Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox have made it easy to experience a ride of a lifetime. After months riding and researching, the two developed a guide for Mexico’s fabled Baja California and give it away on their Baja Divide website. What started as a way to enjoy some easy living on their bikes turned into the concept of developing a route to share with others. Baja Divide lets you explore the off-pavement rocky roads of the backcountry with the confidence of their know-how and prior research.
If your idea of an adventure involves hours in the saddle and carrying all your supplies, then head south of the border by biking from San Diego to Cabo. The route allows you to explore historic Spanish missions, remote ranches, fishing villages, bustling highway towns, mountain ranges and quiet desert tracks…all from the seat of your bike.
Whether you cycle the full 1700-mile route or ride smaller sections, here’s how to plan, pack, navigate and shelter along your journey.
The best months for cycling in Baja to avoid the oppressive heat are November through March. Hydration is manageable and snakes and scorpions tend to take the winter off. After warm but short riding days, the nights are cool and long.
Next, decide how far to ride and pick a segment to suit your desires. The northern section has a Mediterranean climate, with more moisture during winter. The Pacific coastal plains are cool and moist most of the year with large agricultural regions. The mountain section holds pine forests at higher elevations and is cooler along Pacific and warmer along the Sea of Cortez. The eastern side has little precipitation. It’s best to do the northern and high altitude sections earlier in the season to avoid snow and cold.
With four sections to choose from, it’s easy to start in one location and end in another with three major airports (San Diego, La Paz and San Jose del Cabo), bus service from larger towns and ferries in La Paz. Not a trip for rookies, get into shape before your adventure. Daily riding distances vary based upon the terrain and access to food and water. Several larger sections without water may require longer riding days to reach the next water source.
Speaking Spanish isn’t a complete necessity, but it will enrich your adventure. “People are kind and generous, and if you need help, they are most willing,” Carman said. “It is a true backcountry experience, however, so be prepared to deal with mechanical issues and injuries.”
Roads range from graded dirt to rough, sandy jeep tracks and cobblestone streets. This makes a suspension system necessary to save your tail end, yet a hardtail bike will better support your framebag and seatpack.
Sand makes three-inch wide tires on the smaller side (27.5-inch) the ideal choice for flotation. Go tubeless for durability to avoid repairing punctures by cactus thorns.
You carry everything on your bike for your self-supported journey, so think light. The warm, dry climate helps minimize equipment needs. A typical stretch between restocking is two to three days, so food for that amount of time, along with eight to 10 liters of water, rides along in your bags.
With mild temps, your sleep system can vary. A single or two-person tent and a lightweight sleeping bag is all you need. Pick a foam sleeping pad to sleep cozy as air filled mattresses leave you flat with the plethora of thorns.
Clothing is minimal. Layer it up with shorts, t-shirts, a waterproof shell, long underwear tops and bottoms, warm socks and light gloves.
It’s Mexico. Tortillas, cheese, beans, veggies, fruit, canned fish and beef, chips, cookies and nuts are available in most towns. Carman feels more at home every time he crosses the border into Mexico and looks forward to street food and eating out along the way. “A plate of fresh ceviche and a cold beer are a treat after a couple of long days in the sun,” he said.
With remote back roads the norm, the Gaia GPS comes highly recommended. Resupply charts, distance guides, GPX tracks and waypoint files are available from the Baja Divide mapping page. The charts keep you away from private property and on the road to success. Go high tech with a Dynamo hub on your wheel to generate power for your GPS, tablet or lights while cruising the mountain ranges and desert tracks.
Dream of sleeping on the edge of a bluff on the Pacific Ocean, or adjacent to an historic Spanish mission church? Free camping is possible most of the way. Snuggle up under the stars or a simple shelter in case of rain and wind. For a break from the ground, inexpensive hotels are available in many locations along the route.
“The route might be a lonely experience for a solo rider as it passes a lot of long unpopulated stretches,” Carman said. “For safety in the backcountry, it makes sense to travel with a partner or a group.”
Pick a partner you can hang with through good and bad and begin planning your journey through Baja California. The Baja Divide is a free route resource and cyclists are welcome to ride at any time.