Mountain Bike riding in sand can be challenging and even a little scary, which made it a frequently discussed topic at our team camp in Big Bear this past weekend. It seems like patches of this dreaded substance are never on a straight-away and always appear after a nice hard-packed section where you’ve managed to pick up a bit of speed. But like most mountain bike skills, getting through this safely and efficiently becomes much easier with a little practice.
Here are a few general tips that will help make riding in sand easier and, dare we say, enjoyable.
1. Select a gear that is relatively easy, high cadence — 85 to 95 rpm. Keep spinning as you roll through the sand.
2. Keep your head up, look where you want to go — choose the smoothest possible trajectory, while allowing some margin of error. As long as you are generally going the direction you need to, you’re OK. If you come slightly off your line, don’t panic, just ride it out.
3. Relax your arms and upper body while maintaining a firm grip on the handlebars.
4. Be especially careful when transitioning from a hard-packed trail to a sandy section. Your bike will slow somewhat abruptly, so be ready with your weight back a bit as you enter the sand. This will ensure you won’t go flying over the bars when your front tire hits the sand. With your center of mass slightly behind the center of gravity of your bike, your front wheel to ‘float’ over the sand rather than get bogged down.
5. Focus on maintaing speed. You will not be able to accelerate quickly, so be sure to keep your momentum. Ride through the sand at a fast, controllable pace, but not so fat that one sudden wrong move will pitch you over the bars and not so slow that you get sucked in the sand and stuck.
6. If you’re planning on riding in a particular sandy area, use a wider tire. A 2.3 tire will handle much better in sand than a 2.0.
7. Consider lowering your tires pressure a bit. A lower tire pressure will increase (widen) the surface contact area of your tire allowing it to float over the sand rather than sink in.
8. Avoid sharply turning the handlebars in the sand. This will cause the front tire to dig in pitching you forward (and potentially off your bike).
9. If the trail isn’t a straight-away, steer with your body by turning your shoulders and hips, not with your handle bars. Subtle shifts of your body weight will allow the bike to go where you want it to. In corners, allow your weight to come forward a bit. Get your center of mass over the center of gravity of your bike (ie. in the ready position). This will allow your front tire to stay in contact with the terrain and not slide out.
10. When you successfully navigate through a sandy patch, it is encouraged—and even advised,—to yell out an audible “BRRRAAP!”