For the most part riding a fat tire bike is not that much different than any other mountain bike. Just hop on, start pedaling and see what you can find to try and ride over with the big tires. While my fat bike is a blast on the local trails, the thing that got me really excited about these bikes was the ability to ride on the beach. I am at least a half hour drive from any decent single track, but now I can be riding on the beach right out my door. Living and vacationing in the Great Lakes State this has really opened up a ton of new places to ride for me.
Below are some tips and tricks that I have learned while riding my fat bike on the beach.
What is it like – Riding a fat bike on the beach is not easy. Unlike riding trails or on the road you are constantly pushing the pedals. It is a lot like riding on an indoor trainer with the resistance set at medium. Conditions along the shoreline are in a constant state of change and you will find some days are easier than others. Although, the beautiful scenery is always there to help take your mind off the workout that you are getting.
Tire Pressure – This is one of the first questions that most people have about riding in the sand. I run my tires between 4 and 6 psi for beach riding. If my entire ride is going to be in the sand I will likely be at 4 psi. If I have to ride on the road or some trail to get to the beach I will likely push the pressure up to 5 or 6 psi. The lower pressure gives you a larger contract area and better flotation but, when you get below 5 psi the bike will feel like it whats to self steer on harder surfaces. If most of the ride is going to be in a straight line in the sand, take it down to the low pressure. I do not have the patience to stop and change pressures in middle of a ride so if it is going to be mixed riding I pick a higher pressure as a compromise.
When and Where to Ride – Fat bikes can ride through a lot, but soft sand is still tough to ride in for any distance. It is always best to stay on the wet sand right along the waterline. I try to wait for calm days or an offshore breeze. When the waves are pushing up on shore it often makes for difficult riding. The wet packed area will be in the wave wash and if you ride in the water it spins too much sand up into your drive train. Further up on the shore it is usually too soft to ride further than a few 100 feet before getting tired…unless you have been seeing the same doctor as Lance Armstrong.
Most of my riding experience has been along the shores of the Great Lakes. I found that riding along the ocean is similar, although you do have a better chance of being able to ride when there are waves if you go when the tide is low. I also found that by the ocean the riding is best a little further up on shore because right by the waterline it is too wet and soft as the tide is going out. It is probably best to set out on a ride as the tide is just starting to fall to catch the best conditions.
One other thing that is important to mention is that if the breeze is blowing parallel to shore I try to set out riding into the wind if possible. It is surprising how much even a light wind can help or hurt your progress. It is best to fight the wind early in the ride when you are fresh and then sail back home.
Dealing with the Sand: It is inevitable that you are going to get some sand in your drive train and brakes. If you are going to spend a lot of time riding on the beach you should just plan on things wearing out faster than normal. The good news is that bike components have improved over the years and they hold up fairly well even in the sand.
Before leaving on a beach ride I try to remember to open up the spacing on my brakes so the sand has more room to pass through. I have Avid BB7 brakes and with these all you have to do is twist the red knobs on the inside and outside of the caliper. You usually do not need to stop quickly on the beach, so it is okay if your brake levers are almost hitting the grips.
I also like to bring an extra water bottle that can be used to squirt off my drive train and brakes if things are really starting to grind.
For chain lube I have found that the PTFE (Teflon) spray lubricants work the best. The Teflon goes on wet, but then the solvents evaporate leaving a dry lubricant behind. For this reason you should not apply it right before your ride. If you have a new chain make sure to degrease it and apply the spray lube. I once took off down the beach after installing a chain and the factory lube was like a magnet for the sand. I have been using Simple Green degreaser on my bike for years and it also works really well to clean your brakes.
After a ride clean the bike with a low pressure water spray. It is tempting to blast the sand away with the high pressure, but this will push more of it into places that you do not want it. Then just let the bike air dry and spray the chain so it is ready to go for your next ride.
Bike Upgrades: A few easy upgrades can make a big difference in your beach riding experience. I chose to update my 3 points of contact with the fat bike. Since most of the time is spent in the saddle I went borderline old man and changed to a Serfas Performance RX seat. I have been very happy with this saddle and It really doesn’t look that bad.
Next I changed to Ergon style grips to give my hands a little more support on the bars. This seems to help my hands from going numb on long rides.
I prefer flat pedals over clipless for beach riding. It seems like every ride I am getting off and pushing at least once and the sand doesn’t seem to play nice with my old clipless pedals. With the flats I also can ride in my Keen sandals in warm weather, Make sure to look for pedals with sealed spindle bearings. My bike came with a cheap set of plastic platforms with loose ball bearings and they were starting to click after just 2 rides on the beach. I found a nice set of sealed bearing flats on sale at Performancebike.com. There are also several good options available on Amazon.
These 3 easy and fairly inexpensive changes have really improved my comfort level on long beach rides.
I think that is all. If you have any other good tips please share them in the comments below.
Now turn off your computer or put away your phone and get out there and ride some sand with those fat tires. Bri out.