Perhaps no topic incites more anxiety among adventure riders than riding in sand. Loose, soft sand can be scary and unpredictable as you feel like you have absolutely no control over your motorcycle.
The bars are moving this way and that, the rear feels like it’s digging into the ground, and at any moment you can get stuck and fall over…or bury your rear wheel into the ground.
Even if you manage to get through it successfully, you’re tired and exhausted by the end!
Have no fear, intrepid adventure riders, as sand riding is the topic of today’s discussion. With the right riding techniques and these simple tips, riding in sand can actually be (dare we say it) fun.
But let’s not get carried away before we even get started. Riding an adventure bike in the sand is similar in some ways, but not exactly like riding a dirt bike in the sand.
ADVs are big beasts, and you’ll need muscle and stamina to power through. You will be tired, and falling down will be commonplace. This is all part of the learning process. Once you get the hang of it, however, sand riding will be something you look forward to.
1. Stand Up
Your bike will be moving a lot in the sand. If you’re seated you’ll have far less control over your direction and will instead be a passenger. Since your bike is moving around, you’ll need to also.
This is where standing comes in. You’ll initially start in a neutral position, but steering the bike in sand involves weighting the pegs and moving your body around to get as much traction where it’s needed.
Have the pegs around the ball of your feet and use your lower legs to squeeze the bike. This will give you control while reducing fatigue on your arms and hands.
It’ll also allow you to place your weight over the rear tire without placing much input on the bar from your hands. The front is not going to have much influence in control – unless you crank it hard in one direction or another, causing it to dig in, catch, and send you to the ground.
2. Control Your Speed
A common mistake you’ll hear often is simply to sit over the rear and “gas it out!” While there’s some truth to having momentum on your side while riding in the sand, full-throttle blasts usually aren’t the answer.
Then you end up going far too fast for the conditions without the ability to slow down in time to meet whatever’s next.
Sand riding is about balancing a neutral riding position while maintaining just enough speed to comfortably find traction and move forward.
Use the throttle to give short bursts of speed, if needed, but adding too much could just dig your rear tire into the ground instead of moving your forward.
Another note about speed. Some people suggest modulating your speed with the clutch or the rear brake.
Since your rear tire is spinning in the sand anyway, another suggestion would simply be to reduce the amount of throttle slightly to get the feel from the rear you are comfortable with. It comes down to personal preference, ultimately.
3. Look Where You Want To Go
Not many ADV riding techniques transfer over from street riding to sand riding, but this one does. The bike will go where your eyes are looking. It’s called target fixation. Often you’ll hear that target fixation is bad, but not if you’re fixating on the right things.
Keep your eyes up and scanning forward towards where you want to go. The moment you look down, the front wheel will follow, which usually leads to it digging into the sand and tossing you off.
4. Embrace Getting Stuck
No matter how hard you try, odds are you’ll find yourself getting the rear tire stuck and dug into the ground at some point.
If you ever find yourself in a situation where you can feel the rear digging itself a hole instead of driving forward, stop.
But if you’re in deep, try putting your feet on the ground and standing up (or getting off the bike entirely and holding the bars from the side).
With none of your body weight on the bike, the tire might have enough traction to dig in and pull itself out. Depending on the bike, put it in first or second gear, push yourself forward with all your might, and try to drive out.
If that doesn’t work, it’s time to get serious. Lay the bike over to get the rear wheel out of the hole. Fill the hole again and follow the steps above to use power, muscle, and aggression to get out of the hole. Keep working it back and forth, looking for traction.
5. Choose the Right Tires
Give yourself the best chance for success in the sand. If you know your ride will hardly see any pavement, then don’t bother with road-biased tires.
Wide, open blocks – especially on the sides – on proper dirt tires are the tools doing the work off-road. In the sand, these are what will help find traction. A round, road tire is just going to spin when you need it most.
If riding in the sand seems like a lot. Well, it is. However, like any motorcycle skill, mastering the art of sand riding brings with it a level of accomplishment and enjoyment you can’t imagine.
Now sand dunes and beach runs will be something you look forward to instead of dreading. Inevitably, any good adventure ride will encounter some sand, so knowing what to do will make this a non-issue.
It’ll be hard in the early going when you’re practicing the technique, so if you haven’t already, it’s a good idea to invest in some crash protection too.
Once you’ve mastered the art of gliding over the sand on a big adventure bike, the world really is your oyster. Go enjoy it.