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What does it take to explore Baja? Thousands "ride Baja" but most never venture off the highway and miss places only the quick and the dead have seen. Can you ride your fully loaded RTW "adventure bike" two up into deeper Baja? Or even one up? The short answer is no. Those that make such claims have never seen the real "Out Back" Baja.
I've ridden Baja many times, mostly following the 1000 race course and never saw stuff like on this last ride. The difference? We had a AA level rider as our guide who has done Baja every year for the last 15 years. Many new trails have been discovered in the last 10 years but very few casual riders would ever discover them. We rode just a few of them and they kicked my out of riding shape butt.
Baja has several easy dirt roads doable on a Vstrom, GS, Africa Twin, DR650, or other single but be careful where you choose to go if you're unsure about the route. Delve deeper and you'll find tracks with deep sand that goes for miles and miles... no I mean DEEP sand. No GS will pass on this type of deep sand. Rock trails to challenge David Knight and even hill climbs that are challenging, strewn with bowling ball sized rocks all the way up the mile long climb.
This past trip taught me a few things. I still suck in deep sand and that I'm getting old and losing confidence in myself. I'm out of shape and overweight.
None of this helps at all. Riding a bit drunk is actually a GOOD thing in some situations (for me!) bucking up your courage to stay on the throttle!
Sounds asinine but it worked pretty good for me
I was also on the wrong bike. My great little XR250 is sprung too softly and lacks torque, making it harder than it should have been to ride in deep sand
and tough in the rocks (too soft).
A few test rides on my buddies WR450 and another's CRF250X quickly confirmed this and corrected all my problems. So I'm not a total squid but my conditioning should have been better. On the WR I did OK in Sand and floated over the rocks with much more confidence.
We started at a friends house south of San Felipe, BC.
We rode north and took the dump road out of San Felipe and onto the dry lake bed below the Picacho del Diablo (nose of the Devil) mountain. An easy ride from there climbing up to famous Mike's Sky Ranch at about 6000 ft.
Mike's is no bargain these days at $60 per person (NOT per room) This does include two good meals but still is an out rage for Mexico. About 90% of the motel guests are with organized tours, like Chris Haines Tours, where riders pay $2000 for a three day all inclusive ride. (bike, meals, guides, 3 meals a day, hotel, extra bikes and mechanic, help in tough sections, airport transport et al and even a seat in the break down van for injured riders. Helicopter service too.
The over loaded XR on the dry lake bed near San Felipe. More gear than I needed for a 10 day trip. I seem to have a real problem with overpacking. Maybe because I like clean under wear?
or something to wear when we stop? Tools? Spares? Yep, got 'em all. Actually the bags only weigh about 15 lbs., I never knew they were there, but the wheel rubbed holes in both eventually! (big bumps at speed!).
Patrick abusing the little XR on the dry lake bed. This is great fun out there and easy.
A good way to see Baja is to base camp out of different towns. Ride (or drive and take bikes) to a town on highway, camp or motel it. Leave most of your luggage there and do a ride for a day or two on lighter bikes, then return to the town and continue to next base camp town. Most Motels will allow storage of your stuff free of charge as long as you stay at least one night.
Bay of Los Angeles is a great place to base out of. So is Loreto
The road to Mike's Sky Ranch. Fun and easy. Pine trees in the desert? YES! You can camp near Mike's for free also.
Keep your speed up and your OK, don't brush those cactus!
Sand is something many have to work at to master. For me its about focus and riding technique. Vision is key: Where you lookk matters. Look down in front of the bike and you're going down. Look well ahead, way ahead, and you should be OK. Stay balanced on the bike, grabbing tank with knees.
Stand up of course. Although some can ride sand seated ... I cannot. Light grip on bars, elbows up, steer with your feet and knees. And the scariest part of all....go fast, real fast. Problem is the whoop de doos, sharp corners through wash outs mixed with deep sand.
I found my XR250 does not work so great here. My buddies 450's are much better. Light and lots of torque. Hardly a wiggle. My XR did well almost everywhere else.
They are always there waiting...they can smell road kill from 20 miles away.
On day two we left Mike's about 9am for an easy ride over to Valle de Trinidad, a nice dirt road through the mountains to Mex Highway 1, and then south a bit on pavement to Colonet. Here we rode beach south to Punta Camalu to a place called Pirates Cove, very near the town of Camalu.
We found some nice dunes along the way.
Then rode along the beach and on cliffs above the beach for a while.
Riding the beach is great fun in Baja. Observe and respect private property, camper, fisherman and farmers. Also be aware of the tides. We nearly got trapped against a cliff. Radical tides can make some places impassable . Wash bikes well in fresh water after! Ignore this at your peril.
Day three took us back into the interior, heading south east. Bit of sand on the these two tracks through the cacutus forests. Stunning.
Big groups are NOT a great idea in Baja. Slows things way down. We started out big but paired down quickly. We started with nine riders, after day one, down to seven riders. two days later the a CRF450X blew up and one of our WR450's was acting up. Both hitched a ride with a Canadian couple towing a trailer who offered a ride! This is common and easy in Baja. Hundreds of tourists up and down the road
IMO, Spring is the best time to see Baja. The desert in bloom is not to be missed. Temps are moderate. High winds can be the one gotcha. We had none on this ride but just two days before we arrived the wind blew like Hell. Early Spring (mid March to May 1st) is sort of Off Season....a good thing).
No worries Stephan, the CRF450X in question had been making some very funky noises long before this Baja trip. Instead of fixing it, he ignored it ....
The Yamaha ran OK but the trans may have had probs.
With the CRF it was a little bearing up in the top end...something to do with the cam follower for the exhaust valves. Sorry I can't be more specific. Its a bit complex to look at and understand compared to the more ancient set up of my XR250.
Unfortuneately, bits and pieces seemed to have dropped into the bottom end. Judging from the noises ....some may have been there for a while.
Check valve clearance regularly, change oil and you should be all good!
The sand tracks got worse but the trade off was incredible Boojum cactus forests made up for the suffering. The rock pile climbs and rocky deep sand sections kicked my butt but with help from the younger, fitter guys, I made it.
At 59 it's nice to have the 40 year old "kids" to help out. I am internally grateful. (or is that "Eternally")
A few more random pics of Baja:
My undoing .... this hill is MUCH steeper than it appears in pic!
Rocks get easier here, but torque is your friend. Here my buddy Kai rides my bike up, I took his WR450.
Sandy two track best taken with speed. A steering damper really helps too!
Still alive at Bay of Los Angeles.
La Pinta in Catavina. Expensive but pretty nice. Eat across the highway.
The cactus forests have never looked better. Check out the way gear is being carried. This was only a ten day ride and we had everything we needed
including plenty of ! All stuffed into back packs!
Calamujue canyon goes from the desert to the sea, for about ten miles, through deep cuts in the rock cliffs. The canyon floor is a natural wet land feed by Springs that keeps it wet nearly year round. This is in deep contrast to the surrounding desert. The plume behind the bike is Water, not dust. The going is easy with only short stretches of deep sand, a few rocks but even an "average" rider can make this on a bigger bike.
Heading north now from Bahia de Los Angeles. Through Calamujue canyon,
to Coco's, Puertocitos and San Felipe.
Like many such things there does not seem to be a definitive answer to this.
One thing is fairly certain: if you intend to get into the more challenging and remote technical tracks then some sort of "real" dirt bike is called for.
A fully loaded RTW bike is not going to cut it .....at least in some places. As Lone Rider always reminds me of : A bike only needs to be a problem for you for a couple hundred meters to ruin your whole day. That short stretch of deep mud or deep sand or impassable rocks or super step up or down can really mess you up ... or .... God forbid ....get you hurt.
If you do take a fully loaded KLR or bigger, bring friends to help through the difficult stuff. Be prepared to ride well in deep sand and to ride in "Attack" mode. If you are super heavy, well at some point, you will pay for this. Keep pressures low for sand .... like 10 to 12 lbs. air back up for rocks.
A little known fact is that Baja sand (like all sand) constantly changes. It's depth on tracks can be Hellish one week and two weeks (or less) later its rideable again. Why? Wind Mostly. Big Buggies or Trophy trucks too. The wind seems to blow desert sand INTO the tracks. The Trophy trucks roost it back out again But sometimes I think the wind can shift direction and blow sand Out as well.
Don't be put off Baja by any of this. There are plenty of beautiful dirt rides though Baja that are not so hellacious. I've done plenty on my Vstrom (three trips there) on my old KLR and recently on my DR650. I've also done it on my XR650L, XR400 and DRZ400E, all now sold. The more serious off road stuff was best on the DRZ and XR400. The XR400 and DRZ are the two prime rental bikes the Tour operators use. They also offer Honda CRF450X.
But for me, getting on my buddies WR450F was a revelation! The perfect Baja bike, IMO, if not a bit slow on highway. But its pure performance, ease of use and reliability made me grin ear to ear. The thing is not upset by deep sand and seems to float over rocks. It has so much power you can simply loft the front end up a bit ..... and hold it there ....indefinitely until things smooth out. The balance on the bike is excellent, turns great with amazing stability everywhere. My little XR is a great bike in mild woods riding but with its soft stock suspension and my fat ass (200 lbs.) were just too much. Lack of torque from the 17 HP motor was the clincher.
With the WR's and CRF's you cannot pack much onto the bikes. No sub frame. All our guys slung everything in a back pack and small tail and front packs.
We hit Motels every night so we did not need a large wardrobe or much food. We did carry plenty of water, Two liters in Camel Backs and an extra gallon each. And this group really liked to DRINK! We always had at minimum a six pack of and a bottle of Tequila! I did drink the but no Ta-Kill-Ya for this old geezer.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised how the helped this old Irishman out. Hey, it worked for Joey Dunlop didn't it
If you are riding a heavily loaded bike like a KLR, I would still ride the following places:
Mike's Sky Ranch (near Valle de Trinidad)
Puertocitos to Alfonsinas (dirt) to Coco's Corner to Bay of LA. (paved)
The Missions, San Borje and another .... these are two makeable by dual sport.
Near Loreto you can ride up to San Javier, then to the two Commundu towns
(San Jose and San Miquel) and onto to La Purisma and out to San Juanico at Scorpion Bay. GS's have made all these routes and Vstroms too. A bit rough but no serious obstacles.
To San Javier by Vstrom! !No problema!
Nice camping near Mulege'
Even the big bikes can do plenty of exploring .... this on way to a Mission.
Lone Rider and others can add to this very short list. I don't know the south of Baja well at all. Going into the interior may require GPS.
See The Lizard Ladies books. Or get way points from others.
If one is merely transiting through Baja to the Ferry .... well, all I can say is enjoy it while you can. The peace and quiet is the highlight of Baja. The friendliness and mellowness of its people too. The mainland is a bit frenetic and stressful. BIG cities, LOTS of traffic, even smog. Baja is paradise by comparison. See it while you can ..... it's all in flux.
There have been a few robberies on the road from Tijuana to Ensenada. Most all tourists in Motor Homes. Do this section in day.
Thanks to the USA, the border area is now essentially on alert and in some ways like a war zone. The Mexicans are reacting to the over-blown militarism of US policy via HomeLand security. A pathetic joke of course as this vicious policy mostly affects poor farm workers, women and children trying to get to the USA. These folks are not terrorists, yet they are treated as such. And the money the US is spending for this? Don't get me started.
Baja and Mexico are no longer cheap ....except for those of you carrying UK Pounds or Euros. Prices are up about 50% within the last three or four years. Still cheap relative to Europe of course. A bargain in fact.
Feel free to post questions or answers or comments here about Baja or Mexico.
Were any of you guys running steering dampners? If so, any comments?
A friend of mine recently returned from an extensive 10 day Baja run that was 1800 miles of off roading. He'd built a new CRF450 (steel valves) and equipped it with a dampner, and said that it made life much, much easier in the deep stuff, especially when badly rutted because of following others.
I want to try one someday.
No, no one in our group had a damper, but they should have!
Three years ago I rode a DRZ400E in Baja. It had the W.E.R. damper on it and MAN! what a difference!
Most every Baja racer uses a damper. The Scott's is the most popular but the WER and others are ALL good too . Any advantage in the sand will make a big difference. A poor man's damper is to simply slightly tighten up the steering head bearings. Of course the bike won't turn worth poop on pavement but will work FAR better in sand.
Even on our DR650, a damper will make a huge difference! Even a fork brace can help. But a true damper will help more in sand and ruts. The key to rut riding is to NOT look at the rut. Just keep the power on and ride through them, watching your line far ahead. Unless they are hard edged mud ruts (dry) then you will be OK. Hard ruts are another story and require a careful choice of lines, avoiding being "cross rutted" and a few other hazards.
Sand ruts from riders ahead of you will cause the bike to wiggle but mostly if you don't look at them and stay on the power, you will just go through them. A Damper makes this a much calmer and low key event.
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