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I have a hybrid bike (Merida Speeder 200) with 700x32c tires. I've been using it on the road with great pleasure, but given the corona situation it's becoming quite crowded on the (nice) roads.

Therefore I'm looking for alternative paths. The beach is semi-nearby and has a wide flat strip of "hard" sand during low tide.

Can I ride on the hard sand with 32c tires?

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  • 5
    Personally I wouldn’t take a bike on a beach because of the salt and possibility for corrosion Dec 14 '20 at 14:50
  • Came here to say what @ArgentiApparatus said.
    – Adam Rice
    Dec 14 '20 at 14:51
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    I would be more worried about the sand, actually.
    – Vladimir F
    Dec 14 '20 at 16:53
  • I would note that a 32mm tire is about the thinnest I would attempt beach riding with. Dec 15 '20 at 14:16
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    Wash bike very well afterwards. Brush into crevices and/or use a hose with as much pressure as available. Salt water is not an instant killer but it is a killer with time. Dirt and debris in crevices that hold it in pace "don't help". Dec 16 '20 at 9:59
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While my initial attempt with lightly deflated tires was not a success (I could only bike 100 m before being exhausted) my second attempt went much better.

Based on your helpful answers, comments and suggestions I deflated my rear tire to 1.5 bar, and my front tire to 2 bar and rode at the waterline without much problems at an average speed of 20 km/h.

I was there 1.5 hours after low tide, but there was still plenty of compact sand. Also, it didn't really matter if I was riding on the wet sand at the edge of the water, or a few meters further inland on the drier compact sand, both required approximately the same perceived effort.
Loosened sand (e.g. after dogs have played there) and swathes of shells/seaweed required more effort, so I tried to avoid those.

For context: I use Continental Grand Prix 4 Season 700x32c tires, weigh around 80 kg and am not superfit, but can sustain 25-30 km/h on the road.

Conclusion

Based on my experience: yes, you can ride on the beach with 32c tires if:

  • You deflate your tires significantly (to 1.5 - 2 bar)
  • Ride during low tide on the compact sand
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  • 4
    Try adjusting your track up/down the beach a little. Ideally you want to be on the firm damp sand that is not actively wet/foamy. Too soft/dry and you loose power, too wet and you loose power. Your thighs will guide you to the sweet spot. But there's no point on a beach where its easier than on a road.
    – Criggie
    Dec 14 '20 at 21:11
  • What tires are you using? Dec 15 '20 at 3:38
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    You need very soft tyres. There are no pinch flats in sand. Cyclocross racers ride almost on their rims with their tubs. Certainly below 20 PSI. But I would not ride in the sand unless you have someone who cleans your bike for you often. The sand will get into your bearings and that is horrible
    – Vladimir F
    Dec 15 '20 at 10:21
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    @TudeProductions OP did specify 32mm Conti Grand Prix 4 seasons, which are a slick durable road tire.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Dec 15 '20 at 18:02
  • @WeiwenNg yes you are right those tires are pretty much a paved road only and possibly light gravel. Perhaps a more aggressive tire would be in order, but at that point your are starting to sacrifice on road performance. Dec 15 '20 at 19:24
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Yes on hard sand it should be fine. The problem is what if it is not hard or there are patches of dust. At that point it will be a bit more tricky. The good part is you are on a bike and on sand. So if you fall it is not a big deal, and if you find yourself getting stuck you can walk sections.

You may consider lowering your tire pressure too as that works for cars and fat bikes on loose terrain because it increases the contact patch (i.e. lowers the pounds per inch on the tire to the sand, which makes you less likely to dig into the sand).

Note - Depending on how often you ride in wet/sandy conditions you may want to proactively upgrade your bottom bracket bearing to a sealed one. I did on my Trek road bike which has a notoriously fragile bottom bracket bearing/seal. For your Merida it may not be much of an issue as long as you keep the area between the peddles and frame relatively clean on a regular basis.

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  • 6
    ... and dust and wash the bicycle after each ride, as salt and sand are some of its worst enemies.
    – Carel
    Dec 14 '20 at 16:22
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    “i.e. lowers the pressure per inch” – that doesn't dimension-check. You can say it lowers the force per square-inch (that's just what pressure is). Dec 15 '20 at 15:21
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I haven’t seen the beach, or tried to cycle on one. I have at least cycled through numerous sandpits, a common obstacle in cyclocross races (and traditional CX tires are 32-34mm wide).

I would guess that you mean the sand is somewhat compacted. You could certainly try it, but I would guess that the sand may not be compacted enough, and your tires might dig in to it. This would probably make it considerably harder to cycle through the sand.

I don’t know what your area is like, but many off-road trails with hard packed crushed limestone or gravel can easily be traversed on 32mm tires. The ones without loose gravel can even be ridden on traditional road bikes.

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Beach races are quite standard, but there's a difference between soft and hard. There is nothing very complicated about bringing a vehicle over sand, and no strict cut-off point.

However this is a very pure beach racing bike

https://www.koga.com/en/bikes/race/collection-2018/beachracer.htm

It's a 10kg racing/CX bike with discs and Schwalbe 62mm (2.35") Big One tyres

This tyre is very specifically designed for beach racing.

https://www.bicyclerollingresistance.com/mtb-reviews/schwalbe-big-one-2016

"The Schwalbe Big One is a mountain bike tire designed for beach racing. Because of the beach racing requirements, the Big One has a huge volume, minimal profile and an extremely low weight for its size. "

It might be easier to fit wide tyres to a MTB in that they usually have that kind of clearance, but 2"+ tyres are a minimum really

https://road.cc/content/feature/105242-beach-slapped

Riders report pressures as low as 4 psi, which means tubeless is sensible, but I think the exact pressure depends on the sand but certainly won't be anywhere close to the pressure you'd run a 32c tyre at.

There are some more tips here

https://fatbikeplanet.com/5-best-fat-bike-tires-for-sand-riding-2020/

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Performance of tires on sand mostly depends on tire pressure: The pressure in the tire is almost the same as the pressure that your tire applies to the sand.

32 millimeter tires are generally ridden with pressures around 5 to 6 bar, and that's likely too much for wet sand. Sand may be much stronger when its wet, but 6 kilograms per square centimeter are quite a bit. Unless the sand is of the kind that you find at beaches which are amenable to drive cars on, I wouldn't try with such a slim tire.

That said, if you want to ride your bike on sand and don't want to swap tires, you can reduce its air pressure to the rated minimum. As I said, that pressure is the pressure that you apply to the sand, so minimum air in your tire may allow you to ride on sand that you couldn't cross with high pressure.

Of course, if you want to ride on sand regularly, use the widest tires that will fit your frame. Or buy a mountain bike for this.

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  • I hope to try this tomorrow with low tide. I can't get my hands on a small pump, so I'll be lugging my full size pump with me... While my frame can take wider tires, I installed (pricey) fenders which can't. So I won't be upgrading to wider tires soon and hope lowering pressure is sufficient Dec 15 '20 at 22:06

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