Sand Riding and Throttle Use on a Big ADV Motorcycle


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Riding in sand can be an intimidating experience for even the most seasoned riders. Tackling deep sand on a small dirt bike can be a challenge in its own right, but add an extra 110kg/250lbs and approximately 1,000cc’s to that mix and you can quickly see the challenge. This post will take a close look at how proper throttling techniques can be a game changer when sand riding on these big bikes.

Learning how to preserve MOMENTUM is the main goal when riding a big adventure bike on the sand or through sand dunes.  Knowing the precise moments to open or close the throttle allows your bike to maintain the momentum needed to stay online and avoid getting stuck in deep sand.

Smaller displacement bikes have the advantage of being able to “throttle out” of deep sand more easily than a big bike resulting in less frequent stucks. If the rear wheel of a 250kg/500lb adventure bike is allowed to dig itself in up to the swing arm, you may have some hard work ahead of you getting free. So … let’s talk about how to maintain momentum and try to avoid those stucks.

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Watch how to maintain momentum through the sand

Check out our sand recovery video here for when those stucks do occur.


Riding a big ADV motorcycle through sand

Riding sand is a technical skill that takes practice to master and truly have fun with it. One of the hardest parts of riding in sand is to become comfortable with the unexpected movements that the bike will be making underneath you.

If you have some experience off-road riding, then you will be familiar with the feeling of the rear tire sliding around, but when in sand, the front tire is going to be sliding as well. For that reason, it is important to enter technical sections of sand in a standing riding position.

By standing on your pegs when in sand, you create the opportunity to move dynamically on top of the bike to counterbalance it when those unexpected wobbles happen.

BMW R1200GS ADV motorcycle riding in sand
Always be standing through technical sand sections

We recommend learning to ride sand in small increments if it’s new to you. Learning how to successfully maintain MOMENTUM to ride through short straight sections will build your skills and confidence to try longer and steeper sections next time.


How does closing the throttle impact the motorcycle on sand?

As we mentioned before, one of the most challenging parts of riding in sand is getting used to the unexpected movements the bike can undergo, especially when the front tire begins to wander around. Most riders react to this by closing the throttle. This creates several problems.

Any abrupt rider input will almost always upset your bike’s suspension and quickly cutting off the gas can be just as bad as grabbing a handful of your front brake.

The phrase “Don’t scare the bike and the bike won’t scare you” is great advice and applies across all two-wheeled disciplines from the racetrack to the desert.

Letting off the throttle in a panic will also cause a drastic weight shift to the front of the bike as it decelerates, which compounds the original problem of severe front tire wobble.

As the weight shifts to the front of the bike and the suspension compresses, the tire digs into the soft sand underneath it, and the deeper it digs the less we will be able to control the motorcycle.

Solution: Maintain Momentum!

So what is the antidote for anyone wanting to learn to fight the instinct to close the throttle?

Nothing builds throttling (and clutch) skills quite like agility training and the humble cone slalom. If you are keen to better understand momentum and how your bike responds to power inputs, then cone drills are the answer.

Sand riding requires frequent blips and braaaps to stand the bike up when it is in an extreme lean that could result in a fall. Agility training builds the essential riding skills of throttle control, friction zone, and counterbalance needed when off-road.

Check out our YouTube video on cone slalom variations to get a good idea of just how different ways working around cones at both low and high speeds can quickly expand your comfort zone in technical terrain like deep sand.

Photo shows BMW R1200GS ADV motorcycle riding in sand
Maintain momentum for a smooth transition over a dune crest

How does opening the throttle impact the motorcycle on sand?

Momentum is your best friend in the sand, but “keeping Momentum” and “pinning the throttle” are two very different things.

Yes, maintaining a moderate speed plays a large part in helping our front tire “float” over sand, but cracking open the throttle and praying to arrive safely at the end of your next section isn’t a fix-all solution to navigating sandy stretches. Riding faster than your skill level is a quick way to injure yourself and your bike.

What we should aim for instead is a consistent, controlled speed and develop the techniques we need to slow down and adapt for changing terrain and obstacle’s in our path.

Solution: Adjust For Changing Conditions & Use The Sand To Slow The Bike As Needed

“Look where you want to go” is advice we often hear in the motorcycle world and riding in sand is no exception. To learn more on the topic of vision and ‘looking where you want to go’, check out this video on our YouTube channel.

When you can look ahead and identify a deep sandy section, you have time to prepare. Once you see the sand, very gently roll off the throttle limiting any effect on the suspension. If the bike is traveling too fast when it hits the sand, it will often react with a vigorous (some might say violent) wobble. This slight throttle adjustment beforehand, will help give you the control you need when you hit the deep sand.

Once you enter the sand, now is the time to gradually open the throttle to increase momentum and push the bike through the section.

Slowing down before a technical section will give you the option of either using a gradual throttle roll-on or a series of quick short bursts of throttle to push your way through the terrain.

BMW 1200GS riding in sand

Proficiency in riding sand takes experience and practice. Knowing some of these fundamental skills can make the process much more enjoyable. If sand is in your path, think about controlling momentum with these throttle input techniques.

Want to see more ADV Bikes riding sand? Check out our YouTube Sand Riding Playlist here.


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