Sitting astride an idling 450cc engine that gently pops and crackles in anticipation, the lone figure stares up at the wall of sand ahead of him. The dune looks insurmountable.
As if happy with his internal calculations, his posture lowers, becoming more streamline, and the quad bike beneath him roars into action, hurtling the rider towards the steep incline full throttle.
Built for such tough terrain, the quad’s suspension takes the change in elevation in its stride, losing minimal speed as it powers towards the top, cresting the dune in Bawshar with relative ease, before both rider and bike disappear from view in search of the next challenge.
I manoeuvre my own quad into position and attempt to emulate the sight. Halfway up I slacken the throttle a little and in that instant the quad loses its momentum, the wheels dig in to the sand and I’m stuck.
The expatriate worker who had provided me with a whistle-stop introduction to quad biking – explaining how to switch the automatic quad between drive modes, how to accelerate and how to brake – comes hurtling up the hill to free the quad before sending me back down to the bottom and directing me up another, slightly less steep dune.
Initial complications aside and once you get used to having handlebars in your hands as opposed to a steering wheel, quad biking really is quite easy and plenty of fun.
The dunes found right in Muscat’s back yard, in Bawshar, are a sight to see on the best of days, but when you’re blasting through them with the wind whipping through your helmet and plumes of sand spraying up into the air in your wake, you really get a newfound appreciation for them.
Several times I had to stop and admire the simple beauty of my surroundings. Perched on top of a pristine dune with the dark brown splendour of the rugged mountains to my left and the nation’s capital spreading out below me, leading to the sea beyond, I felt on top of the world.
Having all but mastered accelerating, braking and turning, I quickly realised there was very little else to quad biking – for beginners at least – and my confidence grew with every minute that passed. Soon I was thundering up and down the sprawling expanse of dunes like a seasoned biker, relishing in the fresh air and freedom.
The well-ridden tracks are easy to pick up and follow, while some intrepid exploration will lead you to less travelled paths where you can blaze your own trail; just be careful you don’t fall into the trap of getting stuck in the softer sand.
Confidence peaking, I changed the bike from four-wheel drive to two-wheel, freeing it from its shackles, which allowed the back end to kick out more in flamboyant sprays of sand.
After finding a suitable straight and relatively level stretch of sand, I was even able to open the quad bike up, reaching speeds of up to 70kph. While this may not sound incredibly fast to seasoned drivers, when you’re bouncing along the dunes with the wind whistling around your ears and unannounced bumps forcing you from your seat into a semi-standing position, it’s plenty fast enough.
Arriving around mid-afternoon on a Friday, I was lucky enough to have the dunes almost exclusively to myself for the duration of my hour’s rental. However, as the temperature cooled, increasing numbers of dune enthusiasts appeared in their 4x4s, making those flat out sprints up blind summits a little more risky.
When he removes the helmet after an hour of dune bashing, the lone figure I had first glimpsed turns out to be Jim Hargreaves, a 26-year-old British tourist visiting friends in Muscat, who stops for a chat.
“I’d heard that Oman was a good place for outdoor adventures, but I never expected to be doing this on my first day here. Less than 48 hours ago I was working outside in 10°C in central Scotland, now I’m racing up and down sand dunes. It’s hot, I’m covered in sand, but I love it,” he says.
“This is the first time I’ve driven a quad bike in years and even then it was relatively flat ground. This was something else entirely, it was great to have the freedom to let rip up there.
“When I was able to really open the bike up on the straights the thrill was second to none. The speed, combined with bumps, was a bit nerve-wracking at times, but the adrenaline rush was easily worth it.”
As my own hour with the quad bike comes to an end, I line up at the top of the dune that defeated me earlier on. Coming down was easy, but when I reach the bottom I turn around immediately, determined to conquer it second time around.
When I eventually power down the quad bike and remove my helmet, my hair is dripping with sweat, but the expatriate employee-cum-tutor is all smiles. With a broad grin he gives me a fist bump before waving me off into my own car. I have to remind myself that I’m not on the dunes as I get used to the feel of a steering wheel in my hands once more.