Today’s e-bikes come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins. We’ve got commuters, cruisers, all-terrain, eMTBs, cargo e-bikes and more. But what about loose terrain? Can electric bikes hold up wiell in the sand? That’s the question the Best Electric Bikes team will be looking at today.
Some of these e-bikes feature specialized gear to make them pretty mission-oriented. Some e-bikes, however, are touted for their versatility, which is a terrific quality for someone buying their first e-bike.
Of the many places that someone may want to ride an e-bike, the beach carries the draw that Icarus felt for the sun. Judging from all the cars stuck in the sand at LA beaches following the end of Memorial Day Weekend, asking whether or not it’s possible ranks as a stellar move.
How wide are the tires?
The answer to our question above requires asking another question. Apologies. An e-bike’s ability to ride in sand depends on a few factors, but the most important of them is tire width. If someone wants to ride at the beach or over Saharan sand dunes, that’s totally doable, provided the tires are wide. How wide is wide, though, right? For sand riding, wide is 4-in. wide, or wider.
The thing about riding on the sand is that the tire needs to float on top of the sand. (Riding in the mud is the opposite—tires need to sink through the mud to catch the ground beneath.) In addition to the tires being wide, the wheels need to be at least 26-in. in diameter, which works out well because most tires 4-in. wide or wider are made for 26-in. wheels.
In short, the tire needs a large contact patch in order to keep from sinking in the sand. Someone right now is looking at their e-bike with 20-in. wheels and 3-in.-wide tires. On hard-pack sand, maybe. At the beach, no.
Fat tire e-bikes, especially those from companies like Himiway and QuietKat, are what someone is looking for if they want to go full Lawrence of Arabia on two wheels.
So we’ve settled which e-bikes can be ridden on sand. But we’re not finished with our question. It’s worth asking whether can is the same thing as should. Plot spoiler: It’s not.
Let’s consider that sand is something we use to remove paint. Whether we’re talking sandpaper or industrial-grade sand blasters, sand can remove pretty colors, ruin bearings and foul derailleur and brake cables.
Riding at the beach carries an additional risk in that seawater is nearly the last thing that should come in contact with an e-bike. It will cause corrosion to aluminum parts and electronic components. Steel derailleur and brake cables will turn red with rust.
Post-ride bike wash
Riding in the sand isn’t a complete no-no, but the smart rider will wash their e-bike upon returning home. A mild soap and a gentle hosing is all that’s required. We recommend not using pressure washers or directing a stream of water at the bearings in the wheels, bottom bracket or headset.
Once finished with the wash, wipe the e-bike down with a rag and then lube the chain to prevent it rusting.
We’ve talked about what’s possible and what’s needed for riding on sand, but we’ve neglected the how, so here goes. Riding on sand is much like walking on sand, even when the e-bike is equipped with the correct tires. In loose sand, an e-bike’s handling can be unpredictable. Tight turns are not a thing; washing out and low-siding the e-bike isn’t inevitable, but it’s easy. At the beach, if a rider rolls out to the wet sand the ocean washes over, the e-bike’s handling will improve, as will traction, just as it does for human feet.
If someone plans to hang at the beach, we recommend parking the e-bike out of the sand rather than laying it down. And keep it away from the rushing surf, no matter what. Whether the sand is at the beach or a remote desert, a fat-tire e-bike can be a terrific way to explore.
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