Riding in sand can be challenging and even a little scary, which makes it a frequently discussed topic at our desert teaching locations (looking at you Arizona and Nevada!). Doesn’t it seem like those sandy patches always appear right after a nice hard-packed section or on a corner? Sigh. But wait…don’t fret! Like most mountain bike skills, getting through sand safely and efficiently becomes much easier with some practice and a little help from your friends (at Ninja).
Here are a few tips that will help make riding in sand easier and, dare we say, enjoyable!?
1. Spin to Win
Select a gear that is relatively easy, high cadence. For those of you who like numbers, shoot for 85 to 95 rpm. For everyone else, stay focused on keeping those wheels spinning as you roll through the sand.
2. Head Up!
As with pretty much all mountain biking skills, keep your head up and look where you want to go — aim for the smoothest possible trajectory and 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.
The key to sand-riding-success is staying calm and not overreaction (or over steering). To do this, relax your arms and upper body while maintaining a firm grip on the handlebars. Keep breathing!!
4. Be Ready
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 shifted slightly 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 getting bogged down.
5. Keep the Speed
Focus on maintaining 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 fast that one sudden wrong move will pitch you over the bars and not so slow that you get sucked in the sand and stuck. Just like Goldilocks, you may have to try riding in sand a few times before you find the speed that’s “just right”.
6. Choose the Best Tire (or Bike?)
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. A fat bike tires range from 3 inches to 5 inches and keep your bike floating over the sand (watch the video below for some fun, dune-action, Fat Bike footage).
7. Less is More
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. No Sudden Moves
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. Easy Does It
If the trail isn’t a straight-away, steer with your body by turning your shoulders and hips, not with your handle bars. Don’t over-steer in sand – reactively jerking the bike is a recipe for a whip-out! Instead, 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. More Cow Bell!
When you successfully navigate through a sandy patch, it is encouraged—and even advised,—to yell out an audible “BRRRAAP!”
The Guru’s #1 passion is taking bike skills and breaking them down into tangible, progressive steps. Is there a skill you just can’t master? A maneuver you don’t understand? A fear you can’t seem to get past? Turn to the Guru! The Ninja Skills Guru has spent years riding bikes and carefully breaking down riding skills into easy digestible steps so you can tackle the trail with confidence. Yup, the guru is that friend who doesn’t talk about anything but bikes!
I'm a road Triathlete that lucked into a XTERRA World Championship slot via the lottery last year. Being a road...
I'm a road Triathlete that lucked into a XTERRA World Championship slot via the lottery last year. Being a road triathlete, I had very little experience and no technical skills on a mountain bike. I took the Ninja beginner and then intermediate classes almost back to back. Richard is a great teacher, and taught the sequential skills that matter most. He does a great job of "breaking things down" with the what and the why, and illustrates the information well with his demonstrations, all the while, delivering it with a sense of humor and enthusiasm. Richard's instruction helped me successfully get through a very technical course in Maui without major injury! Yea, thank you Richard!!. Whether a complete beginner or an advanced rider, I promise you can take a lot away from his classes.... and, let's be honest ...Who doesn't want to be a Ninja! ~ Ray S.
Team Eastlake Cycling Team thank you for your time, energy and expertise…
I’ve been coaching road & track riding for years. Got into mtn bike riding because of the terrain near our...
I’ve been coaching road & track riding for years. Got into mtn bike riding because of the terrain near our home AND my daughters like to ride in the dirt. Took classes through the high school league to be more acquainted with the fundamentals skills and acquire more knowledge of the NICA league rules. Coach La China and staff broke down the skills for our team riders in a fun and engaging process. Team Eastlake Cycling Team thank you for your time, energy and expertise to bring our riders to a new level of confidence. ~Ron G.
I really enjoyed the Intermediate/Advanced clinic with Aaron in Palmer Park, Colorado Springs. Aaron made sure that every skill was...
I really enjoyed the Intermediate/Advanced clinic with Aaron in Palmer Park, Colorado Springs. Aaron made sure that every skill was practiced thoroughly. He was paying attention to every move and detail and was very patient. My riding has definitely improved since than and I have been practicing the skills a lot on single track. The best advice I received - visualize yourself doing it! I definitely recommend this class to bikers of all levels. ~Yana Brown
I consider myself a strong intermediate MTB rider; I love highly technical downhill single track trails. A friend suggested I...
I consider myself a strong intermediate MTB rider; I love highly technical downhill single track trails. A friend suggested I take a multi-day skills clinic to help get to the next level. After a brief search I found that Ninja Bike Skills 3 day skills clinic up in Big Bear CA. If you have never taken a class then the old adage "you don't know what you don't know" probably holds true; it did with me. While it the clinic started off simple, the skills taught build on one-another to ensure you have solid foundation basics needed to safely leverage the higher skill stuff taught at the back end of the class. Richard and Aaron brought two great perspectives as one is a XC/Edurance/Enduro rider and the other is dedicated to gravity downhill. The teaching style was simple and actionable. All the Ninja instructors are very knowledgeable and very passionate about MTB which is infectious and make the class fun. I would highly recommend to any level riders who have never had any instruction in MTB skills. Plus if you take the class at a place like Snow Summit Big Bear, you get to ride amazing trails!! ~Greg A.
Woohoo! As good as it gets is appropriate! Richard is not only a great rider, he is a great teacher!...
Woohoo! As good as it gets is appropriate! Richard is not only a great rider, he is a great teacher! I would encourage everyone to stay away from the mind trap that buying a more expensive mountain bike is what you need to ride better. Spend the money on lessons instead, and I know you will be happier (and safer) in the long run. I can't say enough positive things about the Bike Skills clinics. ~ Chris G.
We are a group of passionate, dirt-loving, community oriented, world class mountain bike skills instructors committed to helping you reach your personal riding goals through clinics and camps. We are excited to work with riders of all ability levels and share the joy (STOKE) of mountain biking.