Tis the season for motorcycling in Baja

We had a many visitors in December and look forward to seeing more friends in the continuing cool-weather months of January and February. They came, they shared, they headed out… here are their combined experiences to entertain and aid you in planning your journey to Baja.

To Panama and Ushuaia

In December, David Sweezy of Cycle Wipes rode into Posada on his KTM 500, with son Brent in tow on a DRZ 400. Brent is headed to Ushuaia and Dave will accompany him as far as Panama. They’re not just blasting down the Pan American Highway. Instead, they seem to have taken every possible detour. Their journey here, which takes most people two to four days from the border, has taken them three weeks. It was fun seeing their map with all the notes.

David Sweezy of Cycle Wipes rides through Baja

Dave Sweezy of Cycle Wipes and son Brent on their way to Panama and Ushuaia (the tip of South America in Argentina).

Some of it was very challenging, they said, even with their smaller, off-road oriented motorcycles. They reported that terrain varied from boulders and loose rocks to deep sand with some mud after a short rain and sometimes all of the above.

David Sweezy Cycle Wipes Baja Route

No wonder it took them three weeks to get here!

The story of three KLRs

Jonathan and I welcomed our friends with a dinner of shrimp tacos (what else!) when Santiago showed up at our doorstep. Santiago had broken down south of our neighborhood, was trucked by a neighbor to our friend Daniel at Bucovecz Automotive (our local and very talented motorcycle and auto mechanic). He returned to the hostel at Posada and was walking through the neighborhood, where he was herded to our house as a fellow motorcycle traveler.

Bukovecz Automotive in Mulege

Daniel Bukovecz’s Auto/Moto Service is on the highway north of town. He answers Facebook messages, just so you know, in case find yourself in the area needing help.

A couple of beers, shrimp tacos, and plenty of sympathetic camaraderie amongst adventurers was the best we could provide at the time. He resigned himself to the fact that he wasn’t going see his friends in Guatemala for Christmas and made the best of it.

Bahia Concepcion dolphins

Passing the time in Bahia Concepcion doesn’t suck. A pod of spinner dolphins frolic in our boat wake.

The problem was not easily solved. His top end was blown. Now, you may have heard that KLRs are the Swiss army knives of motorcycles, and bulletproof, but it seems that the last person to touch the engine didn’t torque the top end to the bottom tight enough, so it rattled loose and created mechanical havoc.

motorcycle top end and bottom end

What is a top end? This diagram may help you understand.

After many days and hours on the internet and trips on my KLR up to Daniel and Pac at Bukovecz’s, the best solution seemed to be to fly to Tijuana, pick up a used KLR, ride it to Mulegé, replace the engine, and scoot back down the highway.

KLR repair in Baja

Santiago tightens the last of the nuts and bolts after the new engine is installed in his KLR.

Our new friend set off a couple thousand dollars lighter but richer in experience and personal connection, a common theme among travelers who experience breakdowns here in the Baja. An accomplished leather worker, we hope to meet him again at Overland Expo West this coming May with his beautifully designed pouches, purses, knife sheaths, and custom leatherwork of all kinds.

Black Dog Africa Twin

Posada residents Kurt and Martha Forgét are back from Black Dog Cycle Works headquarters in Sand Point, Idaho. Kurt spent the winter months designing after-market products for the new Honda Africa Twin and this one is bombproof for Baja!


Kurt Forgét’s fully-farkled Africa Twin. Farkles sold here.

A top-10 trials rider leads Jonathan astray

One of the newer residents of Posada is Tom Young, former bike shop owner in Portlandia, trials rider, and motorcycle riding skills trainer. He set out with us to visit my friend Christina in San Jose de Magdalena, which is about an hour north of Mulegé, directly west of Punto Chivato.

San Jose de Magdalena, Baja Sur

Motorcyclists descend on San Jose de Magdalena, known as the garlic capital of the region.

While Christina and I visited, Tom recruited Jonathan to explore the hurricane-ravaged trails west of town. I knew that the ride was way above my skill level, and headed home alone watching a huge black storm front roll in. I got back to Posada and the rain crashed down.

Bad influence! Jonathan kept up with his 40 mph boulder hopping. Not me!

Yeah, he looks harmless but, watch out! Jonathan took my new spiffed up 450 with the lowered seat and Rekluse clutch to bash around in the mountains with this former top-10 trials rider. They enjoyed a 40-mph boulder-hopping journey into the mountains. Not for me. (Yet!)

Home at sunset, they reported lots of boulders, a dead end to a cache of small caves with ancient paintings, and truly stunning scenery made even more dramatic with the clouds rolling in.

San Jose de Magdalena, Baja Sur

Locals said that the driver and passenger got out before this car exploded, without injury. Photo by Jonathan Ehly.

Jonathan says he thinks I could manage it on my new KTM, but not at the 40-mph pace Tom set. Practice, practice, practice!

Mulegé to Scorpion Bay and back in one day!

A couple nights later, at Anna’s on Playa Santispac, I met Finn from LostRider and Rick, a neighbor, who showed me photos from their backcountry ride. They rode KTM 500s straight across the peninsula from Mulegé to Scorpion Bay and back in one day.

Their goal was speed, not sightseeing. Most riders would stay a night or two in Scorpion Bay, maybe take a surfing lesson, then mozy on back the next. Here’s a shot Finn took of Rick speeding through one of the many water crossings.

Dirt bike / dual-sport motorcycling in Baja Sur.

One of the many water crossings between Mulege and Scorpion Bay. Photo courtesy of Finn at LostRider.com.

Sarah on her CSC

In December Sara slogged through a storm to get to Posada. We met on Facebook years ago, but finally in person at the Babes Ride Out event in Joshua Tree last October. Sara rides one of those small but capable 250cc Chinese adventure bikes, the CSC RX3 Cyclone.

Her route to Mulegé was Los Angeles to the Tecate border crossing (in the pouring rain, as it turns out). She chose MEX 3 to Ensenada, which was a mistake (take note!) as the road was riddled with potholes and dirt turnouts for construction work. Not so much fun in wet weather. Then she headed down to Mulegé on MEX 1, stopping in San Quintín, Cataviña, and San Ignacio.

Big bike or small bike?

Here I must digress into a discussion about small versus big adventure bikes. The CSC is a great bike for Baja terrain. Sara is only 5’2” so a taller bike like my KLR or any of the BMWs or KTM adventure bikes are simply out of the question for her as she’s even on tiptoe riding the CSC. The bike very capable on highway and dirt and comes fully loaded with windscreen and saddlebags for under $4000.

At the most recent IMS Long Beach I observed that manufacturers really have been paying attention to the growing demand for smaller adventure bikes. I was most impressed with Kawasaki’s Versys-X 300, a 300cc, two-cylinder adventure bike fully-equipped with a 4.5 gallon fuel tank, windscreen, rear rack, 19-17” wire-spoke wheels, long travel suspension, and low seat height. (54K, or 57K with ABS.)

Kawasaki Versys 300cc adventure motorcycle

Kawasaki Versys-X 300 adventure motorcycle.

Just throw some soft luggage on it and go! Nelson-Rigg Adventure Dry saddlebags are waterproof, easy to install, available in black, orange, yellow, and green, and cost under $130. On the higher-quality (and priced) end, take a look at saddlebags by Wolfman, Giant Loop, and Mosko Moto.

motorcycle adventure saddlebags soft luggage

Explore these and other good choices for motorcycle adventure saddlebags at Revzilla!

In addition to the Kawasaki Versys-X 300, Suzuki announced the V-Strom 250 Adventure concept (also with two cylinders and four-gallon tank, but not spoke wheels…mistake!). BMW showed off their 310 GS (too-small tank, single cylinder, cast wheels, not adventure-worthy at all). Finally Honda announced their CRF250 L Rally, which should thrill experienced off-road riders but not beginners with its giraffe-like seat height as most of us have to be comfy with one foot completely off the ground at stops. Yamaha’s XT 250 Ténéré is sadly not available in the USA.

To find out more about the smaller adventure bikes take a listen to this most excellent Adventure Rider Radio podcast episode, Good Things Come in Small Packages, with guests Carl Parker, publisher of ADVMoto Magazine, and Mondo Enduro’s beloved Austin Vince.

Small adventure motorcycles

Adventure Rider Radio explores the big new world of small adventure motorcycles.

Adventure Moto Gear

For all the other gear you need for your Baja ride, such as dual-sport motorcycle boots (covered in this review), helmets, jackets, gloves, pants, and cooling vests, check out the great selection at Revzilla. Also please see my previous post on safety, insurance, and emergency evacuation. Find all my posts for Discover Baja, here.

Dual-sport adventure motorcycle boots

Looking for a pair of adventure motorcycle boots that you can ride in and walk in? Here you go!

Gear up, tune up, and have a safe and fun ride this winter season in Baja!

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 CarlaKing.com.


6 thoughts on “Tis the season for motorcycling in Baja

  1. Jon Carmack says:

    Just an observation but I saw on Chili Whites website that he said ATM’s are readily available in Baja and I’m not sure where he found these but we ran into a couple of Canadians last year in the Bay of LA that were basically stranded because they were out of cash and couldn’t find an ATM so we ended up exchanging some of their Canadian cash for them. I just hate to see incomplete information out there that gets people in a bind. Baja is a great place but can be very unforgiving too.

  2. Carla King says:

    Hi Jon,
    I don’t know where ATMs or motorcycles are “readily available” here–possibly Los Barriles and Cabo. One should never rely on ATMs being everywhere here except for the larger towns and it’s smart to carry US $ or pesos. Your Canadian acquaintances did not do their research or prepare.
    I can’t agree that Baja is unforgiving. The Mexicans will always tow you to a town or send help, even feed and shelter you. I know of too many cases where gringos in big fancy 4×4 trucks have passed by stranded motorcyclists and 4x4s but locals in battered farm trucks have stopped to help. This happened with my friend Sara who broke down south of Mulege.
    It’s a lovely place, and safe. Sure, if you don’t plan well, carry water, gas, leave word, you could get stuck for a while… 99.9% of the time it all works out.

    1. Jon Carmack says:

      Carla the unforgiving part came also from our Canadians. We took off from San Fracisquito and these guys were following us and we were headed through the magical mystery tour as we call it to San Ignacio. The trail had been obliterated and it was a boulder field. One of them fell and broke his petcock and they told us to just go ahead that they would go down to this road on their GPS. (which also was obliterated) and they would catch a ride. These guys had no extra fuel, water, food, jackets or space blankets and it was December 31st. So we got them going and at that point had to turn back due to their lack of planning. Myself I have never had any trouble that we couldn’t fix our selves and yes the locals have always been willing to lend a hand. So Happy Riding Jon

      1. Carla King says:

        You’re angels!
        Thanks, Jon. See you on the trail…

        1. Jon Carmack says:

          Carla Thanks but that’s just the way we were taught when trail riding you always help out someone in need. If your ever in southwest Colorado and need some trail directions stop and see us a Handlebar Motorsports or on line at sanjuantrailriders.org. Have fun and be safe. Jon

          1. Carla King says:

            Good to know! If I’m anywhere in the area I’ll definitely seek you out!

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