— Summer is winding down, fall is coming and winter is right behind it, which means dune season is coming in hot. And like millions of other hard-core enthusiasts, we can’t wait. Like a culture of its own, self-proclaimed “duners” will congregate by the thousands, often miles from civilization, in search of nature’s roller-coaster-like ride.
These huge deposits of windblown sand can be found anywhere from the middle of the deepest desert to beaches like Pismo and Oregon and Baja’s Cantamar. The mild-mannered beach climates offer year-round enjoyment, but the really massive dunes found in the desert are best enjoyed from about Halloween to Easter. Summer temps in places like Dumont or Glamis are typically in the triple digits, but, when things cool off in October, the desert just might be the perfect place to be. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a sand-dune virgin, the same principles apply when it comes to dune prep and enjoyment. In life, a well-prepped and well-oiled machine is the recipe for success, and duning is no exception. Whether you’re riding an ATV or driving a UTV, you are going to need proper lubrication, filtration, flotation and maybe some traction. In comparison to typical hard-pack terrain, sand is typically harder on your motor but relatively easier on everything else.
There are a few things to address before that first trip to the dunes. Whether you’re a first-timer or a pro, ATV or UTV prep will require a few similar steps. Starting with fresh oil is a good first step with both ATVs and UTVs. Constant wheel slip raises engine rpm and just plain makes your motor work harder. We recommend fresh high-quality oil and a filter before every trip. This is especially important in today’s high-performance four-strokes.
The next thing to address is air filtration. By design, flying sand is going to try and enter your motor, causing internal self-destruction. It is your everimportant duty to keep it out. We have had a ton of luck with Uni foam and K&N’s gauze-type air filters in the sand. Using a Pre-Charger filter wrap only makes things that much better. K&N also makes a Powerlid for most popular sport quads; this filter lid replaces the stock airbox lid with a serious pre-filter, allowing you to jet for an open airbox but keep the protection of a closed-up system.
We’ve found the clamp-on-style air-filter setup is the safest for sand use. Some ATVs and UTVs come this way, some can be adapted via the Pro way, some can be adapted via the Pro Design airbox flange, and some are Design airbox flange, and some are just stuck with the cartridge or drop-in just stuck with the cartridge or drop-in style setup. The drop-in or press-flange style setup. The drop-in or press-flange style, like on a Polaris RZR 800 or even style, like on a Polaris RZR 800 or even a Yamaha sport quad, needs to be a Yamaha sport quad, needs to be properly greased to be truly effective. properly greased to be truly effective.
This is especially true for sand-dune prep. Any time you service the filter, use your finger to evenly apply a light coat or bead of grease to the sealing flange. This additional grease seal or barrier works wonders at keeping any and all sand in the airbox and out of the engine. The drive system is another area that needs attention when going duning. On an ATV, we would recommend using WD-40 or any light chain lube versus the stickier ones that will pick up lots of sand. A sandy chain will destroy a good set of sprockets in no time. Speaking of sprockets, a slightly heavier steel rear sprocket will outlast aluminum 4:1 when ridden in the giant sand box.
The final drive system on most UTVs consists of a CVT belt and clutch pulleys. It is not necessary to start with a costly fresh belt every trip, but we would highly recommend cleaning the whole system as a precautionary measure. You can remove and clean the belt in hot soapy water, but be sure to rinse it thoroughly and fully dry it before reinstalling. The pulleys can be cleaned with a Scotch-Brite pad and contact cleaner. Be sure when reinstalling the clutch cover that the seal/O-ring is in place and functional. You should also ensure that any intake filters are clean and in place.
Get good fuel and plenty of it! With constant wheel slip and the increased load of dune riding, your ATV or side by-side will burn about twice the fuel it does on hardpack. We recommend premium fuel, as the increased octane burns cooler and will help combat any increased operating temperatures from your hard-working motor. While your ATV or UTV will burn more fuel, please do not rig your UTV or ATV with extra fuel cans for that long ride. If you want more range or fuel capacity, buy an aftermarket desert tank. Don’t be one of the brainiacs whining that their car or quad (miraculously) caught fire when they just happened to have a fivegallon gas can full of flammable liquid strapped above a hot exhaust system. You definitely want to mount a fire extinguisher on your sled too.
Love ’em or leave ’em, paddle tires are the tire of choice when it comes to that ever-important traction you’re looking for. That said, paddles are not the only way to have fun in the dunes. If you opt to skip the paddle bill, we recommend running the lighter-weight stock radials in comparison to most of the heavier and stiffer aftermarket tire choices. Air them down (10 psi), and they work great on both UTVs and ATVs. If you have the luxury of beadlock wheels, you can go even lower, and they will work that much better.
Paddles are the whole next level of duning. For the most part, you have two types of fronts and two types of rears. Rears are available with V-cut or straight-cut paddles. The straight-cut paddles are designed for the ultimate in forward traction (think drag racing), and the V-cut paddles are meant to help the vehicle steer and turn precisely under load. There are many shapes and sizes available, but for the most part, the bigger the motor, the more paddles you’re going to want. More paddle can be achieved with the size of the scoops, the number of the scoops or both. When you want to really look at paddle performance, you will start factoring in weight as well. Higher-end paddles are often buffed all the way to the metal cord for lighter rotating mass and improved overall performance.
Stock front tires will work pretty well, but for most, applications for a ribdesign front sand tire will work best. The single- or dual-rib tire with smooth sides provides excellent bite when turning, but also minimizes the amount of sand roost that is thrown into the vehicle or at the rider. The other type of front sand tire is a smooth buff. This is usually used for drag racing, as it is extremely lightweight and it poses almost zero drag on the vehicle as it has no tread to catch the sand. These tires don’t really turn well at all, and if even light duning is in your plans, we would opt for the ribbed ones.
RIDING THE DUNES
Most dune systems require a safety flag with an 8-foot height; mounting to the roof means a 4- to-6-foot whip. Lit LED whips are the rage and a must for night dining, and Smart Whips turn red when you hit the brakes. This allows those behind to see “over” the ridge. those behind to see “over” the ridge. Now that you’ve gotten yourself ready Now that you’ve gotten yourself ready and to the dunes, you’re ready for some and to the dunes, you’re ready for some fun. Always wear safety gear. Don’t be fun. Always wear safety gear. Don’t be fooled by the soft sand, because it’s fooled by the soft sand, because it’s still gonna hurt when you go bouncing off it at 30–40 mph. Looking ahead off it at 30–40 mph. Looking ahead and properly and effectively reading and properly and effectively reading the terrain are key to both fun and safe the terrain are key to both fun and safe duning.
Momentum and clearance are everything in the dunes. Be sure to carry enough momentum or speed to conquer any hill or obstacle in front of you. The key is to have just enough speed to clear the top of the hill, but not be flying when you get there. When cresting a blind dune, you should try and hit it at an angle to make the transfer as smooth as possible. If climbing a hill you think you’re not going to make it, you need to turn around while you still have enough forward momentum to get you through the turn. If you completely run out of go without making the turn, you will have to dismount and drag the ATV’s front end around to get facing downhill again. Back down in a UTV, as trying to turn around can cause a flip.
Jumping in the dunes could be a whole sport of its own. With a little searching, you can find anything from the perfect little step-up to the most massive natural double jumps you’ve ever seen. Remember to thoroughly pre-check the landing and use a spotter to alert you of any oncoming riders. For most dune-jumping situations, you will want to land on the gas; this lessens the stiction and smooths out most sand landings.
RIDING AT NIGHT
Dunes are one of the coolest places for a night ride. This can be enjoyable with stock headlights, but a LED light bar or pod system will truly make the night ride. With some of the better lighting systems out there, you will truly see just as well as you do in the daytime. While good lights can offer superior lighting immediately in front of you, it is very easy to get lost. Be sure to truly get your bearings in the daylight before heading out into the darkness. It is also a great idea to stay in a group with a leader who has the experience to get you back to camp. GPS and radios are all the more important at night.