7 Ways to Master Riding Through Sand

Sand is as much part of mountain biking as single tracks and drop-offs. There’s only one thing to do – learn to love it.

We asked Nico Pfitzenmaier to give us his top sand-riding tips. And the man is qualified – he’s won more MTB and multisport races than you’ve entered, including multiple victories at the Lighthouse to Lighthouse (that two-day, 200-kilometre beach and dune mission from Danger Point Lighthouse in Gansbaai to L’Agulhas Lighthouse in Agulhas – and back). Here are some of his tips…

Sand

1. GEARING

Generally spin a high gear at high cadence, but not to a point where you lose traction. You want to float – find your happy gear for that.

2. TYRE CHOICE

You want the widest possible surface area so as to ride on ‘top’ rather than ‘in’. You’re riding on soft sand, so go for a wider tyre – at least 2.2, but 2.5 will be most effective.

RELATED: Ride Mud Like an Expert

3. TYRE PRESSURE

To borrow a tip from experienced 4×4 drivers – increase the surface area of the tyre even further by running a lower pressure:
> With tubeless/UST you can safely go as low as 1.2 bar. If you’re running tubes, experiment and see how well the wheel sits on the rim. I wouldn’t go below 1.5 bar.
> The weight of the rider also factors into the equation – heavier riders need to have a bit more pressure to avoid obstacles damaging the rim, or having the tyre bead pop off the rim.

4. TACTICS FOR SHORT SECTIONS (5–20 metres)

Approach the sand with speed. Just before you enter the sand trap, stand up and straighten your legs. Lock your knees and then shift your weight backwards by straightening your arms and extending your butt back behind the saddle – similar to a high-speed descent position. (Sometimes I go back so far that my chest touches the back of my seat.) Look ahead and keep a straight line. Keep a firm grip on your handlebars and hold your arms solid so you can maintain a straight line with the whole front part of your bike. Providing the sand isn’t knee-deep, you should have enough speed to shoot over the section and make it to the end without pedalling.

5. TACTICS FOR LONGER SECTIONS (up to 100m)

Approach the section exactly as described above. As you feel you’re starting to slow down, shift your weight slightly forwards so you can sit on the back of your saddle. Keep your arms straight and your weight shifted back. Start pedalling, paying special attention to keeping your stroke round. The key is to engage your hamstrings by pulling your heels towards your butt. This ensures a constant power output, thus improving traction and momentum.

RELATED: More Powerful Pedal Stroke In One Move

6. TACTICS FOR VERY LONG SECTIONS

Straighten your arms and shift your butt as far back on your saddle as possible. Find a balance point where your front wheel doesn’t sink in and you aren’t so far back that you cannot pedal comfortably and with power. As explained before, the round stroke is crucial to maintaining enough speed to not have to pedal. Stand up, shift back and coast for as far as you can.

7. CORNERING

This is the most difficult part of sand riding. Ideally you want to hit the apex like an F1 driver – essentially making straight lines in the corner. Approach the corner as wide as possible (if it’s a left turn, as far right as you can). Shift your weight back and sit back in your saddle. Now cut into the corner at its steepest angle (hook into the left from your far right position). Scan ahead and out of the corner; don’t look at the ground right in front of you. Exit the corner aiming wide again (right out of the left corner). Brake before the corner, not into it, and try to carry as much speed as possible through it. If you have to brake in the corner, use your back brake only. This might result in a bit of a tail slide, but you should be able to stay upright. If you use the front brake your weight will shift forwards and the front wheel will dig into the sand, from which no kind of good can come.


Pfitzenmaier is a sports massage and holistic healing practitioner. To find out more, call 076 224 9909 or email nico.pfitzenmaier@gmx.net

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