The first thing you’re going to need is a fat tire bike. You can spend thousands of dollars on a fancy one, rent one somewhere, or do like I did and buy a cheap department store bike and mod it. Besides fat tires, you want light weight and low gearing (my Land Shark is a 50 pound tank, and I’m kind of a tank too, but I geared it nice and low).
Ride like the wind. We get a lot of wind at the Oregon coast, and you want to ride with it at your back as much as possible. Think about it like canoeing. Either ride into the wind (upstream) for the first half of your distance, or ride on paved streets into the wind and then on sand with the tail wind. Or, use two cars. Park one down wind at your finish point. If you’re riding both ways on sand, you really, really want to ride into the wind first. The wind can come from any direction at any time of the year, but it generally blows from the north in the summer and the south in the winter.
Know your tides. You want to ride while the tide is going out, on the wet sand that’s been packed down by the surf. Depending on how long I’m planning to ride, I like to leave about two hours before low tide. You can ride when the tide is coming in, but…
Be aware of sneaker waves. Know your surf conditions, and always be watching the surf. A sneaker wave can occur any time during the tidal cycle, without warning, and could easily knock you off your bike. At the very best, you’d soak your precious metal in salt water (bad; see below), but even worse, you would die and somebody else would get to ride your bike. Wouldn’t that suck? On high surf days, especially ones with wind, you’ll have more fun if you just stay home, anyway.
Keep your bike out of the surf. It’s actually really, really fun to ride in the surf, but it’s really, really bad for your bike. Salt water eats metal and can wear away grease. It also makes sand stick to your drive train. Hose your bike off when you’re finished.
Know your sand. Oregon’s sandy beaches range from fine sand to coarse gravel, and everything in between. Finer sand, finer ride. Coarser sand, harder slog. If you’ve got gears, you can handle the loose stuff. But you’ll have an easier cruise on the light tan sand between the surf and the tide line. The coarser sand/gravel is darker brown.
Take water. You may not know this, but salt water is not good to drink.
Take a bag or something to collect treasures. The biggest agates I find are on beaches not easy walking distance from places you can park a car. I always have a plastic bag strapped to my bike rack, and you can almost always find pretty rocks in my pockets.
Take a camera to collect visual treasures. The same beach never looks the same. It changes every day.
Be prepared to talk to people, because fat bikes draw a lot of attention. They are less of a novelty than a year ago, but there are still plenty of people who want to stop you and ask questions. If you’re feeling sociable, you will enjoy the opportunity to tell people that yes, those tires really are big and yes, they work pretty good in the sand. If you’re not sociable, get used to smiling and saying the same anyway. We try to uphold that polite Oregonian vibe for our inlander tourists.
The sand isn’t always good. Beaches change every day, especially in the winter and spring. Our beach has some steep parts, and the flat parts tend to have a lot of gravel. Gravel on steep is the worst. With that in mind…
Don’t worry if you have to get off and walk part of the way. Especially if you’ve got a one-speed like me. It’s all about being on the beach and getting a workout, and there is nothing wrong with a walk on the beach.
Riding at sundown is sublime. Golden light on the waves, a little spray on your face, maybe a seal swimming along in the surf… There is nothing else like it in the world.
Stay the hell away from seals and sea lions, especially pups (above video shot with telephoto). They may look abandoned, but mama seals often leave their pups unattended on the beach while they fetch fish. Adult seals will probably just jump in the water, but they could mess you up if they wanted to. A sea lion won’t hesitate to mess you up. (We’ve got a big harbor seal colony at the spit end of our beach.) Besides being rude, it is a federal crime to disturb marine mammals. So if they notice you and start to move toward the water, just move slowly away. I like to stay at least 100 yards away, and even that can bee too close sometimes.
“Have a good time, all the time. That’s my philosophy, Marty.”