Delivering Motorcycles in Baja – Intro and Day 1

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Spurgeon and I were still in the process of resting our weary bones from tackling LABV with the Ural Gear Up Sahara when we got an email from a friend at MotoQuest:

“I am solidifying two back to back Baja trips in the first part of 2017 and I have some extra equipment that will either be sitting on a trailer or can be ridden down to Cabo San Lucas.”

His question to us – did we want to save them the hassle of trailering the bikes down and ride them down ourselves? You can probably guess what our answer was.

Feel Like You’ve Seen This Before? I started this multi-part story a while back but I was only able to get halfway through. I’ve finally finished, and I figured it made more sense to restart from the beginning and publish one installment a day to keep the whole thing flowing. Hope you enjoy!

This story actually starts several years ago:

In the summer of 2013, I was five days away from riding my R1100S from LA to Texas for my day job when someone decided to drive his/her car into my bike when it was parked on the street. It was instantly totaled, though I wouldn’t discover that fact for another 10 hours. For years, my BMW mechanic had been telling me to get a GS because I would inevitably put my BMW streetbikes (up until that point, a K75C and the R1100S) in inappropriate situations when I was in Mexico and come back with blown fork seals. During that time, I always countered by saying that GSes were for old people. But with five days to go before my trip, I no longer had a motorcycle to ride, so I gave my mechanic my insurance check and asked him to buy the best possible bike for my riding style. Four days later he had a 2003 BMW R1150GS ready for me, and without so much as a test drive I rode it out to Texas and back. Thus began my love affair with adventure bikes – I still have that GS, and it’s the bike I took the top of Alaska as well as the trip in the summer of 2016 around the Western US with my girlfriend.

When I first got the GS, I assumed I’d start going on epic adventures a la Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor in Long Way Round. The only problem was, I had no experience with motocamping. So when Long Beach BMW was hosting a group camping event in Death Valley, I thought it was the perfect way to practice some off-road riding and motorcycle camping with a group of like minded riders. Long Beach had partnered with a company I had never heard of before called MotoQuest.

The MotoQuest support truck – it’s named Jethro

I borrowed a tent from a friend and rode out to make some new friends. I was impressed with how well the event was put together and how friendly MotoQuest’s employees were. Kevin Hagerty led discussions and group rides throughout Death Valley, and I had an absolute blast.

Kevin grills up some food.

Can you guess what time of year we were there? Here was a quick break at Lippincott Mine Road.

It was at this event that I met Brenden Anders, a talented Guide and Managing Partner at MotoQuest. Four years later, it was an email from him that gave Spurgeon and I the opportunity to ride down to Cabo.

The mission was simple – MotoQuest needed to get two BMW R1200GS’ from Los Angeles to Cabo to ensure they had enough bikes for a guided tour coming back the other way. All Spurgeon and I had to do was get to the bottom of Baja within a week while having as much fun as possible! No problem, right?

Now, there are a few companies that do guided tours into Baja (here’s a story from Matt Neundorf about joining an EagleRider tour, for example) but from what I’ve been able to determine, MotoQuest is the only large motorcycle rental company that allows you to rent a bike and take it down to Baja by yourself without being part of a guided tour. I’m not a huge fan of group rides, so if you’re like me, this is a huge plus for MotoQuest. Are you aware of any other companies that let you do the same thing? Please let me know in the comments below…

Saturday, February 4, 2017 – Los Angeles, California to Ensenada, Baja California North. ~250 miles

So once again, Spurgeon flew out to Los Angeles and we prepped for another adventure. I grabbed both bikes in advance so that we could get an early start the day after Spurgeon flew in.

Unfortunately, that didn’t save us any time because the next morning it was clear that the clutch on his bike was slipping. So we had to delay the commencement of our trip until the MotoQuest office opened up. We got there 15 minutes after scheduled opening time to find everyone busy prepping motorcycles: 6-8 riders were on site and about to depart for Death Valley, while another 10+ bikes were getting final prep before they went down to Baja as part of a guided tour leaving the next day.

Once the staff confirmed the problem with Spurgeon’s bike, they quickly got him sorted with a different motorcycle. I used the time to pop on over to Long Beach BMW Motorcycles next door to see if a friend was around, and then explored the used inventory. That day, I learned that BMW offered a F800GT-P police bike:

MotoQuest had Spurgeon’s next bike lined up pretty quickly, but arranging for Mexican insurance took a bit longer. I had no problem waiting for this, because getting Mexican vehicle insurance is critical. If you’re involved in an accident south of the border, there is a good chance that the authorities will detain you until they determine fault. If you’re at fault, they won’t release you until you prove you can cover the costs of the incident. So unless you plan on riding through Mexico with thousands of dollars of cash on you, get insurance.

One of the nice things about renting from MotoQuest is that they take care of Mexican insurance for you, though it’s not difficult to do it yourself. I’ve had easy transactions with Baja Bound for personal trips but I can’t actually speak to how well it works when things go wrong yet because I’ve thankfully never had to test it before. There are plenty of competitors to Baja Bound that are also highly reviewed. Here, Adam takes care of Spurgeon’s paperwork while I laugh at how young Spurg looks.

Also during this layover, I took a moment to explore the MotoQuest office. It’s what you’d expect – a couple of small areas for desks and then a ton of space for motorcycles.

The places you can travel to with MotoQuest:

All said and done, we spent about an hour waiting for Spurgeon to get a new ride. Then it was time for my least favorite part of a Baja ride – the three hours of slab to the border. Along the way, we made a couple of stops to grab some last minute necessities.

Years ago, Bui (you may remember him from the Alaska trip) got me an Adventure Designs tire pump kit as a gift. It’s been very good to me and I assumed it would work just fine for the next 7 days in Baja. However, BMW’s CAN bus system in bikes newer than my R1150GS freak out when you try to draw more than 5 amps – so each time I tried to test the tire pump with these new bikes, the pump would work for an instant and then shut off. Brilliant. The solution to this in a short term situation would have been to wire a lead directly to the battery. Spurgeon and I decided to just pick up some C02 canisters at Vey’s Powersports instead.

At the border, I went to exchange some USD to Pesos as Spurgeon took a few photos:

Photo by Spurgeon Dunbar

We crossed the border at Tecate just after 1pm, hoping to test out the dual-sport nature of our GSes and try out something called the Compadre Trail. I’ve done Baja a few times before but always on street bikes. This time around I was ecstatic to get some dirt in. My enthusiasm was short-lived, however, because we could find the visa office in Tecate. If you’re staying in Baja for a few days and going south of Ensenada, you need a tourist visa. We wasted a lot of time asking around but the best answer we could get was that the office was closed for the weekend and wouldn’t even open until Tuesday because Monday was the Mexican holiday of Constitution Day. This really threw me for a loop, as Spurgeon and I wanted to tackle the Compadre Trail but that wouldn’t be possible if we had to head to another visa office in a different city. While I occasionally subscribe to the belief that you only get in trouble if you get caught, we decided that the smart play would be to cut our losses on Day 1, get the visas in Ensenada, and prepare to enjoy the rest of the trip. Hopefully that office would be open…

Thankfully, I knew where the office was in Ensenada so we hopped on our bikes and finally got a taste of Mexican pavement. As long as you’re on a major highway like the 1 or the 3, the road conditions in Baja are great. The speed limits, however, are not. Just under 70 miles of road separate Tecate from Ensenada, yet Google Maps will tell you that it takes about an hour and 40 minutes to make the trip. We needed to make sure we got to the office in Ensenada before it closed at 5pm, so I’ll just say that we covered the distance a fair bit quicker than Google’s estimate.

I led Spurgeon to the office, feeling good that we’d be able to get the last legal requirement out of the way. But for the second time in as many hours, my enthusiasm was short-lived! The door was locked and the building was dark, even though the signage on the front door implied it should be open. I was furious with myself. Thanks to a recent hernia surgery and a trip to Vegas the weekend before for the Mecum Auction, I hadn’t lived up to my usual standard of planning for this trip. I thought I could get away with it because I had already done most of this ride before, yet that didn’t seem to be the case as I stood there confused in front of a locked door, thinking that I had let down my buddy in his first day in Mexico. We considered our options for a few minutes when the door magically opened and a lady came outside.

Turns out she was the only employee and she was in the bathroom, so she had locked the door temporarily. Hallelujah. She was an absolute sweetheart who got our paperwork taken care of while trying to deal with my broken Spanish. Hoping for an answer to our troubles at the border, I asked her where the visa office was in Tecate so I’d know for the next time. She stunned me by saying she didn’t know herself, because she had never been there. I was already feeling lucky that after hours of frustration we were finally able to get our visas taken care of but her answer changed my whole perspective on the day. She looked to be a few years older than me (I’d guess late 30s), but she had never been to a city that Spurgeon and I just came from about an hour ago! It made me feel extra fortunate that we were able to take take some time off to explore another country.

Spurgeon fills out his visa paperwork.

Normally when I head into Baja on the west coast, I try to spend my first night at Casa Mediodia Bed and Breakfast. Vy and I discovered it years ago and we’re in love with the place. Unfortunately, this weekend the proprietors (a couple from Arizona) were back up in the US, so Spurgeon and I cruised down the main drag to find a motel.

Our first choice for a motel won because it had secure parking and a bar on property. But when I talked to the front desk, I felt like he was lying to us about only having two singles left in an attempt to get more money out of Spurge and I. So we went to Motel Coronado, which was cheap (about $50 for a double), had safe parking, and was close enough to walk to good restaurants and bars. Spurgeon quickly learned that even though Mexican motels often say they have wifi, you can’t count on it to be productive. Still, it was sufficient for us to catch up on some emails and share the start of our trip on social media.

We then explored Ensenada on foot in search of a spot for dinner.

A bridge right outside of our motel.

Spurgeon leads the way in town.

The off-road riding community is huge here, and you’ll often see collages of stickers at bars and restaurants. I thought about throwing a Bike-urious sticker up here but I decided I’d save it for a more notable landmark.

Gris translates to ‘grey’, which doesn’t explain why this motel is pink.

Back at the bridge at the end of the night.

The not-very-elegant view out of the back window of our motel room.

Over dinner, Spurgeon and used a combination of his maps and my laptop to figure out a route for tomorrow.

Cover photo by Spurgeon Dunbar.

On to Day 2: We finally get to explore some dirt – and check off a bucket list item for SoCal dirt bikers: visiting Mike’s Sky Ranch.

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