10 things to know: Riding the Baja Divide

Life at 15 mph

Here’s what you need to know about Ryan van Duzer: he’s always up for an adventure. He lives in Boulder, Colorado, but spends an increasing amount of time on the road living an adventure-filled life at 15 mph. A couple years ago, Ryan posted to YouTube a loving tribute to his travel-weary 2001 Trek 8000, which he’d ridden home from South America after his Peace Corps service and was finally laying to rest after a catastrophic mechanical.

Long story short, he got our attention, and we’ve happily followed his adventures ever since, occasionally turning to him to put new Trek and Bontrager products through the wringer.

Ryan knows adventure. He’s ridden through jungles, mountains, and deserts to some of the most remote places in the world, and also to Burning Man. Recently, he traversed the 1700-mile network of rough and sandy backroads through Mexico’s Baja Peninsula on his Trek 1120 adventure bike.

Here, he shares some great advice about how to make the most of riding the Baja Divide. Check out these ten tips before starting your own voyage!

1. Agua!

Be prepared to carry a lot of it. On any given day, I had up to 10 liters strapped to my bike, which can add quite a bit of weight to your rig. But carrying a lot of water is vital in hot, arid Baja. Depending on your speed, there may be several two- or three-day stretches without access to services. You can save money and avoid buying huge plastic bottles by using the water filtration centers. Every town has one, and they’re usually located in the small grocery stores. A handful of pesos is all it costs to fill up 10 liters of water.

2. Mexico is beautiful

I’ve been fortunate to ride my bike all over this fantastic country, take in some absolutely breathtaking sights, and meet people I’ll remember for the rest of my life. If your impression of Mexico has been shaped by news stories of violence, let me tell you that I’ve never felt danger in all my time in Mexico. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t take common-sense precaution; this is true for wherever you travel. I’ve always had a great time in the small villages and towns. People-to-people moments made up my favorite memories in Baja.

3. Learn some Spanish

Not only will memorizing a few phrases of Español help you with navigation and buying groceries, it will give you a chance to connect with locals in a special way. For me, that meant playing soccer with kids, which was a great joy of my trip. It’s entirely possible to ride the full Peninsula using no Spanish skills, but I recommend taking the opportunity to learn at least a little. I promise you that your experience will be a lot richer for it!

4.Embrace the sand

Riding in sand is tough. There’s no other way to put it. Make it easier on yourself by riding a bike with 3˝ mid-fat tires. For me, Trek 1120 was the perfect bike on the Baja Divide. Slow down, walk, and let the tire pressure out. Here’s a good word in Spanish: tranquilo. Make it your mantra. Take it easy. It’s all part of the adventure.

5. Sleep under the stars

Many bikepackers feel most comfortable in a tent to avoid critters. But the climate in Baja is perfectly suited to sleeping right under the stars, and this is an experience not to be missed! The night skies in Baja inspire beautiful dreams.

6. Don’t forget your fruits and veggies!

Most gas stations and local shops sell the best junk food in the world. It can be temping to gorge on Bimbo sticky buns after burning thousands of calories on a hard day’s ride, but eating processed food will catch up with you. Every town you’ll visit has at least once place that serves hot food. A plate of rice and beans does a body good, and eating in town is a great way to support local communities and meet new friends.

7. Bagged beans!

There will be times you eat at your campsite. My favorite post-ride meals consisted of bags of refried beans, a stack of fresh corn tortillas, and some hard queso with hot sauce. Bagged beans are easy to pack, as are tortillas (flour lasts longer than corn, I discovered) and a little bottle of hot sauce. All of these supplies are readily available in the towns you’ll pass through.

8. Jump in the ocean whenever you have the chance

The Pacific is cold, and the Sea of Cortez is only slightly warmer. But a quick dip revives the soul and washes off whatever bits of the trail have stuck to you on your ride. Pro tip: swim with your clothes on, and it’s like you’ve put them through the washing machine. Almost.

9. Choose your own adventure

The Baja Divide is easy to follow if you’ve downloaded the readily-available maps to a GPS device. However, you can easily break off and take the main highway if you want a respite from the rough riding. Highway 1 is narrow, but drivers are generally respectful of bikes and give plenty of room when passing.

10. Some days will be hard

Accept this fact at the outset, and don’t let it ruin your good time. I’ve spent my life touring the world by bike, but I’ve never gotten my butt kicked like I did in Baja. Be prepared for soul-crushing climbs, never-ending sand, washboard roads, and relentless heat. But also be prepared for an incredible experience, unforgettable views, and a really fun time. Pedaling through the deserts of Baja will forever be a highlight of my life, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to start planning your adventure today!