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I've got an old Trek 1200 road bike circa 1995 with down tube shifters and mostly original components. These days, I mostly ride it on my summer vacation on Martha's Vineyard where most of the riding is on pavement but occasionally I'll want to venture down a sandy road.

I currently have smooth 23 mm tires that I fill to 115 psi. These are terrible on the sandy roads!

Can you recommend tires for a road bike that would do better on sandy roads?

UPDATE: These are sandy roads that cars and mountain bikes would have no problems going down. It is a mixture of packed dirt and shallow sandy areas. Sandy roads are not that long, no more than a mile here and there.

UPDATE2: I bought two of these 700x28 Kenda tires. This worked for the front but was too big for the back. I'm going to return one and get a 700x25 for the back. People on Amazon say these tires run big, so other 28 tires might work on this bike.

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    Mostly the tire needs to be wide (23mm is way too narrow), and relatively low pressure (115 psi is way too high). Some tread is probably useful, but too much will just make riding more difficult -- it depends on the nature and consistency of the sand. Probably you want to find the widest tires the bike will tolerate -- somewhere in the 32-38 range, probably. – Daniel R Hicks Sep 12 '15 at 18:10
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    I suspect 28mm is the largest that will fit. – gaefan Sep 12 '15 at 18:19
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    Well, figure out the widest that you can handle, then run them at a crazy (for the width) low pressure -- below 50 probably. You'll have to experiment with the pressure (and, of course, beware of hitting curbs and large rocks that would cause "snake bite"). – Daniel R Hicks Sep 12 '15 at 18:21
  • When you say sandy ... how sandy? How deep? Is it in patches or continuous? For what distance? While you do have answers, they are based on assumptions that the extra information would dispel. – andy256 Sep 12 '15 at 23:00
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    By shallow sandy, it would be good if you clarified this a bit. Like are these an inch of sand on a real road, or what? – Batman Sep 13 '15 at 21:38
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On sand you'll need wider tires that do not dig into sand as easily as well as some tread pattern to prevent sand grains from rolling under your tires. 23mm is too narrow.

Measure the forks, if they are wide enough you can use cyclocross semislicks. I have seen an old Trek road bike with cyclocross tires used in a race, so it might be possible for your bike too. Narrower touring tires are an option too, get the widest that you can fit.

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Biggest tire you can get in it. I doubt you can find a sand or even dirt type traction tire at 30 mm or less. So go with a touring tires. Install flat and pump them on the bike. Front to back may not be the same. You would be lucky to get 30mm and hopefully 28mm. Problem is that even 30mm is terrible in soft sand. In packed wet sand even a 30mm is marginal. For soft sand a 2" is a minimum. If you want to sand then look for a used mtn bike.

In cyclocross the technique for riding sand is in the saddle, hands up on bars, and head up. The idea is to keep as much weight off the front tire as possible. Keep the font end lite and go with the flow. You will get pushed around and you need to relax and go with it. Hitting the sand with speed helps but you need to be comfortable with sand for that. Even 10 yards in soft sand is lot of work. In a more packed sand I would guess the same technique. Standing does not seem to work very well in sand.

  • It may help to explain why you recommend keeping the weight off the front wheel. – andy256 Sep 13 '15 at 4:42
  • @andy256 All is know is that is what I was taught and it seems to work. That is the technique is see used. – paparazzo Sep 13 '15 at 4:45
  • Ok. I suggest that it's to keep the front from digging in, causing a fall. – andy256 Sep 13 '15 at 4:48
  • @andy256 Agree. I will try an update to the answer. – paparazzo Sep 13 '15 at 4:59
  • Continue pedalling and ease weight from the front to keep it from digging in. The applied power to rear will pack the sand under the tyre and give forward momentum. The technique is similar to that on a motorbike in sand where you open the throttle to remove weight from the front wheel. The rear wheel tends to go straight whereas the front might wobble or dig in. – Carel Sep 13 '15 at 8:21
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As other answers have said, wider tires and lower tire pressures can help. Technique is the other half of the solution, because it can be used with your current tires and with wider ones.

The first thing is to do when you encounter the sand is ride straight. The deeper the sand is, the more it grabs your wheels. Small steering movements can have big consequences. But very shallow sand can be slippery. So avoid turns.

The next thing is to slow down, until your skills with sand improve. With better skills you can go faster again.

The next thing is to maintain a constant speed. In deep sand, if you want to stop then just stop pedaling, or use the rear brake. But to get through deep sand you have to keep pedaling. After getting into the sand, you may need to stand to apply enough power to maintain that constant speed.

See this other answer and the discussion with @ChrisH that follows it.

And see this answer by @Rider_X.

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