Riding in sand can be one of the trickiest techniques to master, but with James Thornhill-Fisher’s advice in mind you need not look for a place to fall the next time you spot sand on the trail.
The type and consistency of sand can vary tremendously depending upon environmental factors, and require different riding techniques. Wet sand is a pleasure. But that white powdery stuff is the real challenge. And if you’re faced with a lot of sand (more than a kilometre or two), it will be worth your while to deflate your tyres considerably for better traction and to allow you to ‘float’ over the sand rather than cut through it.
Entering the sandy stretch with as much speed as possible will help you maintain valuable momentum, for when the going gets tough. Usually, in loose or deep sand, it is best to stay on your seat and keep your weight back on the back part of the saddle. The idea is to keep your front wheel light so that it doesn’t plough under and throw you off the bike! It is important to keep your body relaxed, and let the front wheel float a bit, but try not to let it turn or wander off course. It is advisable to keep up your momentum. Keep looking far ahead and try and maintain as straight a line as possible.
Use even pedal strokes, and try not to make any sudden movements, spinning is good, but not too chaotically. Keep it smooth! Steer your bike by gradually leaning your body and not turning the handlebars. Try not to apply too much power to the pedals as this will break the surface tension on the sand and cause your back wheel to dig in, in turn causing you to stiffen up and hold tighter (white knuckle) on the handlebars and this will send the bike off line.
Some sand may be impossible to ride through regardless of your technique (practice by riding on the deep sand at the beach!) As a last resort, you may have to stand up and pedal to use the weight of your body to generate force, but this is usually a last resort and you will most likely soon come to an abrupt stop. If you know you are going to be riding/racing where there is a lot of sand, or like to ride in the sand dunes, use the widest tires your bike will accept to allow for maximum floatation. Be prepared to pedal hard to keep going, but at least if you do wipe-out or endo you will have a soft landing…
There’s a saying from an unknown author that I like to quote when it comes to sand: “A single grain of sand can go unnoticed, but when it assembles together it can begin to conspire against you.”
But don’t let the sand get you down, practice the pointers I provided above and if you’re faced with more sand than you can handle remember pushing your bike is cross training…