When most bikers are dreaming about riding their motorcycles but can’t because of icy or snowy road conditions, one set of bikers ride. Not only do they ride, but they race.
In a sleepy beach resort town in France, in a town called Le Touquet, once a year the town hosts a beach race for motorcycle. Called the “Le Touquet Enduropale”, the date is always the first weekend in February, typically when France is at its coldest.
Braving icy cold weather, sea and often strong winds, 1100 motorcycles start the race at the same time. 1100 motorcycles thundering along the first part of the race, a 7.5 kilometer long stretch of deep sandy beach, alternated with sea water pockets. The first biker to reach the first curve wins the holeshot, and a purse of €1500. The motorcycle reach speeds of 200 kph (120 mph) in the sand, and usually the holeshot is won by professionals who have adapted a streetbike to the deep sand. These professionals are not expected to finish the race, since their street racebikes are not meant to be able to race the rest of the circuit.
After the holeshot curve, there is a narrow hill which the riders need to take. Already on its own, the narrow but steep hill with very deep sand is a difficult obstacle to take, but in the first lap, you are competing with 1100 other bikers, most have never ridden in deep sand before. So the traffic jam is so enormous that when the first riders have done a complete lap of the 15 kilometers long circuit (which takes about 10-15 minutes), they often have to wait a few minutes for the traffic to clear. It’s an assured obstacle entertainment.
What makes the race the most interesting to watch are the professionals, often big names like David Knight, Cyril Despres (this year’s Dakar winner) and others, needing not to compete with all the curves, hills, jumps and other man-made obstacles, but needing to circumnavigate the Sunday riders. These Sunday riders have often never raced a motorcycle on a beach before, and since it requires a tremendous physical effort, they stop on the circuit to catch their breath, or, as often is the case, crash and fall from their bike. The professionals need to speed past these obstacles at high speeds, sidestepping a fallen rider.
The race is free to the public, and you can see some 300,000 spectators amassed alongside the dunes to see this incredible race.
Competitors and spectators come from all over the world for this race, and during the weekend the village of Le Touquet is turned into one big motorcycle party. With motorcycle shops setting up tents selling you bikerwares, to hot food and drink sold anywhere, live music blasting everywhere, it’s a bit like Sturgis, but in the winter. People pitch up their tents everywhere or just sleep in the streets.
The beach race was dreamt up by Thierry Sabine, the same person who dreamed up the famous Dakar race. For years, famous races like the Dakar and the bicycle race the Tour de France, and the Touquet Enduro were run by the same person and organization, ASO. It is only recently that the Le Touquet Enduropale is run by the French motorcycle federation.
The 2012 edition was won by Jean-Claude Mousse on a Yamaha.
If you are ever in Europe during the first week of February, it’s one event you would have to put in your agenda to see.