Deserts, Dunes and Fatbiking

So I was recently in Swakopmund and got talked into doing the desert fatbike tour. I’ve not been on a bicycle in 6 years…..

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I clambered upon the seat of my heavyweight, fat-wheeled mountain bike to begin a tour that would take me across sand dunes in one of the oldest deserts in the world and which would open my eyes to the science-defying wonder of the fat-bottomed bike.

It was with great relief that the start of our tour went off without a hitch. Apparently the old adage of “it’s just like riding a bicycle!” holds true in terms of the memory stakes and I managed not to embarrass myself in front of my fitter group members. We cycled through a section of Swakop town, dodging the odd taxi and heading over towards the Swakop river – at the time just a dry river bed.

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Just before crossing the river bed, our guide, Richard, once again reiterated sand riding policy which involved high gear ratios, much spinning and remembering not to stand on the peddles as this causes the front wheel to dig in and you to take flying lessons across the handle bars… encouraging stuff really!

Then we were off! Spinning madly across the river bed and our first small set of dunes, we soon had the whole gear up gear down thing sussed and started marvelling at the wonder that is fat tyres on a bicycle! The effect of the increased weight distribution was driven home each time we stopped and put a foot down in the sand…. My feet sank well down – much further than that of the bike tyres!

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Richard was a mine of information with a mixture of fact, fiction, geology, history and more being shared with us. I learnt a whole lot more about the origin of the Namib desert dunes, the type of wildlife as well as dune creation and movement on this trip.

All the time we were climbing further and further into the dune field. The ride became progressively more challenging with the group needing to identify where the sand was firmer allowing for a smoother climb versus the softer thicker sand that would grab at your wheels and bog you down. Then, the challenges started arriving. Up to now, we’d been climbing constantly but we were suddenly faced with some very scary descents – some appeared completely convex! Richard’s instructions weren’t terrifying at all: Pedal like mad, make sure you go over the top at speed, don’t stand up, ensure you keep your weight back behind the saddle (like how?) and don’t brake…. Don’t what??

The first descent was by far the scariest… but I stand here, a survivor of the tale so it was definitely better than it looked. Then the climbs and descents came higher and faster until all too soon we were done and out of the dune field. Then began the long slog home.

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This memorable tour is a must for its fun, novelty and interesting and patient guides. Just make sure you’ve had a more recent cycling experience – my tender buttocks are still feeling the saddle and it’s been 5 days…..

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