Abstract A numerical method based upon the immersed boundary technique for the fluid–solid coupling and on a soft-sphere approach for solid–solid contact is used to perform direct numerical simulation of the flow-induced motion of a thick bed of spherical particles in a horizontal plane channel. The collision model features a normal force component with a spring and a damper, as well as a damping tangential component, limited by a Coulomb friction law. The standard test case of a single particle colliding perpendicularly with a horizontal wall in a viscous fluid is simulated over a broad range of Stokes numbers, yielding values of the effective restitution coefficient in close agreement with experimental data. The case of bedload particle transport by laminar channel flow is simulated for 24 different parameter values covering a broad range of the Shields number. Comparison of the present results with reference data from the experiment of Aussillous et al. (2013) yields excellent agreement. It is confirmed that the particle flow rate varies with the third power of the Shields number once the known threshold value is exceeded. The present data suggests that the thickness of the mobile particle layer (normalized with the height of the clear fluid region) increases with the square of the normalized fluid flow rate.