When I was in college, my friends and I would go down toward the river and race around a 20-minute mountain bike trail. It was always so fun to race both each other and our own time. The winning move, however, always came around the one very deep and sandy section. If you had to dismount and run, then you could kiss your time and chance of winning good-bye. With the sandy section always being such a deciding factor, it made me wonder, What is the Best Mountain Bike Tire for Sand?
My Recommendation for the Best Mountain Bike Tire for Sand
My recommendation for the best mountain bike tire for sand is the Maxxis High Roller II because the tall, aggressive, and square knobs can cut through the sand to find traction, the wide spacing allows for good clearing abilities, and it comes as wide as a 2.6.
You can read more about the MAXXIS High Roller II on the Maxxis website – https://www.maxxis.com/tires/bicycle/mountain. If you’d like to check the price and read what others mtb riders are saying here’s a link to Amazon. Maxxis High Roller II Dual Compound EXO
Is a Bigger MTB Tire Better for Sand?
As a general rule in sand riding, the bigger the tire, the better. This is because in really deep sand, where you want to float on top, a wider tire allows for better weight distribution and enables you to sit on top of the sand.
The width of tire you can run will be determined based upon what your frame and fork allow. Most standard mountain bike frames will allow for up to a 2.5 or 2.6, thus making those the most optimal size tires for riding sand on a standard mountain bike. Before you order your tires though, make sure to check the specs of your bike to double check that you can accommodate that width.
If your bike cannot accommodate the size of tire that you most desire, then try running a little bit less pressure. A lower pressure will cause your tire to squish down and flatten out therefore becoming wider.
Wondering how wide of a tire you can put on your mountain bike? Read this article: Can I Put Wider Tires on My Mountain Bike?
While both a wider tire and less tire pressure will make sand riding easier, it will also make your bike a little bit slower rolling. If sand is just a small part of your entire ride, make sure you pick a tire that is a happy medium and can accommodate all of the terrain you will encounter.
Which MTB Tread is Better for Sand? Aggressive or Small?
Aggressive tread will be the best tread for riding in sandy conditions. Look for a tire that has tall, square, and wide knobs. Tall and square knobs will help to cut through the sand and grip onto any possible traction beneath.
A wide knob will allow for maximum surface area sitting on top of the sand, thus allowing you to have a smoother more consistent feeling and allow you to better glide on top of the sand without sinking in and slowing down.
Additionally, look for a tread pattern that has wider spaces between the knobs. The wider spaces allow for the sand to shed off of the tire instead of getting stuck in the small cracks and crevasses of the tire.
Compound – What Kind of MTB Tire Compound is Best for Sand?
The best compound for a sand tire will be an intermediate compound (a mix between firm and soft). Every tire company labels their compounds as something different so you will need to read the descriptions of the compounds in order to determine which one to choose.
The Maxxis High Roller II comes in a variety of compounds, but I recommend the 3C Max Terra. This compound offers traction and treadwear, while limiting rolling resistance in order to keep you carrying momentum through the sand. I would stir away from compounds that advertise themselves as high in grip. Not only is a grippy compound not important for sand, but it could also slow you down and inhibit you from coasting through shorter sandy segments.
Tubeless or Tubes for MTBing in Sand
I will always recommend tubeless. I think the invention of the tubeless tire is one of the best inventions in modern mountain biking. The biggest advantage of tubeless tires is that it allows you to run a lower tire pressure than with tubes.
A lower tire pressure in sand also usually means less flats. While you are more likely to burp a tire with a lower pressure, you are also less likely to have a puncture. Since sand is soft, it is rare to have high impacts which can cause tires to quickly un-seed and re-seed thus losing air. Sand, however, does cover up small obstacles like pointy rocks or sticks that may try to puncture your tire.
Tire pressure – WOW! I never knew how controversial tire pressure could be. I asked surveyed Hundreds on Facebook on what they recommend. Read about it here – What Should My Mountain Bike Tire Pressure Be?
With a lower tire pressure, your tire will morph around the object rather than resist and force the object to poke through. Additionally, with a tubeless set up you can utilize other flat preventing/fixing technology such as tire sealant and tire plugs.
Finally, a lower tire pressure will allow your tire to flatten out and create an even wider base to glide on.
What Do The Experts Say Regarding MTB Tires for Sand?
- Trek Bicycle Shop in Kennewick: Located in the desert area of Southeastern Washington, the Trek Bicycle Shop in Kennewick should be well versed in sandy and loose riding conditions. When asked what the best mountain bike tire is for sandy conditions, the owner recommended a Bontrager XR5 because of its tall knobs with wide spacing. He recommended looking for the tire in a 2.6 width.
- Poison Spider Bike Shop in Moab: If you have ever ridden in Moab, then you know there is plenty of sand to battle out on the trails. When asking the Poison Spider Bike Shop what the best mountain bike tire is for sandy conditions, I was pointed toward the Maxxis Aggressor for the rear and a Maxxis DHF in the front. This combination is a little bit slower rolling, but allow for maximum traction and allows for great confidence in the uphill sandy hills in Moab.
4 Tips for Mountain Biking in Sand
- Shift Your Weight Back – Mountain biking in sand, is a little bit like skiing in powder. You want to keep your weight back to take the weight off of the front. On the mountain bike, keep your weight over the rear tire in order to allow your front tire to float above the sand. It allows for better handling and cornering. In order to truly get your weight back, you may even need to stand and move your hips behind the seat. If you are struggling to get back, consider using a dropper post to get your seat out of the way.
- Feather Your Brakes – When riding on a sandy descent, do not grab your brakes and lock up your wheels. If you brake quickly or aggressively in sand then you will continue to slide and lose control. Feathering your brakes means lightly and quickly applying small amounts of pressure to your brakes. This allows you to control your speed without locking out your wheels and losing control.
- Shift Down – When you are pedaling through sand, you will find that the deep sand provides a lot of resistance and it will be tempting to use your strong muscles to power through. Resist the urge! Instead, shift down into an easy gear and spin through the sand. When you power through sand, your rear wheel will spin, lose traction, and force you to put a foot down. If you spin in an easy gear, you maintain contact with the ground and move smoothly through the sand.
- It’s All In the Hips – Don’t fight the sand! The best way to ride sand is to just go with the flow. The sand will direct your wheel. You might find that you zig zag a little as you make your way through the terrain and that is just fine! Loosen up your hips and let the bike move underneath you. If you try to fight it, you will likely find yourself running instead of riding.
Set Yourself Up For Success
Sand can be a very tricky obstacle and with so many cool looking drops, jumps, and technical features on the trail, the last thing you want is a little sand throwing you off. With the proper equipment and technique, you’ll soon find yourself a master at sand riding. As with anything though, practice makes progress so don’t be afraid to try a variety of tires and techniques until you find sand second nature.
Looking for more Mountain Bike Tire Information?
- If your home trail is filled with rocky terrain check out this article on Selecting the BEST Mountain Bike Tires for the Rocks
- If your like me and the home trail has some muddy spots find out how to ride faster in the mud in this article. Mountain Bike Tires for the Mud
- Whether it’s mud, sand or rocks you’ve got to maintain you ride. I wrote an awesome article on Mountain Bike Maintenance Schedule