Vintage Motorcycles and Beach Racing in Australia

More than 100 vintage motorcycles and thousands of spectators will flock to the South Australian coast next month when beach races are held for the first time since 1953.

Although Clutch and Chrome doesn’t cover racing, we certainly like cool motorcycle stories, and this definitely falls into that category.

The Levis Motorcycle Club will host a two-day classic event at Sellicks Beach on February 18 and 19 featuring competitors from every mainland Australian state. A field of 110 motorcycles manufactured before 1963 have entered to race across five classes, under 125cc through to 501cc – 1300cc. Sidecar races will also be held.

The club, the oldest motorcycle club in South Australia, began beach racing in the 1920s and held annual Sellicks Beach Speed Trials in summer through to 1953. Re-enactments were held in 1986 and 1992 but regular races have not taken place on the beach for more than 60 years.

Motorcycle historians may remember Daytona Beach became famous for its beach racing. Daytona Beach Bike Week started as the Daytona 200 race on January 24, 1937, with the first race consisting of 3.2 miles on the beach and pavement.

Murray Williams and Carol Tune practice for the return of motorcycle racing to Sellicks Beach. Picture: Peter Hennekam.

Publicity Officer Peter Hennekam said more than 2000 tickets had already been snapped up for this Australian outing with about 4000 expected to be sold before the event. The event is free for children under-16 but people looking to attend are being urged to pre-book online as tickets will not be on sale at the gate.

Hennekam said riders ranged in age from 16 to 84 and some of the bikes entered dated back to the 1920s.

“It’ll be a spectacle that you just won’t see anywhere else,” he said. “The 84-year-old bloke is racing his 1925 Velocette and we’ve got one family where dad owns the two bikes but his son and his grandson are going to be riding them.

The two-day event will feature 46 races including heats and finals. Most will be scratch races but some handicap races will also be run. The 1.6km (1 mile) track is the same length as the original track and takes riders 800m down the beach before rounding a hairpin for the 800m return journey.

The Levis club, named after the English two-stroke motorcycle, hopes a successful event will lead to it being held every two years in the future.

“People have been dragging bikes out from behind uncles’ sheds and doing them up – many of the bikes are being ridden for the first time in a number of years.”

Sellicks Beach (pictured below) is about a 45-minute drive south of the center of the South Australian capital Adelaide. It is well suited to racing because it has a pebble foundation under the sand, which gives it a solid base and prevents it from becoming boggy.

The crowd will line the beach along with hospitality tents and vans providing food and drink. Organizers expect to move the track about three times during each day of racing as the tide goes out to provide a fresh racing surface.

Entertainment between races will include skydiving demonstrations and vintage airplane displays.

“There are very few beaches in the world that are as suitable as Sellicks to race on just the way the pebbles are under the sand gives you a good firm base and when the tide comes in it fixes the track up again as if we were never there,” Hennekam said.

The population of the small seaside town of Sellicks Beach will more than double for the event, which is expected to be of great benefit to local businesses.

“We understand there’s a beach in New Zealand and one in the United States where they have racing and there’s a few others around but there’s none quite like this featuring historic bikes, and they’re going to be racing full throttle.”

Three generations: Doug Davis's son Bruce and grandson Joshua will race his 1948 Machless 500 and 1925 Velocette 250 at Sellicks Beach. Picture Peter Hennekam.

Aldinga Beach Holiday Park is the closest RV park to where the races will be held. Carolyn Seagrim, who owns the park with her husband Matt, said all accommodation types at the park were fully booked for the weekend, which was unusual for that time of year. She said visitors were travelling from as far away as Queensland to attend.

“Even the unpowered sites and small cabins only containing bunk beds are booked out so it is definitely going to be a boost for us and the local economy,” Carolyn said.

South Australia is home to the National Motor Museum, the Bay to Birdwood classic car rally and more than 100 car clubs and 39 motorcycle clubs.

Adelaide hosted the Australian Grand Prix from 1985 to 1995, and is the home of the Clipsal 500, the only CBD street circuit on the V8 Supercar calendar.

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