Motorcycles are built for and ridden in a lot of different situations. For example, there are lots of movies and TV shows that depict lush images of motorcycles riding along a beach at sunset. This leaves many riders wondering if you can actually ride your motorcycle on the beach.
You can ride your motorcycle on a beach, assuming it’s legal to do so in your area. It’s important, however, to be careful when doing so, and make sure you don’t end up getting stuck or crashing your bike. If you don’t take proper care of your motorcycle, the sand can also damage it.
There’s a little bit more to it though, as you might imagine. There are various important facts and strategies to know before attempting your first beach ride on your motorcycle. I’ll go through some of these things in more detail below.
Whether it is legal to ride a motorcycle on the beach depends on where you live and what local laws dictate. In some places it’s fully legal to ride a motorcycle on the beach, but in many places it’s not. This will tend to vary not just by state but also by county or specific area.
Many states have designated areas specifically allowing motor vehicle use on the beach, while in many beach areas it may be banned. In general, motorcycles are subject to the same laws regarding driving your car on the beach, so it’s usually not too hard to find out.
I recommend doing some online research on wherever you live, or where you are thinking of going on the beach, to try and figure out if riding there is legal. While it’s certainly less common to find stretches of beach you can ride on, usually there are still a few places reserved for it.
If you’re going to ride a motorcycle in an area designed for ATVs and other off-road vehicles, it’s usually legal to do so, but it may have different requirements. These areas (usually dunes) often require special permits and safety features, such as a tall flag so other riders can see you coming over a hill.
Sand is bad for motorcycles if you don’t deal with it appropriately. A little sand isn’t going to damage your motorcycle, but if you’re riding it on the beach, it’s best to ensure you thoroughly clean it afterwards to ensure there are not large deposits of sand getting into places they shouldn’t.
If you’re riding your motorcycle on the beach, it’s going to get pretty sandy. Whether or not you drop it, your tires will sling up sand into your bike, and you’re certain to end up with at least a somewhat sandy bike. This sand can be damaging to various components on your motorcycle if not dealt with properly.
Sand is basically a bunch of tiny rocks. Thousands of these tiny rocks can get stuck in your chain, your brakes, your bearings, and other parts of your bike. This is really not optimal for any machine, much less a motorcycle. However, if your motorcycle has good fenders and a decent design, you may be able to avoid getting sand in the more precious components.
Sand Is Abrasive
The simple reality is that sand is a highly abrasive material and if you ride in it consistently, that will probably increase the level of maintenance required for your motorcycle. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t do it, more that you should just be aware that it will accelerate the rate at which your bike wears.
For those who love riding in sand, these maintenance costs are well worth it. Different types of machines will also suffer sand damage at different rates. Dirt bikes and other such off-road oriented motorcycles will likely see far fewer issues dealing with sand than any street motorcycle.
There are a few ways to prepare your motorcycle for riding on the beach. The first thing to consider is making sure your bike is up to the challenge. While all motorcycles can theoretically ride on the beach, many are better suited than others.
If you have a big heavy street bike, even with decent tires, there’s a real chance you’ll just end up getting stuck or falling over depending on the conditions of the sand environment you’re trying to ride in. There’s a reason the dunes are frequented by KTM dirt bikes and not Harley-Davidson cruisers!
Light weight is a huge help when it comes to sand riding. If your motorcycle is light and agile, it will have a much easier time coping with the sandy conditions. It won’t get bogged down as much or sink below the surface. Usually, the sand you’re riding on is quite deep, so unlike snow, you’re mostly riding on the top of it.
The type of beach you’re riding on also makes a big difference. If you’re riding on a beach with crazy dunes that you’ll inevitably want to go play around on, a light dirt bike will do very well with this. However, if you’re just going for a light cruise along a flat, hard-packed beach, just about any bike should be able to do that without issue.
The next thing to consider is whether your tires are up to the task. In general, motorcycles on the sand do well with aggressive knobby tires. While cars and trucks don’t always do better with knobby tires as they provide a lot more resistance, the physical requirements of these types of vehicles are very different.
Unlike cars, motorcycles on sand are usually very light, and tend to do their riding by spinning their rear tire and using the tread to bite and dig into the sand, propelling the bike forward. It’s helpful to have a knobby front tire as well, as it will bite into the sand to help you turn.
If your tires are smooth road tires, they might do casual beach riding fine, but they’ll have little to no ability to accelerate, turn, or stop quickly, making any kind of spirited riding much more dangerous and/or difficult.
Beyond choosing a good bike and choosing the right tires, the only other thing to do for your bike before you take it on the sand is to make sure everything else with the bike is properly maintained and working well.
While it’s no fun getting stranded anywhere, ending up with a broken chain or some other such paralyzing issue is going to be a way bigger deal if you’re in the middle of some beach with no one around for miles. I doubt that your insurance provider’s roadside assistance policy will cover that!
Just as important as what you do to your motorcycle before riding on the beach (if not more important) is what you do after riding on the beach. A lot of the issues people face from sand in motorcycles can be eliminated or at least reduced by cleaning your bike well after riding in the sand.
The other reality of riding on the beach is that it exposes your motorcycle not only to sand but also to a tremendous amount of salt. Beaches have a lot of salt on them from the water, and especially if you get any saltwater splashed up into your bike, cleaning that off is very important for preventing long-term rust and other issues.
A good cleaning ritual is something that most veteran sand riders will always stress the importance of. The first step is this: clean your bike promptly. When you get home from a beach trip, don’t leave your bike for a few days before cleaning it – clean it immediately.
Wash your bike well. I personally wouldn’t recommend using high-pressure water sources, such as a high-pressure hose or a pressure washer, as pressurized water can get into components that you really don’t want water in. Most bikes should be just fine with some low-pressure washing.
Once your bike has been rinsed off, it’s then a perfect time to find some sort of non-harmful cleaning agent, like a nice soap, and use some lightly abrasive scrub brushes to scrub out any sand or dirt that wasn’t rinsed off previously. Be careful not to scrub sand into any vulnerable areas.
After those places are scrubbed off, give your bike another low-pressure rinse. Let it dry, and make sure everything looks good. Now is a good time to check your air filter and make sure it’s clean and clear of debris. Checking your oil level and condition is also wise while you’re at it.
The last thing to clean is your chain. While most motorcycle components are pretty well sealed these days, the chain is usually not. Chains generally prefer a lot more maintenance than they normally get, and when riding in sand they wear at a much greater rate.
Remove your chain and clean all of the chain lube out of it. Chain lube is sticky enough that it tends to attract things like sand, and if left untreated, that sand will eat away at your chain quickly. Once your chain has been fully cleaned, re-lube it and reinstall it on the bike.
Many riders who ride in sand a lot often have specific tires and wheels ready to go for sand riding. This is also something you can do with chains. If you have one chain that you always take sand riding, it keeps your other chain clear and sand-free.
And there you have it, your bike should be good to go for future riding! Some riders also like to spray rust preventing compounds like WD-40 on their engine components after a sandy ride. This can’t hurt, but whether you do it is up to you. I don’t think it’s as necessary as the previous steps.
Like anything, riding a motorcycle competently in sand is a skill that takes time to develop. There’s no need to launch yourself off the biggest dune you can find on your first day out there. There’s no cost to starting with the easy stuff.
Find a nice flat section of beach, and just start riding around at low speeds. Feel the way that the bike responds to the soft surface. Feel how it handles differently than the road. So much of motorcycling is about responding to how the bike feels and adjusting yourself to allow it to stay in balance.
Practice turning in sand. Depending on your tires, turning will probably be something you’ll have to do at much slower speeds than you’re used to when riding on pavement. Sand isn’t as grippy, so you won’t be able to get the same traction when cornering, especially not on street tires.
Once you’ve done some easy riding and are starting to feel comfortable, start finding some more difficult sections, maybe some mild hills you can climb and descend. Gradually work your way up to doing more difficult sand riding.
While sand in general isn’t as hard a surface as pavement, it’s not exactly soft either. The cost of a crash will still probably be some pain, especially if at high speed. Sand is also a very abrasive substance, not only to your bike but also to you.
If you end up crashing and skidding for a long distance on sand, it won’t be a fun experience. It can burn right through your clothes and into your skin, which is really painful and should obviously be avoided as much as possible.
So, crashing, while not optimal at any speed, will be far worse at high speeds. This is another reason to ease into sand riding if you’ve never done it before. Much better to take it slower at first than to go too fast and turn yourself off to riding on sand entirely.
Another thing to help you have a good experience is wearing good gear. While riding on the sand in some ways is less dangerous than riding on the street, it’s still riding a motorcycle and it still has some inherent danger.
Wearing quality riding gear can help eliminate a lot of this peril. First and foremost, a good helmet is a must. After that, having good gloves, boots, riding pants, and a jacket can save you from a lot of avoidable injuries.
When learning to ride on sand you may drop your bike here and there, and good gear is the key to doing so while avoiding injuries. It’s much harder to get back up after a fall if you weren’t wearing any gear and got hurt unnecessarily.
When riding on sand, in general you won’t use the clutch in the same way you normally would. When riding on the street, you usually gradually let the clutch out while providing gas in order to coax the bike into motion. This is not really how you ride on sand, especially soft sand.
When riding on sand, the clutch should be used less as a thing to modulate and more of a switch that’s either on or off. Likely when you let off the clutch, the rear tire will start to spin. Thus, it’s kind of pointless and only shortens the life of your clutch to try and modulate it unnecessarily.
You’ll gain forward momentum on sand by backing off the throttle and allowing the rear tire to bite into the sand and start pushing you forward. The motorcycle will have enough torque to do this easily, so you just have to trust that it will do so without issue.
This can take a while to learn, as it feels really different from the way you normally start on pavement. Just stick with it, practice as much as you can, and you’ll have this down in no time. It’s just another new skill to learn for sand riding!
Balance is critical to riding well on sand. You must be loose on the handlebars, able to shift your weight at a moment’s notice in order to send the bike where you want it to go. Feel the way the bike moves as you ride on the sand. It will feel very different to the road.
When you’re riding in sand, in some ways you steer more with your feet than with your handlebars. Leaning and placing pressure on your foot pegs will allow you to modulate the bike in the way you need to ride successfully.
Many riders also suggest leaning back on your motorcycle. Don’t overdo this, but doing it a little can really help, as it places less weight on your front wheel. When riding on the road this is sometimes the opposite of what you want, but on soft surfaces it’s perfect.
By placing less weight on your front wheel, you prevent that wheel from digging down too much, which is essential for good forward momentum. It’s almost like a boat or a jet ski, in that you’re just trying to skate on the top surface, not dig down into the sand.
Speaking of digging down into the sand, avoiding getting stuck in sand is another useful skill to work on. All of the riding habits we’ve discussed so far are very useful in avoiding getting stuck, but there are a few more to mention.
The first thing to think about is momentum. The best way to avoid getting stuck is to avoid stopping. If you can keep up your momentum when riding on soft sand, you’ll never get stuck. You only get stuck when you lose speed and dig in. Keeping your speed up is a great way to avoid this, as it gives you some inertia which will help you avoid soft spots or other such issues.
That said, if you lose momentum and end up going slow or stopping entirely, don’t just try to immediately power out of it. Digging yourself into a hole is the last thing you want to do. Lift yourself off the seat and try to help your motorcycle push itself out of the stop, making sure your weight isn’t on the bike.
Oftentimes, just removing your own weight from your bike will be enough to get it unstuck. If this doesn’t work, there are other things you can try, such as digging your bike out of the sand if it has been beached and is no longer sitting solely on its wheels.
The final thing to keep in mind when riding your motorcycle on sand is to havefun. Sand riding should be fun, not feared. It’s incredibly fun to ride your motorcycle on the sand once you learn the basics of how to do so competently and avoid basic issues.
Though riding on the road is also fun, something about the beach is very soothing for a lot of people. There’s not going to be much traffic, and everyone else is just out there to relax and have fun. Just you, your bike, the ocean, the sky, and some time to enjoy riding and enjoy life.
So please, be cautious, be prepared, but above all, this is about having fun. There’s usually no practical reason at all to ride your motorcycle on the beach, so make sure you’re having fun while you’re doing it!
You can ride your motorcycle on the beach as long as it’s legal to do it where you plan to ride. While riding a motorcycle on a sandy beach can take some practice, it can be very enjoyable. As long as you maintain your bike before and after beach riding, it shouldn’t damage your motorcycle.