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!”
Richard La China is a Professional Mountain Bike racer, USAC Certified Cycling Coach and a IMBA Certified Mountain Bike Skills Instructor who coaches beginner to pro cyclist. Currently working with mountain bike XC, Endurance and Enduro racers and other competitive and non-competitive mountain bike riders seeking to become their best.
I felt so confident that I recently signed up for the Catalina MTB Gran Fondo!
I participated in the beginner skill clinic at Malibu Creek last Saturday, because I'm truly a beginner who couldn't stop...
I participated in the beginner skill clinic at Malibu Creek last Saturday, because I'm truly a beginner who couldn't stop falling down during each mtb ride. The class was small and super fun...and the instructors (Richard and Kris) were informative and dynamic. The clinic was small enough for each member to practice each learned skill and receive immediate feedback. I learned many new skills on that day and felt much more confident with my bike-body connection. I felt so confident that I recently signed up for the Catalina MTB Gran Fondo...the 55 mile route! Woohooo!! The next day, as I was road biking (training for the Solvang Double Century), I dodged a bullet on the Snake/Mulholland by applying my learned mtb skills--a long towing truck went over almost half of our lane on a blind turn as we were descending. Instead of fixating on the truck, I remembered the importance of looking for a clear path and keeping my eyes on where I want to go....Now I understand what people meant when they said that mtb will help improve my road riding skills too! I'm grateful for the opportunity to learn, and I look forward to the next clinic! ~ Uyen N.
I was so happy I could transfer what I learned in Sedona to my own trails.
I just rode on my local trails today after taking the Ninja clinic in Sedona. I was so happy I...
I just rode on my local trails today after taking the Ninja clinic in Sedona. I was so happy I could transfer what I learned in Sedona to my own trails. There is one drop and one off camber downhill section I never have had the courage or skill to ride until today. It was so fun to ride them and not get off and walk. Richard La China and Courtney Cowan were fantastic instructors. Not only did I up my technical skills in Sedona it was also a ton of fun! ~Patty Elliott
Took the mini clinic on jumping skills because I can't resist the urge to get in the air even though...
Took the mini clinic on jumping skills because I can't resist the urge to get in the air even though I always knew I didn't really understand the mechanics of it, so it was a kind of "huck and hope" affair. The result was that I didn't land about 1 in 5 attempts. The clinic with Aaron was great! He explained the mechanics of how the bike is handled coming into, through and out of the jump and starts with individual small skills progressing step by step in a very manageable way (even for me, and I started this stuff at 45 and I'm not very coordinated). What I feel sets Aaron apart is his ability to communicate his explanations and demonstrate movements in a way that makes them easy to learn even for someone with little experience. He is also very patient and encouraging, which helps when one is starting out and struggling a little with some movements. I definitely intend to do more clinics with Ninja MBS. I feel like it will save me a lot of time and frustration as well as possibly a lot of money in medical bills! ~Jill M.
I would encourage anyone of any ability to take a class with these guys.
I recently attended one of the Intermediate/Advanced Efficiency and Flow clinics. Even though I have been riding for many years...
I recently attended one of the Intermediate/Advanced Efficiency and Flow clinics. Even though I have been riding for many years I learned a lot from this clinic. The techniques covered ranged from reviewing basic skills such as basic body position to practicing more advanced techniques like switchbacks, bunny hops, and cornering. I was able to recognize, get instruction, and practice some skills where I was weak and instantly improve them. Even skills I thought I was pretty good at I was able to pick up useful tips. I also realized that deliberate skills practice is not something I incorporate into my riding, but now that I understand what I should be doing I will make sure to add this in! After taking the course my comfort on the bike has improved and I am more aware of my body position and movement of the bike. I would encourage anyone of any ability to take a class with these guys. The instructors are knowledgeable and easy to work with. There is a lot of one on one help and they will make sure you understand the skills being taught and are able to perform them successfully. Plus the clinic was lots of fun! I highly recommend and hope to work with these guys again soon. ~ Michelle A.
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