Dune bashing is fun for some and a horror story for others. People who are into extreme sports and adrenaline-fueled experiences like rollercoasters, bungee jumping, kite surfing, downhill mountain biking, and such and such will love it. People who are “nervous” passengers by default and prefer to be in control of their body’s adrenaline should possibly stay away from dune bashing entirely.
Dune bashing is an adrenaline-filled-thrill-a-minute experience. Accidents (rolling or flipping the vehicle) happen more often than not. The ride in itself is scary as you drift across the sand at impossible angles and high speeds, not knowing what lies behind one dune to the next.
How scary is dune bashing? To put it this way, scary enough, that pregnant women, children under five years of age, and people with heart problems are advised not to participate in this activity. It is recommended that you don’t dune bash on a full stomach as it may lead to extreme vomiting while on this sand rollercoaster. This article will discuss the dangers of dune bashing and why some people regard it as too scary to participate in this activity.
Why Is Dune Bashing Considered Scary?
Specific first-time experiences will almost always be scary. Think about parachuting from a plane; the act will surely scare the living daylights out of a person doing it for the first time. And so, any action or experience that takes you out of your comfort-, or safe zone will have a degree of “scariness’’ to it.
Another critical element to consider why some experience it as scary and others as thrilling is adrenaline:
“It is commonly used in describing the physiological symptoms (such as increased heart rate and respiration) that occur as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress. As when someone is in a dangerous, frightening, or highly competitive situation, as well as the feelings of heightened energy, excitement, strength, and alertness associated with those symptoms”.
Each one of us reacts differently to stressful situations. Some of us go into flight mode when presented with a stressful situation (increased heart rate and respiration); others experiencing the same situation go into fight mode, feeling excited and energized by the experience.
What Is Dune Bashing?
Dune bashing is a rough ride on a sandy landscape. It involves a 4×4 vehicle, generally equipped with a roll bar for safety reasons, with reduced tire pressures for maximum traction, climbing and navigating the dunes at all sorts of angles, speeds, and in general just bashing the sandy terrain with power and speed.
Redbull made an ad about dune bashing featuring 3-time Dakar Rally Champion, Nasser Al-Attiyah, who picks up a “lost” 3-time MotoGP Champion, Jorge Lorenzo, in the Dubai desert, offering him a lift to his Honda Team, while along the way doing some dune bashing. The fact that a man who rides a bike that can reach speeds of up to 190-miles per hour, armed with only a leather suit and helmet, could be so scared when dune bashing indicates the initial fear that dune bashing brings about.
Oh, I forgot to mention that some modified dune buggies, 4×4’s, and specially designed dune bashers, like sand rails, will at times only drive on two-wheels, usually when popping wheelies, and at times on none (when ramping over the dunes), so there you have it. Vital information to have before you climb into the dune-bashing vehicle.
What Are The Dangers Associated With Dune Bashing?
The most obvious dangers are accidents due to negligent driving, flipping or rolling the vehicle, getting stuck in the sand (desert), dehydration, hitting hidden objects, hitting other cars, engines breaking down, using the wrong tire setup, and not packing in essential gear. The other danger is called a cliffhanger!
To participate in dune bashing, you will require a specific driving level skill set. Knowledge and experience are significant factors for driving on moving sand (knowing your off-road angles). You will need experience with regards to understanding the correct approach- and break-over angles of the dunes; if you don’t, you might end up:
- Bumper-first in the sand
- Stuck on the top of a dune
- Rolling your vehicle
- Flipping your vehicle
Rolling Or Flipping (Speed Control)
Momentum and speed control is vital when dune bashing up a large dune. Reaching the top of a dune without stopping is the name of the game. Should you start to slow, and you won’t make it to the top, you will have to:
- Back down the dune
- Make a wide arc to turn around
Both of these actions could potentially be dangerous, as you’re at greater risk of:
- Rolling your car over. Cars are at less risk of rolling when they are pointing directly uphill or downhill. When a sideways angle comes into play, you will be more likely to tip the vehicle.
- Ending in an upside-down position. When a car tips and rolls, it usually comes to a stop at the bottom of the dune or a flat area.
Driving fast is what some people tend to think dune bashing is all about. Most rollovers and flips happen when the vehicle ramps and lands on difficult areas on the dunes (angles) while flying at high speeds. There is an art in driving at the correct speed when dune bashing, knowing when to lay off the throttle, and when to give it gas.
Hitting Hidden Objects
The thing about dunes is that they are constantly moving and changing their form. This is due to pressure from the wind and water. In essence, if you have not been dune bashing for a year or so, your local spot will have changed a fair bit.
What was covered by sand previously, objects like rocks, boulders, even trees, could now be uncovered. One side of the dune may look different from the other side, and you will only find out when you cross the crest of the dune.
Many dune bashers have made the mistake of assuming that the other side of a dune will look the same as the front. Only to find dangerous obstacles (boulders, rocks, tree stumps) on the other side, in the process damaging their vehicles and putting themselves and their passengers in danger.
The wise thing to do is always to go dune bashing in pairs. One vehicle can then drive to the top of the dune and indicate any change, or danger, allowing you to turn your attention to a safer dune or giving the go-ahead to go full-throttle.
Hitting Other Vehicles
There is always the danger of hitting or crashing into other vehicles. Your car does not have a radar system warning you of an approaching vehicle. There are also no marshals positioned on top of the dunes indicating an approaching vehicle from the other side that you are on.
Accidents happen, even in the wide-open space that is a desert. Even more so at crowded beach dunes or sandy dunes in the bush.
Another danger of dune bashing is dehydration, especially if you get stuck in the sand or had an accident, and there are no other vehicles nearby. Any adventure into the desert requires a lot of water, enough to sufficiently hydrate you for a day or two, as you never know what will happen in the sand.
People tend to forget this critical requirement, and after a long day spent in the dunes and the sun, dehydration is not a good look on anybody. Stock up on the H2O!
Besides the apparent damage that comes with rolling/flipping your vehicle, the sand can also have a damaging effect on your vehicle’s engine. The biggest culprit is a blocked filter.
When they lose the ability to block out the finer sand/dirt, the airflow to the engine becomes restricted, eventually preventing combustion, and soon the engine will struggle to function.
To stop this from happening is to implement special housing in the vehicle with filters that can block the finer particles, allowing air to flow to the engine.
Besides the apparent damage to your engine over time, people tend to forget to check the rest of their dune bashers after each ride. Fixing and maintaining your vehicle will keep it running in the dunes for longer. A simple thing like regularly checking if your seatbelts are working could save a life in the long run!
Not Fitting The Right Tires
Fitting the wrong tires, either too small (not enough width) or with too much air pressure in them, will give you problems on the sand when dune bashing. The idea is not to get stuck. With the wrong tire setup, this is precisely what will constantly happen to you. Small and narrow tires will decrease your car’s traction on the sand, not help displace the vehicle’s weight, and could leave you stuck all over the dunes.
Fitting your vehicle with wide tires before leaving to bash some dunes is an excellent idea and will make the bashing safer and more enjoyable. The wider the tire, the less you will start to sink into what you are driving through, in this case, moving sand. Compare this effect with a snowshoe-the greater width of a snowshoe disperses the weight across a larger area, making it easier to stay on the surface and not sink too far in it.
Reducing your tire pressure to a lower psi will automatically increase the tire’s surface, allowing for a wider surface area. For example, tires with a 35 recommended psi (pound per square inch) could be reduced to 12-14 psi which will automatically reduce the downward pressure of the vehicle on the sand. The reduced pressure will result in your vehicle not getting stuck as frequently and increase the tires’ traction.
Dune buggies, sand rails, ATVs, and larger sports utility 4×4 vehicles (Toyota Fortuner) are customarily fitted with wider tires.
Not Packing Essential Gear
As with any outdoor activity, you would want to pack in anything that allows you to be safe during the trip and navigate your way home when done. Not all of us follow this common sense at all times, so here is a heads-up of what you should never forget when going out into the dunes:
- Water: As previously mentioned, water is essential and could be the lifesaver when in a tight spot, especially during longer dune bashing trips into desert areas that are not as crowded as beach dune bashing spots.
- Cellphone Charger/Extra Batteries: Getting lost in the desert with a limited amount of fuel could be pretty scary and dangerous. Packing in a cellphone charger or extra batteries will help in phoning a friend, or when you need to navigate back to civilization, if your vehicle gets stuck when something happens to your vehicle that makes it undrivable.
- Flares: The good old cry-for-help flare. Hard to ignore even when the dunes are pretty much deserted or if your adventure has taken you a few miles from other dune bashers. Help will arrive when you ignite one of these and is especially useful for a night session in the dunes.
- Sunscreen: Another item that is regularly left at home. Whether at sea or in a desert, bashing in the dunes usually translates to scorching sunny days. Protecting your skin from the sun is almost as important as staying hydrated. Nothing worse than a sore sunburn!
- Protective Gear: This includes a helmet, goggles, and any item deemed necessary for protection. Dune bashing is a dangerous sport with frequent accidents occurring. Protecting your body is vital and even if the vehicle is fitted with a rollbar, wear a helmet and sunglasses.
- A rolling vehicle will smash your unprotected head against the very thing inserted to protect you-the rollbars. Goggles protect your eyes from the sand.
Dunes are not mountains or hills, for that matter. One side of the dune may have a gradient that slowly rises, and you may expect the same from the other side, but that is hardly the case with dunes. The other side of the dune usually differs from the side you are approaching so that the other side may have an extreme drop with no subtle gradient.
The higher the dune, the higher the drop on the other side. Many dune bashers lose control of their vehicles when racing over the “easy” side of the dune, only to be faced with a cliff-like drop on the other side. Remember, there is no plateau on a dune. It’s up and then straight down, usually, at the speed, you climbed the dune, which is generally very fast.
Like any other sport or extreme activity, dune bashing has its particular dangers that need to be navigated by the riders bashing the dunes. There is no substitute for experience, and while gaining said experience, being aware of the dangers might help you become a dune master while keeping your vehicle intact.
Not all of your passengers will share the same excitement when you are bashing them through the dunes. Some will laugh. Some will cry. That is life.