This is not a guide to winning the Dakar race, nor is it a collection of tips “how to overtake the CCM in motocross with road tires”. However, many motorcyclists are hurt by a sandy road or section of a route with an embankment due to inadequate training or skills. We are not talking about asphalt with a thin layer of sand, but about a situation when you left the main road and suddenly found yourself on an area completely consisting of sand.
Why is riding a motorcycle on sand dangerous?
You have no stability in the sand. Everything floats under the wheels, the rear tire slips and digs in while the front wheel is buried or blown to the side. The sand is too mobile, does not give the necessary grip, so the probability of falling is so high.
An additional negative factor is the confusion of the pilot, who, without the practice of sandy trips, panics when the motorcycle tries to get out of hand. The sand is too sensitive to harsh maneuvers. If you manage to maintain balance and not fall in motion, then when you stop, it will be more problematic to get under way because of digging in. Motorcycles loaded on a trip sag a lot when they stop on the sand, which creates certain inconveniences.
Basic rules for driving on sand
- Tire pressure adjustment
- Body position on the motorcycle – closer to the rear suspension
- Compliance with speed and inertia
- Engine braking, exclude front brake
- Follow the trajectory
Tire pressure adjustment
If you have the opportunity to prepare for a run on the sand, the first step is to lower the tire pressure. The average indicator fluctuates around 0.3 bar, by which you release the pressure from the norm. It is not necessary to lower the pressure in both wheels, but it is important to lower it at least on the rear wheel, as its grip is much more noticeable at the moment. Endurists also resort to lowering the pressure in the wheels when passing mud sections for the same reasons.
For those who like to blow up sand dunes, there is a special rubber. But even if you don’t prepare for the ride so totally (or the sandy route is an occasional short misunderstanding), pay attention to the tread of your motorcycle. It won’t be sweet to ride on road tires on the sand, so maybe you should choose a different route altogether? The tire tread will tell you how the bike behaves in the sand, which means you will have an idea of what you are dealing with.
Body position on a motorcycle
So you jumped off a good road onto a sandy one. The first thing you need to do is either stand up on the footpegs, or, which is more commonly used, sit as far away from the tank as possible, closer to the rear suspension. Can you guess why this is needed? By shifting your own weight, you are loading the rear of the motorcycle and unloading the front. As a result, your motorcycle becomes more stable, and most importantly, it stops digging in with the front wheel!
Long driving on sand is physically exhausting, as you have to put in an effort to hold the bike and stabilize it. Sand does not forgive mistakes, as does high-speed driving.
Speed and inertia
Usually, when someone asks about riding on sand dunes, the experienced brush it off:
– Drive, do not be afraid and sit down further!
The point of accelerating is not to overshoot the rear section, but to unload the front suspension. With extra speed you get stability, and at low rpms you are more likely to get bogged down (if the sand is dry). By the way, if you do stop and sit on the sand, then you don’t need to accelerate too much. The rear tire will dig in instantly. It will be difficult to move off the sandy road, therefore, if you feel that you cannot cope, reach at least to a more or less hard area, the path is then bald patches of grass or just wet sand (wet sand is harder and more elastic, it will be easier to move off of it than with dry).
Short sections of sand are coasting, at a constant speed or by inertia to avoid unnecessary slippage.
The speed should be chosen according to the maneuvering possibilities.
In other words: the speed should allow you to be able to react to the situation without sudden movements (you are not in motocross after all), stabilize you and prevent the wheels from getting bogged down in loose sand.
On public roads, the front brake is the main one, and no matter how afraid you are of falling through the steering wheel in braking, with proper experience it saves your life. On the sand, forget about the front brake! Habit or fear, it doesn’t matter – don’t touch the front brake! Who can guess why? Come on, I believe in you!
– Front fork loading? – thought my reader.
Anyone who remembers this can be proud of their motorcyclist skills. Loading the front fork on the sand is equivalent to +1000 to digging in the wheel and, as a result, to the wheel falling or twisting to the sides. Therefore, the engine should be braked. The rear brake can be used, but as a last resort, because the rear wheel is already puzzled by traction.
Engine braking is ideal. In this case, you change the speed smoothly and accurately. The minimum of sudden movements is your main principle in driving on the sand.
The trouble with driving on sand is that with any sharp or wrong movement, as we have already said, the wheels dig in, and the front wheel turns to the side when a bad turn is made. Because of the mobility of the sand, you catch balance like a tightrope walker. It is easy to cope with sand when there is not enough of it, but it is worth jumping off the track onto a broken primer, which the “good” people decided to heal with a sand machine, then everything, write “lost”.
Hence the conclusion: all maneuvers must be performed along more gentle trajectories. Even if it seems to you that only twenty-ton trucks can turn around with such a radius, your task is to pass a turn without turning the wheel.
And one more very important observation:
Try to turn not with the steering wheel, but with the tilt of the motorcycle. When you turn the steering wheel, the wheel is often covered with sand and you have to fight the motorcycle. When maneuvering with a tilt, you will have a gentle trajectory, since it is difficult to turn sharply with a tilt. With constant speed or coasting combined with tilt control, you can maneuver accurately, and you don’t need more.
And yes, slopes on the sand can look much more dangerous than on asphalt, but there is still hope to turn them out; the agility of the sand will play on your side here, subject to experience. Beginners are afraid that the motorcycle is about to fall (on asphalt with such an angle, you would already scratch your back against the dividing line due to a wheel breakdown), throttle and fly out of fear in an unknown direction from the road, as they rush to align the motorcycle where it is necessary it would be a little bit to give in and finish the maneuver. The sand envelops the tire so much that the symbolic grip still remains at an angle of inclination, which is something more advanced riders take advantage of. But this is exclusively an experience that is learned on the cross / enduro tracks.
When driving with a passenger on the sand, you should be as careful as possible. The rear of the motorcycle will begin to drive at moments of maneuvering, although the motorcycle will go quite confidently in a straight line. But I’m sure it doesn’t mean that it will sag less. With the load, the motorcycle digs into the sand with much greater pleasure. Therefore, if you do get stuck, try to unload the motorcycle. The extra weight will make the trail more difficult.