Signs of Life, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National P

Navigating The Sand

Signs of Life, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Death Valley National P

There are three certainties in mountain biking: 1. You will get dirty; 2. You will crash; 3. You will ride through sand.

How you respond to inevitabilities No. 1 and No. 2 will define you as an athlete. How you prepare yourself for — and respond to — inevitability No. 3 will define you as a mountain biker.

There is a special method for successfully navigating the sand. The guiding principle is to displace as little sand as possible while moving, essentially riding over it, not through it. According to our panel of resident mountain bike experts here at, they recommend the following techniques when riding into an area of deep sand:

As you approach the sandy area:

1. Stay seated

2. Balance your weight over the center of the bike

3. Look for the deepest tracks or ‘lines’ through the sand

4. Look for the point on the other side of the sandy area where you want to exit the sand

5. Shift into a gear that will allow you to maintain a high RPM when pedaling

When you enter the sandy area:

1. Keep your front wheel unweighted

2. Follow the deepest tracks or ‘lines’ through the sand

3. Choose the straightest line that connects the point where you enter the sand to the point where you want to exit the sand

4. For extended stretches of deep sand, be seated and maintain momentum by pedaling at a high RPM

5. To change directions in the sand, gently turn the front wheel and use body weight to help steer the bike

If you will be riding in areas with lots of sand, consider making these modifications to your mountain bike:

1. Decrease your tire pressure

2. Run a wider, (and preferably tubeless) low-tread tire

3. Choose a bike with larger rim diameter like a 29er

Use these ten tips — and three pre-sand riding recommendations — and you will emerge from the sand a seasoned mountain biker.

Author’s note: Special thanks to our mountain bike experts, Vince “Dirt Daddy” Gest and Jim “Gritty Fingers” Stonehouse for their sage advice.


About The Author


Aaron Hanson (a.k.a The Cap’n) is manager of the Southern California Colavita Regional Amateur Team.  A 25-year veteran of the sport and lifestyle of cycling, Aaron has raced both road and mountain bikes, advocated for bicycle transportation funding and facilities at the city, county, state, and federal levels, planned and facilitated numerous bicycle events, and helped several municipalities and counties create viable bikeway master plans.

Aaron has been honored by IMBA, CORBA, Clif Bar, the City of Los Angeles, the County of Ventura, the City of Simi Valley, the United States House of Representatives, and the United States Senate for his bicycle advocacy work.  He has even won a bike race or two.

Aaron can be contacted via e-mail at:




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