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ADV PreppingQuick Tips: How To Ride Sand on a Big Adventure Bike

Quick Tips: How To Ride Sand on a Big Adventure Bike

 Turn that fear of sand into mastery with a few tips from the pros!

Published on 06.01.2018

Sand is just little pieces of rock and minerals. The beach is covered in warm, soft sand that we love to lounge in and kids love to play in. Such happy times. But that’s not the case when we are riding our adventure bikes. Out of nowhere, a stretch of soft, powdery sand is laid before our tires and the positive beach-vibes are replaced with a death grip on the bars and fear in our hearts.

That is a little dramatic, but it isn’t a stretch to assume that most riders on bikes over 500 pounds have at least some hesitation when it comes to sand riding. It’s just physics. No amount of skill will change the fact that a lot of weight is pushing down on two small contact patches in soft, unstable material.

We talked to Jim Hyde, founder of RawHyde Adventures, to get some tips. Jim and his staff of motorcycle coaches have taught thousands of riders how to master a variety off-road riding techniques on big bikes, including how to ride sand.

Speed Is Your Friend


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How to Ride Sand on a big adventure bike

When teaching someone how to ride sand, telling them that all they have to do is go fast is like saying all you have to do to jump a Supercross triple is pin it. But, that’s pretty much the first tip.

“Riding in the sand is a lot like water skiing. It’s a leap of faith sometimes because if you have a long stretch of sand to deal with you’ve got to get up enough speed so that you float on the surface.”

The slower you go, the more the tires will sink and the harder it will be to control the bike. There is a balance, of course, because going faster than your skills allow leads to less control as well. Depending on the conditions, typically second gear is preferable to first, since first will have the back wheel spinning and digging more while second gear hooks up better driving you forward, not down.

How to Ride Sand on an Adventure Motorcycle

Lean Back

If you come from riding on the street, shifting you weight to the rear of the bike might feel foreign, since getting good front-end traction and corner grip comes from doing just the opposite. But sand is very, very different than the street. Getting your front wheel lighter will help keep the bike on, not in, the soft stuff.

“You lean back so that you are making the front wheel lighter. You don’t want it building up a little wave of sand in front like the bow of a boat when it cuts through the water. The faster it goes, the less of a bow wave it has. Same think with a bike.”

How to Ride Sand on a big adventure bike

Also, wrap your head around the fact that the front end of the bike is going to wander a bit. That’s normal and fine as long as you have enough momentum and forward drive. If the front wheel starts to wag and you chop the throttle in panic, that will slow the bike down and put a bunch of weight on the front which is pretty much guaranteeing a crash.

Steer With Your Feet

Handlebar input really only works when you have front wheel traction. Since you don’t have that in the sand, don’t worry about it. In fact, turning the bar will normally just dig the front wheel in rather than turn the bike. Therefore, you must use your weight and push through the footpegs to turn the bike.

How to Ride Sand on a big adventure bike

“You lean a little left, the bike will begin to turn left. You lean right, you turn right. You don’t really do it with handlebar input, but you do it just with a weight shift. We’ve always said you steer in sand with your feet.”

It should also be said that, whenever possible, you should be standing while riding in sand. This lets you get your weight back and steer with your feet much easier. Keeping that in mind, we know that tight, technical riding might force you to sit in a sandy situation. If you must sit, put your butt as far back on the seat as you can and still push down through the pegs to turn the bike.

Follow Your Eyes

How to Ride Sand on a big adventure bike

It has been said many different ways for many different situations but never more true than when learning how to ride sand. Look where you want to go! Not at your front wheel, not at the tracks in front of you, not at the holes that the last guy dug when he got stuck. Ride your own race, as the they. Look far down the trail to where you want to end up.

Looking where you want to go is the opposite of target fixation, which is when you stare at a rock, log, or hole that you want to avoid, yet end up slamming into it like it had a tractor beam.

“You want to look where you want to go. A lot of guys, they’ll stare at the carved tracks in front of them where someone else has had a bad moment and they’ll look at that and look down and they get themselves in trouble.”

Photos by Rob Dabney and Spencer Hill

Author: Sean Klinger

With his sights set on doing what he loved for a living, Sean left college with a BA in Journalism and dirt bike in his truck. After five years at a dirt-only motorcycle magazine shooting, testing, writing, editing, and a little off-road racing, he has switched gears to bigger bikes and longer adventures. He’ll probably get lost a few times but he’ll always have fun doing it. Two wheels and adventure is all he needs. 

Author: Sean Klinger
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8 thoughts on “Quick Tips: How To Ride Sand on a Big Adventure Bike

  1. That tip about “Look where you want to go.”, is first among equals here. All these tips are good, accurate, but this one is first. This is especially hard as things go sideways. It is like watching a car accident, unable to take your eyes off it and then get drawn right in, instead of looking for the escape route as you should be doing. This is the exact same idea, and it is supremely difficult to do. OK, so “it happened to me” moment, just last week: Six degree descending slope, right hand turn around blind corner. Side of cliff dirt road, no guardrail, hard pack with pebble / “marbles”. Going through blind corner seated, hard pack becomes deep talcum powder silt dirt “just like that”. I’m turning through the bars, and the cycle continues to turn and lean further right… and turn and lean… and turn and lean. I continue to look at the front wheel and bars, and the front wheel “pushes” and the cycle turns right into a low side getoff. My Primary Mistake: I did not look up and direct my sight to where I should go. Instead, I focused on the front wheel and watched the accident unfold. Now I’m sidelined for a few weeks healing (again). These tips matter, they’re important to your continued good health. You will do what you train, so try to train your sight to look up, and look for the escape route, no matter where you’re riding. This can be practiced anywhere. Thanks for the tips, I’ll try to incorporate the “steer with the feet” next time.

  2. What if the road in rutted….. like in zink roof sheet. One has to move fast to avoid the shakes. Then all of a sudden you will run into a sandy patch that is +-20 to 40 meters long. Now my question is how does one handle shitsuatoins like this. Because no matter what i do i allways en up with BROUWN patches in my undies!!!!

    • Paul, if I may please, I’ll give you my .02. My opinion is, there’s no change from what is stated in this article. If you’re fast on a “washboard” road, it’s assumed you’re likely standing already to lower your CG (for improved handling in adverse conditions), and to provide some additional “shock absorption” through your legs and knees. So, you’re already in position. Shift to the rear of the cycle. **EYES UP**. Firm But Not Rigid through the arms. Relax any death grip on the bars. If you’re not standing, that’s OK, just prepare to get standing when you can and / or *at least* move back on the seat. If turning, EYES UP and look through the turn (business as usual). If standing, weight the pegs to help the turn and you remain vertical over the cycle. Throttle is your Friend, try to add gas while overcoming your fear. But, you must be able to continue to modulate that throttle. If things are going sideways (and, it happens in blink of an eye), if you freeze on the throttle then the other corrections (bar and peg inputs, and your front to back position) may not be enough. Try not to let your fear lock you on the gas. If your EYES ARE UP, its much more likely that you will overcome your fear, BECAUSE you see the way out. OK, one more tidbit: In your scenario, riding standing is better, because of this: If things go sideways, and you’re sitting, you’re much more likely to put a foot down when the cycle goes down (if it goes down). If you put a foot down, its *Almost Guaranteed* that foot will travel back. The cycle *will* come down on that foot and at least twist it (severe sprain), or break your leg (edge of hard bags). If your standing? You just step off and get out of the way, usually unharmed in the soft stuff.

      • Agree with everything, but guys, let’s stop perpetuating the myth that “standing lowers your CG” — it does not, it raises your Center of Gravity / Center of Mass. This is not rocket science, it’s basic high school physics. Center of Mass does not care where you and the bike are connected; it is literally just about the center of mass of the combined object, which is further from the ground when you’re standing on the bike than it is when you are sitting in the bike.

  3. I think that leaning back to weight the rear is helpful only when you are getting up to speed in the sand. Once you are up on top of the sand and feel like a boat on plane, you should move to a more neutral centered standing position. Also keep your upper body loose like a wet noodle.
    fun fun
    Charlie

  4. I took an offroad class that involved a lot of sand last summer, and much of the advice here is consistent with what I learned. One thing I’ll add that I found very helpful is the importance of being super loose in your arms and legs. Yes, that’s a good rule to follow in all conditions, but I found it essential in sand. Locked elbows and knees exaggerate the inevitable wobbliness that happens in sand, while loose limbs allow the bike to just keep moving forward through it.