Terrain softness and body weight

I have noticed that I suffer a lot compared to others when the terrain is very soft. This is both when racing or in group rides in gravel or mtb. It feels like every time I run into sand or soft dirt I almost get standstill compared to others. My technical skills are otherwise ok as I can build gaps to others when on trail sections. My repeatability’s quite good as I don’t get tired when burning a lot of matches, but compared to my body weight my anaerobic power is not great.

I have done mostly gravel racing as per now, but will do some marathon/ultra MTB events this year too. I am not a light dude, body weight when racing is 82-85 kilos. FTP is around 390-395 W though and I can go hard all day.

Could this be because of poor anaerobic power in general, or just because heavier guys sink deeper? Or do people tend to go very much harder when it’s soft? Has anyone noticed this themselves?

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Run bigger tyres fit better flotation


I’m a big guy as well and I find that wide tires and carefully balancing my weight between both tires makes a difference for me. That being said, sometimes you’ll just sink and it’s too hard to power through it.

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I think it’s the terrain. As a heavier guy, you’re pushing more earth out of the way. I imagine squishy ground works pretty much the same way as hills.

Heavier guys sink deeper.

I did a race on snow once, and I was basically unable to ride because I was 30 kg heavier than everyone else and my tires instantly sunk into the snow while they were riding.

All other variables being equal, riding through sand, the heavier rider will be working harder. You sink into it more. I’m a little lighter than you and was riding with a friend who is much lighter than me. I have to be 50 lbs heavier. And her bike is lighter because it’s smaller. We went through a sandy section and I got bogged down and had to get off and walk while she floated over the top.

Or run narrower tires that dig deeper. (In my experience, it depends on the thickness of the sand layer and what is underneath.)

When riding sand and certain types of snow, the recipe is usually not to put down more power. You are usually limited by traction, so putting out less power could be better actually.

There is technique involved when riding sand, snow and the like. It takes practice, and usually it is better not to fight the sand but to go with the flow. Sorry if I am a bit wishy-washy.

This. As much power as grip allows.

Thanks everyone for informative answers! I run 44 mm WAM tire, could go wider too.

I must try to do some hot laps in soft conditions and improve my skills and lap times that way to find out which lines etc help. It could be more a technical thing than just a weight thing. MVDP is not so much lighter than me and he does it well in CX racing. Maybe I could do some CX racing too in autumn.

I did ride the whole winter with my fatbike in snow so I have done some ground work already :smiley:

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That’s true. BUT i think mud is a bit different…it tends to be a later of mud on top of firmer ground; I imagine everyone sinks in more or less the same depth.

This too - line choice matters, a lot. Sometimes the ground is a lot softer or rougher just a few inches from somehwere else, even though it looks pretty much the same. If you find a place where you feel like you get stuck while those ahead just rode over it, try following their wheels exactly.

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I have definitely felt the same thing at 90kg.

There was one time I had this feeling on a path and I told my brother “It feels like my rear wheel is just sinking into the ground”. When we switched bikes he didn’t feel it on my bike, I didn’t feel it on his. At the time I attributed it to the tires. However, he weighs 10kg less than me. We also have different sized bikes (but both on trek boones). It could have been tires. It could have been my weight weight. It could have been the way my weight was distributed over the wheels. It also could have been mental. But it was an immediate difference. I went from struggling to keep up to pulling us.

This winter I bought a custom size gravel bike. It is effectively a 58cm where I was riding a 61cm before. I have not felt this phenomenon since. Don’t know if it is fit, different tires, tire pressure, the fact that I have lost 10 pounds or what, but it is a huge difference.

And sand as well. They are different for sure…but if you watch MVDP and WVA, who are both “heavier” riders - they put down a huge amount of power in the sand and it definitely seems to suit them well. Granted, everything suits them.


I think that’s the takeaway there :joy:

Also…in sand in particular…there’s a real art to picking, keeping, and letting your bike take the best line. Being good at it really matters. Plus huge watts…