Adventure motorcycle trainer Bret Tkacs, along with vlogger Ryan from FortNite explains how to ride through deep sand. Riding in the sand without practice, and you will find yourself holding the handlebars tightly. Bret explains that what is required is holding the bars loosely allowing the bike to make the natural adjustments it needs to make its way the sand.
Bret may be my favorite Youtuber. I highly recommend subscribing to his channel.
Video transcript ….
As adventure riders, eventually, we’re going to end up in sand. If you have the right attitude and the right technique, it’s just not that big a deal.
When you get into that deep sand, you’re going to feel that front end moving left and right. It’s going to be shifting in your hand. You’re going to feel the back of the bike squirming around underneath you, and you’ve got to stay relaxed.
You’ll hear lots of people say, “Add throttle and hold on.” They might even tell you, “Shift back, add throttle and hold on.” But the problem is, eventually, you’re going to run out of throttle and you’re going to be going way faster than you want to crush, and with a 500 pound or a 600 pound adventure bike, it’s just not a really good idea. We want to slow it down. I’m going to give you some ideas on how to ride an adventure bike through deep sand.
We have to start with the basics, and that is just vision. You don’t want to be looking down at the front fender and at the sand directly in front of you. You have to be looking at the distance because sand changes and you have to be ready to anticipate what’s coming up next, so keep the vision out far.
Stay loosely connected to your controls. We’re not holding on tight. We’re just maintaining contact so that I have control of the throttle and the clutch when I need them. That way if the bike moves around, I wrap these two fingers around the handlebars, and my handlebars are loose inside. This way if I go into the sand and I miscalculate something, I hit a rock I don’t see, or the sand gets a little deep and it pulls a little further than I expect. When the handlebars turn, I follow the handlebars and I’m still in control.
If I hold on tight, the bike can’t track into that sand and then self-correct. What makes sand feel so scary is that it moves more than almost any other surface out there. The wheel is constantly moving back and forth, but the sand creates a damping effect. That means as the wheel is kicked off center, it can’t self-right as quickly because it has to come back to the sand. It slows it down, and then it goes off the other direction, so you feel this very large movement and very deliberate change in the handlebars. It does exactly the same thing as when we’re on pavement. On pavement there’s no resistance, so it self-centers very, very quickly and you don’t feel it.
The motorcycle wants to stay upright and it wants to keep going straight. Rake and trail is what keeps that motorcycle going in a straight line. It’s the angle of the forks and the relationship between the steering axis and the axle. Let’s talk about that a bit. No, I can’t wait. I need to handle this now. Thanks. Hey, Ryan, can you take this?
Oh, hey Bret, sure. Gyroscopic forces of a spinning wheel are part of what makes it want to stay upright, but even you’re not that fast in the sand, so spinning forces are not super huge. Like you say, rake and trail deserve to take more credit. Rake is this angle from the steering head. What it does is it puts the steering axis up here ahead of the contact patch. This distance is what we call trail.
Now, let’s look at this picture of the front tire from the top-down. Here’s our contact patch, here’s our steering axis. Now, say we hit a rift in the sand and that pushes the tire in that direction. Well, because of countersteering, that’s going to make the motorcycle lean over here. A leaning motorcycle pushes back this way on its contact patch. That force spinning around our steering axis is going to point the tire straight again.
The tire and the motorcycle will always work and move together to keep it upright. Now, you’ve got to let those movements happen.
Every time that wheel is pulled off center, it wants to come back to middle, and as it gets pushed off the next direction, it wants to come back. If you’re holding on tight to the handlebars, you don’t allow the bike to do that recovery. That’s much more likely to bury you into the sand and put you on the ground.
The other thing that’ll put you down is the throttle. If you close that throttle quickly, if you just snap it shut, you’re going to do a weight transfer and it’s going to shift to that front wheel, and it’s going to bury you down in the sand and down you go.
You have to stay coupled to the bike with your knees. That way your body stays in one place and the bike moves freely about to squirm in the sand. Keep your feet up and tight against the motorcycle and on the pegs. Your right foot you want to be just over the top of the rear brake, so you can use that when you need it.
When people tell you add throttle and hold on, what they’re saying is you need to keep the front wheel up high. But on these bikes, at some point, you’re going to run out of throttle and you’re going to be going way faster than you want to be going, so let’s slow it down and find another way to keep the front wheel up above the sand. The way you do that is to trail the rear brake. When you start trailing the rear break or dragging the rear brake, it’ll pull the back of the motorcycle down to the sand just very lightly. At the same time, I can also shift back on the bike which will put my weight behind center. Those both will help get that front wheel up.
I’m not going to cut power in the sand, I’m going to trim power. When you cut power, you roll the throttle off. When you trim power, you use the clutch just to feather in, so you decrease the amount of power that’s going to the back wheel because you’re dragging the rear brake as well, and you don’t want to stall the motor and you don’t want to stop the forward momentum. Once you stop in sand, it’s a lot harder to get going again. It’s much easier just to keep moving.
Attitude is important when riding in sand. As long as you’re scared of sand or you don’t look forward to sand, you’re going to keep struggling.
It’s really important to practice in the sand until it doesn’t scare you anymore. When you get scared, you naturally tense up, you naturally drop your eyes. That’s just going to create the situation you’re trying to avoid; you’re going to end up down in the sand, picking it up, trying to get the bike going, burning up energy, breaking stuff. That’s just not the goal here.
Practice is important. Find some deep sand some place, practice the techniques until you have a smile on your face. This could be a lot of fun, but if you’re [inaudible 00:07:25], this is not a smile. This is a smile. Have fun with it. That way when you’re on a trip and you see some sand, it’s not a big deal, you just ride through it.