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!”
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 attended an intermediate skill clinic last year and had an awesome time. My riding improved instantly and I have...
I attended an intermediate skill clinic last year and had an awesome time. My riding improved instantly and I have really enjoyed the increased confidence jumping my bike over obstacles. My muscle memory takes a while to kick in and Coach Richard and his crew of master Ninjas were really patient with me. I even got some bonus education on climbing faster during one of our warm-up laps! Even though I have been riding for years I learned something new with every skill taught. The clinic was worth every penny and I will be signing up for an advanced one this summer. ~Michael W.
Went to the beginner Ninja clinic at Alison. Richard and Kristen were awesome! We all got the opportunity to work...
Went to the beginner Ninja clinic at Alison. Richard and Kristen were awesome! We all got the opportunity to work on improving our skills with their feedback. Next time I would definitely do the intermediate clinic or do a one-on-one session. Richard is super patient and provides great feedback and riding tips. ~ Lisa D.
My speed and confidence going down steep descents have been SIGNIFICANTLY improved!
I just had my first race (XC endurance) since I did the camp and both my speed and confidence going...
I just had my first race (XC endurance) since I did the camp and both my speed and confidence going down steep descents have been SIGNIFICANTLY improved. I would not have attempted 50% of the drops and jumps on the course prior to participating in the clinic, and my overall time would have been much slower. The first two hours of the class (int/adv Sedona) made the whole thing more than worth it, and the rest of the two days seemed like a bonus. Both Courtney and Richard were encouraging and patient, and both had that classic mountain biker charm and humor ready when the moment called for it. Overall a very enjoyable and valuable weekend. For reference, I participate in amateur XC endurance races (with no hope of ever coming close to winning anything) and have been riding for about two years. I was worried before taking the class that I would not be skilled enough, but the int/adv was appropriate for my skill level. If you're worried, just go for it anyway. There is a good mix of people and everyone was very friendly! ~Alana Bencivengo
The course was very fluid, engaging, and I would highly recommend it.
I took the intermediate/advanced course in Balboa Park after having ridden for just over 2 years on my own. It...
I took the intermediate/advanced course in Balboa Park after having ridden for just over 2 years on my own. It covered a wide breadth of skills, some of which I already felt aquatinted with and others I had little to no experience with. I found all of the material useful. I was able to improve skills I already had and was able to learn new skills. I also feel confident leaving the course that the instructors have provided all of the information for me to practice and improve outside of the course setting. The environment of Balboa Park was perfect for learning and sessioning the skills covered. The instructors were friendly, fun, and attentive to all of the participants. They spent more or less time on certain skills based on how the entire group was grasping them. They also gave individualized attention to participants that required more help with technique. The course was very fluid, engaging, and I would highly recommend it. ~Heather B.
We are a group of passionate, dirt-loving, community oriented, world class instructors committed to helping you reach your personal riding goals. We are excited to work with riders of all ability levels and share the joy (STOKE) of mountain biking.