in front of the radiator. It worked and we had no issues with the bike running hot or over-hearing during the race.
Fitting the Twin Air filter sand protector over a spotless and thoroughly oiled filter is a must too for this brutal race. I took extra care to run a smear of grease around the contact point between the air filter and the air box to make to it was seated properly.
I fitted a set of Scar titanium footpegs too which I have them on test and figured this was a perfect chance to give them a really good test. The fatter, wider and grippier pegs made the bike feel more like my own because I prefer having the 5mm lower and 5mm further back pegs – stock Husky and KTM pegs sit too high and also slope in too much for my preference.
One thing helping was Gibson MX 5.1 sand tyre. In 2017 I raced Weston for the first time on a standard KTM 250 EXC TPI with standard enduro tyres and didn’t really find I needed a sand tyre.
But having the Gibson sand tyre on the rear this year gave the Husky extra bite. It wasn’t night and day different but made life easier when I got caught at the foot of a dune for example and had to nail it around stuck riders.
I fitted a Gibson eight ring Speedy Mousse also. It is Gibson’s medium/hard (0.9bar) mousse as oppose to the 16 ring one for more extreme events. I ran just a stock front tyre with a regular mousse in it.
Gearing up for a three hour beach race
Kit-wise, I was sorted with a full set of Leatt 2019 GPX 5.5 riding gear which was fresh out the box. The new GPX 5.5 helmet design felt good and we’ll run an Enduro21 “tested” feature post on that asap.
In 2018 the Weston race regulations state back and chest protection must be worn so I used a snug-fitting, stretch fabric Forcefield Pro Vest which worked well in tough riding conditions. I was worried it would be too hot but it wasn’t the case.
I also ran with the Leatt GPX 3.5 neck brace, Leatt GPX Race hydrapack and Leatt knee braces.
TCX’s Comp Evo 2 boots with their grippy Michelin soles came up trumps again – these boots have protected me at Erzberg and now two Weston Beach races (among many other events) so truly have earned an E21 stamp of approval.
What didn’t work?
I ran out of brakes. The front went soft at the lever early in the race and never recovered leaving me with very little front brake and when the rear pads ran down after a couple of hours I was using the sand brake.
Goggles. That’s twice I’ve raced Weston now and twice I’ve struggled like hell with the goggles. I failed badly on the first lap to keep out of trouble and keep away from roost but had no answer to being able to see well enough and had to keep just wearing them on the straight and ditching them for the main track.
Pit crew fail. I’m too much of a loner I guess but failed again to organise anyone to help in the pits. I don’t think it matters too much unless you’re serious about your results but help refuelling and a brush off of the bars, rads etc. would speed things up. The biggest help would have been to have someone handing me goggles each lap if I needed them. Which I did badly.
Needing a piss for half the race didn’t help either. I had to stop and answer the call of nature in the end because it was killing me!
Photo Credit: Future7Media/Andrea Belluschi/Jonty Edmunds Jon PearsonEnduro21 Editor and Bike Tester