Riding in sand – it strikes fear into the heart of many riders, yet here in Western Australia – and I suspect most of the rest of the world – it’s virtually unavoidable. However, armed with a little bit of knowledge and a healthy dose of confidence, you too can cruise through the sandy patches with ease.
The first thing to know when riding in sand is to shift your body position further back on the bike than normal. This has the effect of reducing the weight on the front wheel, making it less likely to dig in.
Similarly, you need to be on the gas a bit more than normal. Again this reduces the weight on the front wheel and lets it skim across the
sand rather than tunnelling in. That doesn’t mean you have to be screaming around wide open everywhere, but you need to be giving it a bit of throttle to keep the front light. You can even maintain a steady speed through sand, but you will need to be giving it throttle. Coasting through sand is not a good idea.
If you feel the front wheel start to dig in or ‘wash out’ on a corner, instinct will tell you to back off the throttle – don’t do it. In fact, when this situation occurrs (which it will, and often) you actually want to apply a good dose more throttle to pull the front wheel out of the hole it’s digging for itself.
If you plan on going dune riding, a paddle wheel rear tyre as in the picture above will give you a lot more traction than regular knobblys. One good point about dune riding is that it often makes for a bit softer surface to fall into than others.
If you do plan on spending time in the dunes, use a light chain oil or WD40 (check WD40 is compatible with your chain) to lube the chain – you don’t want a heavy lube sticking sand all over your chain. Sand will get into every nook and cranny on your bike, and it’s very abrasive (which is why they make it into sandpaper) so you will wear parts a lot quicker in the sand than normal riding. Another, very important, thing to remember is that because you are riding everywhere with higher throttle setting than normal, you will chew through fuel like biscuits at a weight watchers convention. Take more than you think you’ll need with you, then a bit more.
Safety is always an extrememly important factor, but there are a couple of extra issues when dune riding. As there are generally few set tracks through the dunes, people can just scream around wherever they like. You don’t want to be fanging over a dune and meet someone at the crest coming the opposite way. It happens, it hurts, it breaks bones and it’s sometimes fatal.
The other thing is dune shift. Dunes are blown about by wind and eroded virtually every day. Make sure you know what’s on the other side of the dune before you go over it. You may have ridden the same dune yesterday, and it was all good, but you drop over the crest today to find the back of the dune is now an 8 foot hole in the ground.
Prolonged sand riding is physically demanding, hot work (especially in Summer) and when combined with the elevated risk of running out of fuel, I recommend filling up a camel pack with your beverage of choice (hopefully non-alchoholic) and taking it with you.
Have fun in the sand!