Sand riding is one of the funnest ways to enjoy your ATV or UTV. Sand can be tough on your machine though, there are steps to take before a weekend at the dunes to make sure your ATV can handle it. Sand dunes can be found throughout the world, from coasts and plains to desert areas, sand dunes attract a lot of ATV/UTV riders, and for good reason. Here are some things I learned about sand dune riding on an ATV or UTV.
Sand Proofing Your ATV
Sand getting into your engine can cause huge problems, it’s always best to prep you machine for sand riding before you hit the dunes. Your tires will spin more than usual in sandy conditions, this puts extra strain on your engine. It’s a lot harder to find traction in the sand than it is on normal packed dirt trails. Of course paddle tires give you excellent traction, but your engine will still be operating harder than usual.
Decreasing the weight of your machine will have huge benefits when riding through sand. A lighter ATV will almost float on top of the sand, and give you better traction when riding. You don’t want to be bogged down by unnecessary weight in the sand dunes. Having a heavy skid plate, for example, will do more harm than good.
You do however, want something like a belly pan skid to prevent your quad for catching on the sand and getting you stuck. Aim to go with lighter weight tires too. If you don’t have paddles tires, at least don’t go with heavy stiff aftermarket tires. They are great at preventing punctures, but terrible in sand, there aren’t to many obstacles that could puncture a tire in the sand dunes anyway. I’ve had good luck with stock lightweight tires in the past.
It’s always a good idea to keep your quad greased up properly, especially before a sand dunes trip. Make sure your axle carrier is greased up, as well as the swing arm pivot and suspension linkages. It will keep your mind at ease and the quad up to par for the dunes.
I found that while you go through and grease the different parts on your quad, it’s a good time to do a once over of the machine. Check for loose cotter pins, or anything that could be lost in the sand. Tighten up loose nuts and bolts and so on. If you lose a part in the dunes, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
Getting some fresh oil in your engine will help. You will be working your engine and transmission more than usual, it’s best to keep it protected. Change the oil filter while you’re at it, with a 2-stroke engine your oil should last longer. But in a 4-stroke, I highly recommend changing the oil and oil filter if it’s been a while.
Keep in mind the gear box oil. You also want to make sure your clutch and transmission stay in good shape. If you are good about routine maintenance, you should be fine. But if its been a while since you’ve done any of these things, it’s a good idea to get them done before you go riding in sand.
Last but certainly not least, the air filter. It’s very important to make sure your air filter is clean and oiled up properly. Dust and dirt will get everywhere, your air filter is the only thing protecting your motor from the damaging sand. If you have a flange type air filter make sure to grease the flange, that will prevent sand from getting around the filter and into your engine. If you don’t protect your engine from sand, it will become a costly mistake that’s for sure.
One of the best methods I’ve seen for keeping sand out of your motor is a well oiled K&N filter with a filter charger on it. If you have a fabric type filter, they work great in sand. If you need a new air filter you can find them for almost any ATV online, here is a link to Amazon to get your search started. If your air filter is just too clogged up to clean it all the way, it’s best to just replace it.
Tire Pressure And Sand
Getting the tire pressure in your tires right makes a huge difference for sand riding. If you have paddle tires, you will already be getting excellent traction. But, I just use regular stock tires set to 3-4 psi. The key here is to get just enough pressure to keep the tire seated on the rim. With a soft tire set to a low psi, your quad will feel like it’s floating through the sand.
It’s also recommended to lower the pressure in paddle tires too. The idea behind this is that with a lower tire pressure your tires create a flat spot where they touch the ground. That creates better traction, and keeps your quad from sinking into the sand.
If you are using a UTV, I would aim for around 8 psi, because UTV’s are heavier than a standard size quad. If you have 14 inch wheels on your UTV, try staying around 10 psi. I wouldn’t go much lower than that unless you have beadlock rims. Beadlock basically holds your tire’s seal better, allowing you to deflate the tires even more without them falling off the rim.
Avoid going out in the sand with heavy stiff aftermarket tires. These types of tires are designed to work well on rocky terrain or on a track, but don’t do well in sand. Once you have a tire that works well in sand, and the tire pressure set right, you’ll be floating the dunes in no time.
Paddle tires were made for riding in the sand dunes. An ideal setup would be to have mostly smooth front tires and paddle tires on the rear. There are different types of paddle tires depending on which type of riding you prefer. I enjoy the V-cup paddle tires, which are more for fun, sliding through the sand, and playing in the dunes. But, straight-cup paddles are better for quick straight line racing or hill climbing the dunes.
V-cup paddles allow you to slide more easily through the sand, while straight-cup paddles are better for straight line acceleration. It’s all personal preference here, get the tire that fits your style of riding the most.
Things to consider when choosing a paddle tire:
- Tire Diameter – Affects gearing and riding comfort
- Paddle Size – Based off horsepower
- Number Of Paddles – Stock quad (6-8 paddles) Bigger motor (10 paddles) Drag racing quads (12-14 paddles)
For the front, you can leave the stock tires if you’d like. They work fine, but will throw a lot of sand up, sometimes getting sand in your face. The best solution is a smooth front tire with a single rib down the center, like a mohawk. This type of tire allows you to turn and float on the sand well, and helps keep from kicking too much sand up. They do make completely smooth tires, but you will have a hard time turning with these. They are mostly used for drag racing in sand, where the rider wants as little friction from the front tires on the sand as possible.
Sand Riding Tips
Now that you’ve got your ATV sand proofed and the tire pressure set, you’re ready to ride. Even though sand dunes are a pretty safe place to ride, there are some safety precautions to consider. A lot of people like to have these Safety Flags found here on Amazon, or something similar. As always, wear proper safety gear. If you want to check out some tried and tested ATV gear, visit the Recommended Gear section of this site. Better safe than sorry.
Here’s a list of sand riding tips to help get you started:
- Jumping – The sand dunes are a great place to find natural jumping sections. Keep in mind that the dunes are always changing, the sick jumps you were hitting one day might be completely different the next. Have a spotter to look out for your landing, and to make sure you don’t run into other riders.
- Side Sliding – Side sliding is when you’re riding along a steep slope and you let the rear end drop below the front. You will basically be using throttle control and balance to navigate yourself along the side of the hill. If you are able to keep your momentum up, this can be a ton of fun.
- Momentum – It goes without saying, the bigger the hill, the more momentum you will need to get to the top. Sand riding is all about momentum, without it you will find yourself bogging down and getting stuck fairly often. Just keep your quad moving and keep your momentum strong.
- Speed – It’s true you need to keep your momentum up, but you don’t want to be going to fast that you’re launching yourself off dune peaks blindly. Get a nice rhythm going, you don’t want to get yourself bottomed out on a dune peak.
- Climb – Climbing is an absolute blast. Just make sure you scout out and plan your route ahead of time. You want to make sure you know where your transition is going to be, and make it as smooth as possible. Hitting a depression you didn’t plan for will kill your momentum, and you may end up having to dig your quad out.
- Turn Around – If you’re climbing a hill and you don’t think you will make it because your speed is dropping, try turning around while you still have some momentum left.
- Jump Off – When you’re climbing a hill, or any time you’re riding, and things start going badly, don’t be afraid to hop off the machine. Try to jump off towards the high ground, turn your front tires facing down hill, then climb back on and continue. I hate when I see people try to stay on the ATV in a losing battle. The quad will end up tipping, and someone could get hurt.
- Transition – When you’re transitioning over the dunes, try to hit the peak at somewhat of an angle. Around 45 degrees is good. This will lessen the sudden jolt as your front end comes back down after crossing the peak.
Sand Dune Safety
Sand dunes are typically some of the safest places to ride an ATV or UTV. If you ride within your skill level, and follow these safety tips, the likelihood of an accident are pretty low. Still, accidents do happen, so make sure you’re wearing proper safety gear.
It is not recommended to race anywhere within 100 feet of any camp or buildings. Try to keep it under 15 mph as you pass other riders. And most importantly, just use common sense while you’re out there. There’s plenty of space in the sand dunes for racing and jumping without endangering anyone.
Try to ride with a group if you can, if not, at least ride with one other person. Having another set of eyes always comes in handy if something goes wrong. If you’re new to the area, take it slow and scout things out a bit before going balls to the wall.
Here is a list of things worth considering to have with you, with links to Amazon for those items:
- Tow Straps
- Tool Kit
- Tire Repair Kit
- First Aid Kit
- Water, Lots Of Water
Water is last on that list, but it’s one of the most important. You have to stay hydrated out in the sand dunes. You lose a lot of water just normal trail riding, and in the dunes, it’s even worse. Bring some extra water bottles, it’s better than having to cut a riding day short because of dehydration.
Keep watch for holes and indents made in the sand by the wind. Some people call them witches eyes because they are hard to see, and if you hit one, it could throw you off your quad. It’s a bit easier to see if you use tinted goggles, but there’s nothing to block the sun in the dunes.
It’s easy to get lost riding in the sand dunes, and even more so at night. If you’re going to be riding at night, get some bright 12V light bars on your quad, like this LED Light Bar found here on Amazon, if your headlights aren’t going to be bright enough.
That’s it! Sand riding is such a blast, if you prep your ATV or UTV the right way, and follow proper safety procedures, I know you’ll have the time of your life. It’s easy to get hooked riding in the sand dunes, what started as a one time thing to try out, turned into annual long weekend trips for us. Most importantly, have fun floating the dunes!