How it is to Motorcycle Baja: Voices of Experience

This month my motorcycling friends contribute to this column, providing perspective, advice, and favorite rides from their recent forays into “The Baja.” I also suffered through a week of Semana Santa, Mexico’s busiest holiday, a must-miss for road-trippers. And a little spill in a town called Jesus Maria. Oops! Got a Baja riding story? Email me!

Three Wild & Crazy Guys

These three showed up on my doorstep last month to say hi before hitting the road again. Serious bikers and a little goofy, too. Always a good combination. I got Doug to contribute a few words on how he feels about motorcycling in Baja. (And hey, you might meet them in September 2016 at the Horizons Unlimited Travelers Meeting in Mariposa, California.)

Baja Motorcycle Riding 1

Doug McGinnis, Burt Gunn, and Ken Shifrar rode lots of dirt and enjoyed a few days chilling out at the Hotel Oasis in Loreto.

The Roster:

  • Doug McGinnis (61), Yamaha WR250X, retired Geologist/Computer Consultant. Carpinteria, California.
  • Burt Gunn (83), Suzuki DR650, retired Air Force, Korean, and Vietnam Veteran. Winters in Yuma, summers in, and operates Conkling Marina, Lake Coeur d’Alene, Worley, Idaho. 
  • Ken Shifrar (60, the kid), KTM 690, retired. From Wyoming.

Baja is always an adventure. Away from the rat race, television, newspapers, computers, traffic, phones, bills, etc. We didn’t bother with an itinerary, just made a general plan and adapted as we went. Our favorite part starts halfway down the peninsula in Baja Sur with whales, paintings, oasis, hot springs, nice dirt track. Choose from easy to challenging. Some unexpected experience will always come your way that will shape your memories of the trip. I guess my take on Baja would be the places, the people, and the peso (the dollar goes a long way down here). I couldn’t believe how many people knew each other up and down the peninsula! The Mexican people are mild mannered, helpful, curious, and friendly, even to a bunch of crazy old gringos! I can say the same thing about the foreigners travelling in Baja, not the tourists you see at the megaresorts but the adventurous type. Take your time and visit with people, you will get some good intel (a second opinion on road conditions) on places to go and things to do. Dual-sport bikes are the best way to get around if you want to explore the backcountry. Bring extra tubes and a master link and plan for a couple extra days just in case things go a little haywire! Don’t go to make miles. Slow down and enjoy. I go for the ride but come back with so much more of an experience. Been home one day and ready to return.  

–Doug McGinnis 

Semana Santa: It’s all over now

I realize now that in last month’s column I ought to have warned you away from Baja during the week of March 20-27th. I’m sorry! It’s all over, now. By the time you read this, Easter week will have passed, and it is safe once again for you to ride. Semana Santa is Mexico’s biggest holiday week, a bigger travel week even than Christmas and New Year’s. The roads are filled with vacationers hauling friends and families and trailers piled high with camping and boating gear, water toys, barbeques, food, beer, boats, jet skis and all the other necessities of life camped on a beach. Hotels raise their prices and make enough money during this week to survive for the rest of the year. Campgrounds are carpeted with Mexican families in tents and RVs four and five layers deep from the beach. Boom boxes, pop-rockets, and children screaming on floaty toys make for a, shall we say, lively, time. Mexican tourists bring their own food, so the vendors who usually bring tamales, fresh produce and seafood to your tent door don’t bother. Driving is treacherous in the company of distracted and drunk drivers, in a hurry to get to their vacation, or to get back home on Sunday. Mark this week in 2017 as a time to avoid a Baja road trip next year.

Jesus Maria, there’s a gas station!

The tiny village of Jesus Maria is popular with motorists as the first gas stop after a long dry spell heading south. From here north you’ll find people selling gas from their trucks at the turnoff to Bahia de Los Angeles and Cataviña, to tide you over to the next Pemex in El Rosario or, if you’re headed to Highway 5, in Gonzaga Bay. There are three food vendors there, too, with the usual hot and fresh Mex fare, and a small air conditioned eatery, which is especially welcome if you’re traveling in these warmer months.

Baja Motorcycle Riding 2I stopped to fill up and met Darlene Fong on her blue Honda CG 500 and Alan Hirst on his red Honda CBR 500. They recognized me from my photo in last month’s newsletter and we chatted for a while. They left Northern California on a whim and rode down to see the gray whales in Guerrero Negro. They got the last room at the Malarrimo and went on one of their eco-tours. Said they saw Joe Berk (who I wrote about last month) and his crew on the Zongshen RX3 250cc adventure touring motorcycles.

I asked them about their Hondas and they reported them as being more than up to the job. I know a lot of people who love their CBRs, so come on down!

After Darlene and Alan rode away I switched my bike on and… nada. Figured the battery cable was loose, but did I really want to unload my bike and remove the seat? Not really. Lucky for me a dozen guys on bikes arrived and helped me jumpstart it.

“Got it?,” one guy asked. Well, yeah, duh, I thought… but what did I do but jam it into first, stall it and fall over. Jesus Maria!

Mulegé Mike : My Favorite Ride

Baja motorcycle Riding 3Mike Colyar is out on the trails so often, he’s become our unofficial trail scout here in the Mulege area. Who better to ask for a favorite ride? If you’re lucky, you may be here on a day there’s a group ride; a mix of Jeeps, Land Cruisers, and bikes, often leaving from Daniel Bukovecz’s Automotive and motorcycle shop at the north end of town on the highway. You can follow Mike (handle Gulliver) on the Baja Nomad forum.

The other day I found Mike hanging out at Daniel Bukovecz’s Automotive and motorcycle shop on the highway at the very north end of Mulegé.

You can have a great time motorcycling Baja. Maybe renting a Harley with a support van. Maybe a hardcore off road week covering most of the peninsula without seeing much of the pavement. These extremes get a lot of attention but there is a middle ground of easy riding in beautiful places down lonely dirt roads.

Don’t get me wrong. You can find yourself a few miles from help if you break down but it’s safe and fun. Pick the right roads and the right riding buddies and there is no place in the world quite like it.

I live in Mulegé, about two thirds of the way down Baja. I throw a sack lunch in my backpack on sunny mornings (there is no other) and head into the hills. I ride a medium-sized 350 Suzuki that I can pick up if I make a mistake. Modern bikes are so reliable that breakdowns any more severe than a flat tire are almost unheard of. You are very seldom far from a rancho and it is rare to stop for more than a few minutes without hearing a goat.

There is almost no single track riding in Baja Sur. With few exceptions the roads are used regularly by the ranchers. There is lots of loose rock. Some occasional sand. But more often it is just one beautiful scene after another. Bring your camera and start early to get the morning light on the Sierra.

My favorite ride is to the west from town. About twenty-five miles of mixed riding. Lots of places to stop, stretch your legs, and take pictures. The first ten miles are flat Sonoran desert with all sorts of confusing intersections. Take a wrong one and you will soon find yourself at some small rancho with a farm wife ready to set you on the right path.

As you ride across this flat country you see the mountains ahead. It looks impossible. Like some scene from a movie about a lost world. Enormous mesas with no obvious way through. But soon you are winding your way through one narrow canyon after another. Passing the occasional small goat or cattle ranch as the rock walls rise above you.

Finally you reach the narrow spot. The cliffs close in and there, at a shady turn in the road, is a ranch. How they survive the occasional flash flood is a marvel.

The road climbs steeply and within a couple of miles you are at the high point of the ride where the water begins to flow towards the Pacific Ocean miles to the West. There are several ponds worth stopping for and perhaps it is a good time for a snack and some hydration. In the mornings it is cool but the afternoons can be hot. There are fish in these pools and dragon flies. Always a buzzard or a hawk above. If you are very lucky you will see a rattlesnake crossing the road. Beautiful animals. I have seen rarer creatures like a Coatimundi.

From here to the turnaround is only a few miles. A winding road with the views opening up as the Raymundo Canyon tempts you to ride on and on. At the intersection you are invited to go to interesting places like Estanislau or La Ballena. We can go there another day on longer rides to the Pacific coast or further up other canyons.

Slow down. Meet the people and their animals. You will be back.

–Mike Colyar

The Right Gear

Baja Motorcycle Riding D30 replacement pads

Please don’t go out to play without head to toe protection. I’ve taken the extra precaution to replace all the armor in my pants and jacket with D3O pads: shoulder, elbow, back, hip, and knee. D3O is a flexible, comfortable, rubber-like material that hardens on impact and bounces back. You never know when you’re going to need it. You could be exiting your driveway or flying out of an unexpected vado. Either way, you want to walk away. A great investment. Find D30 Replacement Pads on Revzilla


Your Story? Your Favorite Ride?

Baja Motorcycle Riding 4Hey, do you have a motorcycle story or favorite ride in Baja to share in this newsletter? Let me know!

That’s me on the KTM 350 EXC (a great little Baja enduro) thanking Giant Loop Moto for the luggage, which I’ve abused for six or seven years now. I still use it every trip!

Ride safe!

baja motorcycle carla-king_olympia-shot More posts by Carla King.

Carla King has been writing about her motorcycle adventure travels since 1995. Read about her misadventures in North America, China, Europe, India, and Africa, and current adventures in Baja at



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