Fat-biking: the miracle solution to cycling on sand

Peter Kimpton finds a motorcycle thats perfect for riding on the beach and explores the Glamorgan coast near Porthcawl

Smooth tarmac to rough, potholed roads, gravel tracks to mountain paths, cyclists encounter both good and bad surfaces, but rarely do we ride on sand. Most bikes would get stuck and seize up in seconds. Beaches may be free of traffic, but they are the last place you think of for a bike ride. Yet a fat-bike eludes the laws of traction and discomfort, and allows you to explore thousands of miles of coast in a fraction of the time it would take to do so on foot. But where best to try it?

Porthcawl, near Bridgend station on the coast between Cardiff and Swansea, is a surprisingly underused and beautiful beach. It’s the nearest lengthy surf beach to London and several other cities, lies near world-class mountain bike roads, is home to the rarest flower in Britain, and was a film location for Lawrence of Arabia. And for one weekend a year, it’s the surreal home to 35,000 Elvis followers.

But here I attempted other ways to be all shook up. Porthcawl is ideal for exploring miles of unpopulated coast on two wheels. Hire a fat-bike and feel like you are riding a tractor. With their massive wheels and tyres, you feel you should be wearing a gold chain- they’re the badboy crook of the big, showy bike household. And for a regular road cyclist, they are also strangely counterintuitive. Tyre pressure is best set low: sometimes as low as 6psi( most road motorcycles are pumped to at least 80 psi ), and with very low gearing, the experience is a bit like rolling on a cushiony balloon across all sorts of rough surfaces.

Fat-biking along beaches near Porthcawl in Wales allows you to tackle a variety of surfaces with relative ease. Credit: Peter Kimpton

This felt strange at first, but once I procured a comfortable low gear, apart from stopping on some very steep segments on fine-sand dunes, the rolling resistance on sand and rock genuinely runs. Running above 15 mph is difficult, but with so much unspoilt coast, it’s a great way to explore. Merthyr Mawr sand dunes, lying just behind the beach, are also known as the South Wales Sahara due to the Lawrence film, and cover-ups a bumpier 800 acres. Going up some of its slopes was less easy, and required a bit of walking, but a treat was in store at the top.

Peter Peter Kimpton, fat-bike in hand, on top of the’ Big Dipper’ Merthyr Mawr sand dune Photograph: Peter Kimpton

Our guide, Corum Champion from Porthcawl Bike Hire, took us up to its highest point, and second highest dune in Europe, known as the Big Dipper, from which you can try a slippery but fun descent 😛 TAGEND

Fat-biking down the’ Big Dipper’ on Merthyr Mawr dunes near Porthcawl, Wales, a locating for the 1962 movie Lawrence of Arabia. Credit: Peter Kimpton

Unless you plan to ride on beaches daily, bike hire( from PS10 an hour or PS35 for four hours) is the best option, as fat-bikes need regular maintenance to keep their chains and gears clean and oiled. Punctures weren’t a problem. The Fat-bikes’ thick tyres, at least in one afternoon, seem impervious to sharp stones, shale and pebbles.

Gliding along the coast on a variety of surfaces with a sea breeze certainly offers a refreshing alternative to clogged city roads or sharing country roads with cars. If you’re lucky, your guidebook might help you find specimens of the rare fen orchid. We spotted it.

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