When you first get behind the wheel of a Polaris RZR XP – the dune buggy used on Big Red Adventure Tour’s Polaris Buggy Tour – it can feel a little intimidating. First, there’s the seatbelt. It’s a proper racing harness, very similar to the kind used in F1 cars. However, rather than Nürburgring, we’ll be setting off across the Dubai desert. After the guide is done putting the safety harness in place, all the while offering words of encouragement and final instructions, you press down on the steel brake pedal, and twist the key.
Start your engines…
As the needle shoots up the centrally placed Spartan speedometer, the engine’s roar is startlingly loud, even through the helmet. You shift the gear into H and… no movement. Unlike a conventional road vehicles, these ones don’t move forward naturally on their own. You need to press the accelerator first.
With a new buggy rider’s nerves dictating a slow start, you follow the lead vehicle out of the Big Red Adventure Tours compound and towards the start point over a conventional surface. This is your chance to get to grips with the wheel’s turn radius and steering, as well as the brakes – there’s a roundabout to negotiate. Once you’re on the sand, things change.
It’s a jolting experience, picking up speed over sand. The wind hits you through a roll cage as guides in both vehicles – there’s one at the front and one at the back of the convoy – assess your degree of comfort. Then comes the first dune. If I’m being honest, it’s quite terrifying to watch the lead vehicle rapidly ascend a giant pile of sand and disappear over its edge. However, I’ve been told: Whatever you do, you must accelerate up a dune. So I do, all the way to the top… then look down. It feels like an impossibly steep drop. Gripping the wheel extra tight, I ease on the accelerator, remembering the guide’s words: “Let the buggy’s momentum guide you”. A slight nudge sends us down the dune at speed.
It’s a rush, but nothing compared to the feeling when you become one with the vehicle, understand the power of the suspension and trust its handling. Five dunes later, we (almost) fly over one similar in size to the first, experiencing a split, split second of freefall, the feeling of our navel pushing up into the stomach as time seems to slow. A dragonfly zips through the roll cage, past my helmet and out the back of the Polaris. It’s lucky.
We take a break, standing on pink rocks atop a dune and appreciating a moment of silence and stability. I’m told I did OK in the first part, but that I need to “trust the vehicle”.
Believe in the buggy
Following this advice, I tried putting more faith into the Polaris, particularly when taking U-turns along the side of steeper dunes. I also note a subtle mind set shift occurring when watching what the guide vehicle does – which we’re instructed to follow exactly – from a fearful thought of “Oh no, what’s he going to do next?” to “Come back here, you aren’t escaping!” I started out as Bambi on ice; now, I’m Mad Max.
Of course, before taking any vehicle, you’d want to know it’s safe. At Big Red Adventure Tours, a series of checks are conducted prior to departure: The belt, oils (gearbox, engine and differential), coolant, seatbelts (the regular kind used by some other dune buggy operators have been swapped out for proper racing harnesses) and wheels (the tyres should be 14-16psi).
Helmets are a must, and every Polaris dune buggy at Big Red Adventure Tours has a roll cage. Another thing that sets Big Red apart is the guide system.
With a crew of well-trained, First Aid-certified guides who clearly set out the rules, do’s and don’ts ahead of each ride, just play by the rules and you’ll be fine.
Big Red Adventure Tours’ most popular option, the two-hour Polaris Buggy Tour, is Dh1,600 for a two-seater vehicle – you and a passenger can take turns behind the wheel. The vehicle is automatic, though you don’t need a driving licence to take part. Water is complimentary, as is a camel ride and sandboarding experience afterward.
If you're more into after-dark fun, Big Red Adventure Tours' two-hour Night Raid lets you witness a stunning desert sunset, before riding through the darkness and roasting marshmallows over a bonfire.
In its fifth year of operation, Big Red Adventure Tours also offers quad biking and can cater to events of up to 150 people. Click here to book or learn more.