Dangerous dunes: tackling Atlantis on the big bikes

Zanie's picture

Points: 2

Lance and I, Gerhard and Ilse, and Rudolf (Lance’s brother-in-law) headed to Atlantis dunes last weekend. Lance and Gerhard had both been there before on their small bikes and they were used to taking their big bikes on sand excursions, but not one of us had ever tackled Atlantis on a big bike. Ilse had only seen gravel a couple of times this year, but had seen some crazy sand in her time, thanks to Gerhard. Rudolf was very new to off-road and sand in particular. I’ve coped with Namibian sand before, but this was something else.

Rudolf, Ilse and I (the least experienced bunch) were all on BMW 650GS’s, Lance on his BMW 800GSA and Gerhard on a Triumph Tiger 800.

Lance created this video from GoPro and cell phone footage that all the guys took:

All of us set off at about 7:30am from Blouberg. We entered Atlantis through the “back way,” i.e. not the main entrance. The approach “road” was the most difficult stretch of the entire ride. Even Lance and Gerhard were having a hard time.

Lance managed to save himself here:

So much for my Namibia sand triumph. This deep tweespoor messed with my head. I reverted to good old paddling.

Gerhard dove into a bush (see the video). While stuck, he could observe the antics of some 4-wheeled vehicles.

Even the bakkie “gooi mielies.”

I managed to rock and rev my way out of a self-dug hole, but I also fell more times than I care to count. From the photographic evidence, three falls are a definite. Why do I always fall to the right? The mirror on that side was busted. At least I have cheap R100 mirrors, given their attrition rate.

Paddling and falling is immensely tiring.

Lance moved my bike for me past one particularly deep sand stretch.

Odometer: 70km/h. Actual speed: barely moving.

We finally reached the dunes. Lance made a dramatic entrance.

The dunes were impressive and a bit overwhelming. Thanks to the confidence-sapping approach road, I was in a mood to turn tail and run. Rudolf, Ilse and I stood like deer in headlights. Meanwhile, Lance and Gerhard got down to business. Each grabbed a 650 (mine and Ilse’s) for their first sortie.

Lance on my bike:

Gerhard on Ilse’s bike:

When the guys returned, they assured us that the dunes were easier than the approach road.

This would sum up our reaction:

Rudolf decided to give it a bash and gave a sterling performance. Ilse, bolstered by Rudolf’s fall-free run, followed suit, with a similar issue-free ride. I, having reverted into complete scaredy-cat mode, was the last to get onto my steed. I always need someone to do something first before I try it, i.e. I have done kloofing before, but only after someone jumped from the cliff before me (or with me).

Eventually all of us were circling in the sand.



I was impressed with how well both Ilse and Rudolf were doing, given their limited sand riding experience. They were lapping me, that’s for sure. Ilse has always been more ballsy when it comes to sand. Rudolf, it appears, comes with the lower risk / fear threshold so often seen in guys. Either that or he was doing all his screaming quietly on the inside!



Lance and Gerhard looked completely at home in this terrain. They were running rings around us.

Lance, with Ilse in the background:

Ilse taking part in bike-burying rituals:

Me trying to get moving, while Gerhard or Lance fly by:

Me actually moving:

I usually ride sitting, but the sand combined with the big bike forced my rear end to become airborne. There was no other way. It helped keep control when things started going pear-shaped. I also learnt to pull away and ride in second. First wants to dig holes or wallow. Even if I did manage to get going in first, the change to second would usually result in a stalled bike (not changing fast enough).

This looks impressive, but was a near miss:

Despite my numerous falls on the approach road, I remained fall-free on the dunes itself.

Rudolf had the impressive record of remaining fall-free for the entire day.

Lance, true to his motto of “if you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough,” fell plenty times. We make a good team where that’s concerned!

Taking a rest:

Unfortunately our day did not end on a high note. The sand at the approach road entrance is churned up by the 4x4’s and much harder to ride. On the way out, Ilse crashed. I saw Lance race off to check on her. Ilse was not getting up. I asked through the headset whether she was ok. When Lance reached her, I was presented with the short answer of “no.”

Lance is a man of few words. I was forming pictures of broken neck / spine or such horrific things. When I reached them, I found out Ilse was ok in that sense, but would potentially have to face a different sort of horror: crutches and moon boot. Her bad foot (she had previously torn her Achilles tendon) was yet again busted. We did not know the extent of the damage; only that she would not be riding out. Thankfully we were near the dunes entrance.

Gerhard and Lance rode off, looking for help. Rudolf and I stayed behind. Lance was riding on Ilse’s bike, taking it out of the dunes area. He got a lift back with someone on a quad bike. A couple of 4x4s were also in tow. They had just arrived to go dune driving. Ilse got a lift to the tar road in a 4x4. The rest of us had to tackle that terrible stretch on our own steam.

Rudolf managed to ride sections:

With all of us safely at the tar road, we played musical bikes. We helped Ilse onto the back of Gerhard’s bike. Rudolf followed them home and helped Ilse get off the bike. Lance and I took our bikes home and returned on his, so that I could take Ilse’s bike back. 

The initial prognosis was that Ilse had torn ligaments in her foot and knee and possibly a broken ankle bone (the radiologist got back to her in the following week to let her know the bone is ok). I understand her completely when she said that the pain is nothing against the agony of knowing that you have to do time on crutches and in a moon boot. Both of us have done time previously and it leaves lasting mental scars of helplessness.

This episode highlights the importance of getting some seriously sturdy boots. Ilse’s boots were one up from adventure boots, i.e. they are knee-high and do offer more protection that the general off-road boot. But what you need are motocross boots. Lance and I both have at least one fall each where we know serious damage was averted thanks to our boots. Though no boots would have helped against the knee ligament damage (knee braces would have helped in this case), it would have at least averted the damage done by twisting of the foot and may have avoided any broken bones.

Charles Oertel's picture
Joined: 2007/04/14

Thanks for this Zanie - I have done that back road once, and also didn't like it.  I was contemplating using it for the club Atlantis ride, but your report shows that although it is flatter (Compared to the steep uphill at the main entrance), it is long, twisty and very soft.

The dunes are indeed easier to ride than sandy  tweespoor, which is why it is useful as an introduction to sand.  Nice report and photies.

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