Mastering the art of dune-bashing with the Maruti Suzuki Jimny

In part 8 of our ABC of off-roading series, we are taking you into the depths of Rajasthan’s desert to show you how to go dune bashing
Always remember that off-roading is a group activity, and venturing into the desert alone is never advisable.
Always remember that off-roading is a group activity, and venturing into the desert alone is never advisable.Rohit G Mane for evo India

When was the last time you pushed your vehicle’s engine all the way to the redline? It doesn’t happen too often on your commute, does it? Don’t worry; you’re no less of an automotive enthusiast if it’s been a while. Our congested, broken and now increasingly policed roads are hardly the place to go berserk. By practising restraint, you might actually be one of the few responsible enthusiasts we have left. That said, we all deserve a place where we can safely exploit the limits of our vehicles. If you’ve been following this tutorial series, then you know that off-roading is all about being slow and steady. Well, there is one exception to that rule: the sand dunes of Rajasthan. Here, you are free to let your tachometer soar into the red zone, and trust me, you will need to. Here, there are no speed traps, no pedestrians and no traffic — just a literal sandbox for adults. Sounds fun, right? But bear in mind, dune bashing can be dangerous. Fortunately, we’re here to guide you on how to have an exhilarating yet safe experience.

All kitted out for the desert.
All kitted out for the desert.Rohit G Mane for evo India

Preparing for the desert

If you’ve ever walked on the beach, you know that it takes twice the amount of energy to go half as far. It’s not difficult to imagine the strain your vehicle will endure in the desert. The best preparation you can provide is a thorough servicing beforehand. Check all the vehicle’s fluids, paying particular attention to the cooling system, including the coolant, radiator and fans. Reliability is paramount in the desert, which is why Maruti has extensively tested the Jimny in these harsh conditions to ensure it remains cool. Given the need for frequent gear changes, it’s essential to inspect the transmission and clutch. Additionally, ensure that all tyres, including the spare, have sufficient tread depth to find traction on the sand. Despite this, even new tyres will need to be aired down to around 15 to 18psi, so carry an air compressor to reinflate them once you’re back on solid ground. As always, remember that off-roading is a group activity, and venturing into the desert alone is never advisable. Having spent a significant portion of my life in the Gulf, I’ve heard countless tales of individuals stranded in the desert for days. Unlike the tales of friendly sheikhs coming to the rescue, reality often paints a different picture. Always travel in groups for safety and carry recovery gear such as a tow strap and sand ladders. Also remember that camels have humps for a reason; carry plenty of water and some snacks. Lastly, protect yourself from the sun’s harsh rays with a hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and sunscreen.

Read between the dunes

Before heading into the vast expanse of the desert, take a moment to observe your surroundings, with particular attention to the wind — it can tell you a lot. The side of the dune facing the prevailing wind will typically be more gradual, while the leeward side often forms a steep drop, known as a razorback. As a beginner, stick to the shallower side while being mindful that a steep drop awaits on the other side. Additionally, learn to visually seek out harder, more compacted areas by looking for tyre tracks indicating firmer terrain. Although not as straightforward as identifying level 1, 2 and 3 trails, sand dunes do offer varying levels of difficulty. From small crests and dips to giant dunes the size of buildings with sheer drops, the desert has something for everyone and can be quite unpredictable. Stick to the smaller dunes while you figure out the dynamics of how your vehicle behaves on sand. And just like a novice swimmer must stay close to the shore, a novice dune basher must stay within visual distance of the access roads. This way, if you get stuck, you know which way to start walking.

Before tackling the dunes remember to, deflate your tyres, turn off traction control, maintain high revs and stick to 4L.
Before tackling the dunes remember to, deflate your tyres, turn off traction control, maintain high revs and stick to 4L.Rohit G Mane for evo India

The fun begins

If there’s one crucial concept in dune bashing, it’s momentum. Even those nutty 1000bhp off-road monsters you see on Instagram with turbos sticking out of the bonnet will struggle to make it up a tall dune without it. In fact, unleashing big power suddenly will only cause you to dig in. Building momentum (with building being the operative word) requires some skill and understanding of the terrain around you. Finding the perfect balance is key. This is where the Jimny’s naturally aspirated engine shines. Its powerband is linear, making it easy for beginners to comprehend. You can ease into things, gently delivering torque until you’re properly rolling and then being more aggressive with the throttle to access the grunt that lies higher up in the powerband. It is an engine that loves to rev, providing plenty of excitement for experienced off-roaders. It is, after all, the descendant of the mighty Gypsy , which ruled the deserts, winning multiple Desert Storms and other rally raids.

When tackling soft sand, rely on 4L with second and third gears as your primary ratios. Save first gear for getting going, and if you find yourself beached. It’s essential to keep the revs up and the engine in the powerband, so make sure your gear shifts are quick and well timed. If the engine drops out of the power band, you will lose momentum and bog down in the sand. When that does happen, try reversing out, moving out of your vehicle’s previous tracks and moving forward again while applying more throttle. Thankfully, the Jimny’s low curb weight enables it to glide over sand instead of sinking into it, so moments like this are few and far between.

The desert is the ultimate playground for off-road enthusiasts.
The desert is the ultimate playground for off-road enthusiasts. Rohit G Mane for evo India

Pay close attention to the angles of the dunes. Steep dunes should never be approached head-on, as it’s a surefire way to damage the front end of your vehicle. In the best-case scenario, you’ll lose momentum and bog down halfway up. Always approach a dune at an angle to ensure your bumper has clearance and the shallower angle gives you a better chance of reaching the top. If that still doesn’t work, don’t panic. If it is possible to safely turn the vehicle around, then do so. If not, don’t keep your foot buried in the throttle and bury the axles in sand. Instead, gently bring the vehicle to a halt, straighten the wheel, reverse back down the dune, and try again with more momentum and a different angle.

If you succeed at the second attempt, don’t go full-send across the crest of the dune in all your excitement. It’s essential to exercise caution, as you have no idea what lies on the other side. Serious dune bashers often have tall flags on the back of their vehicles to aid in spotting them from the other side of the dune. The correct approach is to gently reduce speed once you are almost at the crest, ride the crest for a bit to survey what lies beyond, and then carefully plan your descent.

The technique remains the same on the way down: be smooth with your inputs, do not dip the clutch and adjust your angle at the bottom of the slope so you do not dig into the sand with your front bumper. Also remember, when it comes to slowing down on sand, just getting off the throttle will do most of the heavy lifting, and when you do brake, be gentle to avoid digging in. A little piece of advice: whenever you decide to come to a halt, be it for a quick breather or to set up camp, always park your vehicle at a nose-down angle. This way, it is much easier to get going again.

And the Jimny is the perfect tool for the job.
And the Jimny is the perfect tool for the job.Rohit G Mane for evo India

Despite your best efforts, the likelihood of getting stuck in the sand is very high — even the experts do it all the time. The recovery techniques are mostly the same as on any other terrain. Recovery vehicle, tow straps, sand ladders — you know the drill. However, on sand, the recovery vehicle will need to build up some momentum in order to free the beached vehicle and a rigid tow strap might cause damage if the force is exerted too suddenly. In such cases, an elasticated tow rope comes in really handy. Just remember to make sure everyone is clear of both vehicles in case the tow rope somehow comes loose or snaps.

Now these are just the basics — the A, B, and C, if you will. For D to Z, you will need to get out there and practice. That is the only way to perfect the art of dune bashing. The best way to get started is to join a club or group that specialises in desert driving. Most individuals in such a group are deeply passionate about the hobby and will gladly give you pointers and bring you into the fold. If you own a capable vehicle like the Jimny, I encourage you to venture out and give dune bashing a try. Just don’t blame me when you’re as hooked on it as I am!

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