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!
Highly recommended! Essential riding skills are thoroughly broken down making them easy to understand and learn. Coach Richard and Kris...
Highly recommended! Essential riding skills are thoroughly broken down making them easy to understand and learn. Coach Richard and Kris are some of the most professional and pleasant coaches/cyclist/people I have come across. Looking forward to one of their future clinics. ~ Tom T.
This was awesome. Having someone dissect your riding into a few skills that you can focus on is a great...
This was awesome. Having someone dissect your riding into a few skills that you can focus on is a great starting point in order to make you faster. I’m sure everyone including myself experienced a positive feeling in how to improve from this point on. — Don’t expect to be a world champ after this clinic but to learn what and where and most importantly how to improve your trail riding from now on. Richard gives you the tools but you have to put in the work.” ~ Michael A.
I’ve immediately seen an improvement in my riding …
I took the skills camp at Mt Laguna last weekend – it was GREAT. Ok, so I was a bit...
I took the skills camp at Mt Laguna last weekend – it was GREAT. Ok, so I was a bit of a nervous wreck when I realized I was the least skilled in the group – but the instructors didn’t give up on me and gave me plenty of tips, positive reinforcement and new ways to think about my riding. At the end of the weekend, I felt that I had a better understanding how to ride better. I’ve immediately seen an improvement in my riding, am a lot less timid and am looking forward to taking another camp soon! ~Quan Campbell
The Ninja team (Richard & Aaron) were great instructors!
The Ninja team (Richard & Aaron) were great instructors! The training was in Soquel Demonstration Forest & being able take...
The Ninja team (Richard & Aaron) were great instructors! The training was in Soquel Demonstration Forest & being able take our time to session sections of Braille & Flow while having experts help fix any dysfunctions in our riding technique was priceless. I know I've always had to brake-check a lot before hitting the corners, but now I actually feel more planted while carrying more speed around the berms just w/ a slight change in hip position. I can't wait to actually hit Flow again at speed just to see how my time has improved. As for Braille, I know I need to session some of the jumps & drops a few more times before I hit them at speed (instead of bypassing around most of them as I have in the past) but now I should have the tools to know what I need to practice. Technical instruction aside, they also talked about efficient uphill pedaling, gearing choices as well as techniques to build up more mitochondria in your body... all stuff I'm interested in since I know I need to build up my climbing legs. ~Carlo F.
My wife started mountain biking recently and while she enjoyed it, she was lacking some confidence and needed some skills....
My wife started mountain biking recently and while she enjoyed it, she was lacking some confidence and needed some skills. I knew Richard La China from the cross country racing scene and felt confident that he and the ninja team could help out. I bought a woman's beginner clinic for my wife and she really enjoyed the challenge and experience. She is a better mountain biker now with much more confidence and new and improved skills. Mission accomplished! I highly recommend Richard LaChina and the ninja skills clinics for any level. I bought my wife a clinic gift card for Christmas which she will use to take the intermediate clinic. I plan on taking an advanced course to improve my cornering skills. ~ Mark T.
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.