Riding Sand With Jeffrey Herlings
If you ask just about anyone in the motocross world who they'd put money on to win a sand race if they could pick one professional, chances are they'd say Jeffrey Herlings. The young Dutch racer has shown multiple times that he rules the roost when it comes to sand tracks and just recently earned his 50th overall MX2 victory in the legendary soft soil of the Valkenswaard GP with 1-1 moto scores. Growing up within a stone's throw of the Boekel MX Club in Holland, Jeffrey's happy place is when his bike is dancing beneath him in situations that would make most mortals chop the throttle out of pure fear. Herlings speaks modestly of his skills with a smile, saying, "Well, you know, when you're born in the sand you get good at it." We were lucky enough to have him clue us in on a few sand-riding tips, so we recommend giving them a read before heading out to surf your local sand track!
Body Positioning: I always try to be really central on my bike so if something happens, like hitting a kicker or anything else, I can regroup and get the bike back in control again. In the sand you also have to lift so much with all the bumps, lines, and ruts. I try to wheel tap as many of the bumps as I can because it doesn't take as much energy and it helps you gain speed—it's a really good technique. I also tend to hang off the rear fender really far—like Villopoto-style—to keep the front-end light, but you really have to squeeze the bike so that bad boy can't go anywhere!
Bike Setup: The bike setup is important, and my sand suspension setup is way stiffer than usual. The fork is especially stiff because I hit the bumps pretty hard at high speed. The rear shock is set stiffer, too, and tire choice is also important. Americans call the tire a paddle tire, but for us, we call it a scoop tire. We use them in the sand, and you get so much more traction than a standard tire. You need the scoop!
Pick A Line: On the first lap of practice, I always cruise around slowly and check out the track to see how it is. When I'm practicing or doing interval training, I usually try to pick the same line almost the whole moto. Before the next moto I usually take another sight lap just to see the track again because sand tracks change so much. During a race it's very different, and you need to change up your lines. I go left, right, up, down—everywhere. You have to overtake other riders, and the top guys obviously have the best line choices. To pass them you have to be on top of your game.
Be Ready: Whenever I ride I always have my fingers on the clutch so if anything happens, I can pull it in and keep the RPMs up. Also, whenever the suspension kicks left or right, I always just hammer the throttle. It's like a panic rev in a sense, and if you kick sideways and panic rev, sometimes it will come back. If it doesn't, you may have a gnarly crash!
Energy-Saving Technique: I jump a lot of holes and rollers in the track, and I do it both to gain speed and also to not run out of breath. It saves me some energy because if you're hitting each hole on the circuit, your body takes a much bigger impact. You'll have to lift up the bike, and the bike will go left, right, and all over the place. It just takes more energy, and when you use all your energy you become tired. Sand riding is a lot like Supercross where in five to seven laps you can run out of breath and become so damned tired. You have to be smooth and have consistent lap times. Racing in the sand is just tough and more physical on your body, so you want to find different techniques where you can rest a bit and still maintain speed.