Adventure Bike Surf and Turf Touring Trip in Mexico

Turning “someday” into today on the BMW R1200GS Adventure and the KTM 1190 Adventure R

adventure bikes gone surfing

Riding motorcycles in Baja with a surfboard lashed to the side is an idea that was born to me in my early twenties. Those were the days of first experiencing the magnificent charm of Baja California and all of its rustic beauty. It’s a place of rugged, friendly people, seemingly endless dirt roads crisscrossing this sparsely populated peninsula from coast to coast, and lazy beaches where distant swells come to retire, as if they too are unable to resist its charm.

The notion of combining an adventure-bike ride with a surf trip finally began to become a realistic scheme one night over beers with Joe McKimmy, art director for CW's brother publication Dirt Rider.

Joe and I share many of the same interests, and the conversation turned to us doing this trip someday. Just guys talking, as guys will do while holding frosty bottles of encouragement. This time proved to be different because CW off-road tester Ryan Dudek piped in that he would be racing the Baja 500 the first week of June. He'd ride the second leg of this team race and would mount the bike next to one of my favorite Baja surf spots, Erendira, a coastal agricultural town with two dusty soccer fields and one horse whose lead is usually tied to a rock. Within seconds Joe says, "We're doing it!" So there it was. We now had a plan and target date. No more someday. With the race weekend just two weeks away, it was time to get busy.

KTM 1190 Adventure R action shot

Our pair of long-term adventure testbikes was perfect for the trip, and we decided to immediately begin to work on mounting surfboards. Joe wanted to ride our KTM 1190 Adventure R, and I would make the journey on our BMW R1200GS Adventure. Because of their width and each of the machines already sporting racks, side cases, top trunks, and crashbars, we found no additional surfboard-specific mounting hardware was necessary. We rigged them up with a little padding and a couple of motorcycle tie-downs. We used the awesome Pronghorn Straps from Giant Loop (giantloopmoto.com) as attachment points to keep springy tension in the tie-downs, which kept the boards snug and secure with little chance of slack developing. A quick test run down the freeway at 80 mph and a few curb and speed-bump jumps as a shakedown proved this was the right solution, and we were comfortable with the setup for the trip. Seemed too easy, but, hey, we're art guys not engineers, so why should we question it? With so much space in the luggage on these traveling bikes, packing was a breeze. We designated each case for a specific duty. One case for tools, tire kits, and roadside repair equipment; a couple for clothes and grooming kits; another as a wet space for towels and wetsuits; and lastly a mostly empty space to fill with some of the shopping goodies we would collect on the way to our overnight destination, Coyote Cal's in Ejido Erendira.

“When you double up a trip with motorcycles and surfboards, you double the number of dreamers who wish to plan such an adventure. You know, someday.

For our early-morning departure we agreed to meet at o'dark thirty behind the photo studio at the CW offices in Irvine, just 100 miles north of ol' Meh-hee-co. We wanted to get an early start to minimize the pain of riding on the freeway alongside drowsy morning commuters. We both showed up late (friggin' art guys). As a result, we suffered through miles and miles of wide bike lane-splitting in San Diego County before we reached the border. No problem. We still made good time and reached our first stop before the hordes showed up at Tacos El Yaqui in Rosarito Beach for their famous perrones. The best way to describe perrones? They are made with a medium-size handmade flour tortilla filled with grilled skirt steak, pinto beans, guacamole, cheese, and salsa folded over like a taco. They are big, and two are definitely more than enough. We each had three. You want to show up at Yaqui's a little early, before the lunch rush, because the intoxicating aroma of the wood-fired steak draws a large crowd. After we ate, it was time to fill the space in the empty side case. First stop was to pick up a couple bottles of L.A. Cetto cabernet sauvignon from the nearby Baja wine region of Valle de Guadalupe and a bottle of tequila to soften the edges after long days in the saddle. Next was for cigars at a great little tobacco shop recommended by the cook staff at Yaqui's, where the shopkeeper was eager to help and was quite interested in our bikes with surfboards attached. In fact, everywhere we went, locals would stop to look at the bikes and want to chat about our plans. It would seem that when you double up a trip with motorcycles and surfboards, you double the number of dreamers who wish to plan such an adventure. You know, someday.

perrones on the plate

¡Vamos! With bellies and bags full we remounted the machines and once again continued south. For a little change in scenery and the opportunity to get the bikes leaned over, we opted to take Baja Route 1, the Transpeninsular Highway, better known as the "Old Road." The road turns away from the coast and winds up into the hills near the popular surf spot of La Fonda. This gives us a chance to pick up the pace a little bit.

The Old Road drops us into the north end of Ensenada near the ever-fragrant seafood processing plants. For the next 40 minutes we worked our way across the busy town as it prepares to host the start of the Baja 500 and the weekend-long party associated with it. Everywhere the eye goes, there is outstanding off-road machinery. Filling the streets are trailered Trophy Trucks, race buggies, pre-runners, and two-stroke ATVs that appear to be over the suggested occupant number. Our excitement begins to build. As we leave the urban sprawl of Ensenada behind, the scenery becomes rural again, and there’s a section of the road that crests a small hill and a vineyard comes into sight. For me, this is where Baja begins: Valle de Santo Tomas. Santo Tomas consists of a winery, a few homes scattered along residential dirt roads, a Pemex fuel station, and the beginning of the off-road section of our adventure. This is where we will start to follow this year’s SCORE Baja 500 racecourse. We fill the bikes with fuel and chat with other riders. It’s the first of many times fellow riders tell us, “This is the first time I haven’t raced it in years.” We hear this fish tale all weekend long.

We're eager to get the big bikes in the dirt and put them through their paces. The early section of dirt road from Santo Tomas heading toward the coast is in good condition and well maintained. Running through a series of small ranchos with picturesque patches of farming, the road doesn't provide much traction but is smooth enough to let us screw on the throttle a little harder. We get our first taste of what the competitors will experience and leave long, golden contrails of fine Mexican terra firma along 20-plus miles of dirt road. This road will make you earn the stunning scenery and Pacific views it delivers, changing from smooth and fast to rocky switchbacks to cruel sections of whoops and a sandy downhill that will cause a spike in your heart rate. As the sun sets, we roll up to our destination, a favorite spot for surfers and off-roaders alike, Coyote Cal's Hostel and Barefoot Bar. Which of course means it's Miller time…er, Modelo tiempo, salud!

adventure trip action shot with two big ADV bikes

Morning arrives early in the small beach town of Ejido Erendira, mostly thanks to the angry little rooster that lives next to Cal’s. Otherwise this sleepy agricultural town, with its one paved road, is serenaded by the sounds of small waves lapping the shore. Eager to fill the day with surfing and riding, we inhale the nice breakfast of waffles, pancakes, and eggs prepared by Cal’s proprietor Rick Barnard and his loving Thai bride Ta. As we leave Cal’s, we weave our way through the greatest number of Ford Raptors ever seen in one place. Just 10 miles up the road, Punta Cabra would provide our daily surf fix. Last time I surfed there, I didn’t realize how deep the sand was on the trail from the top of the bluff down to the beach. But last time I wasn’t on a fully loaded 600-pound motorcycle either. Getting down the sandy side trail cut would be a challenge. Getting back up might be the very definition of an uphill battle. On the beach, waxing our boards and changing into our wetsuits, Joe and I watched the beauty of these azure peaks crest and fall on the shore. It was almost a shame for these two dusty old bikers to go out and spoil the view. While the waves on this particular day were not the best I’ve scored in Baja, it’s still a special occasion to have an entire surf spot just to ourselves. After a couple of hours in the chilly waters, our feet and hands are both numb and painful at the same time.

Afterward, we're back on the racecourse and headed south looking for lunch. About 50 miles later we find ourselves at Tacos El Tata in Colonet, enjoying the most amazing birria tacos. Birria is goat (or sometimes beef) marinated overnight in a broth of various dried chili peppers and spices, slow cooked for hours. The chilis give the meat a deep red color and a unique savory flavor. As it quickly became late afternoon, the draw of the Barefoot Bar was overwhelming. We became like barn-sour stable horses and beelined it back on the paved Route 1. After dinner, we, along with other guests, gathered in the sandy patio area around the campfire. Toes in the sand, sipping tequila, and puffing cigars, we were quickly hypnotized by the fire and coaxed off to bed early. After all, we will rise with the sun, thanks to the rooster, and meet Ryan Dudek at 6 a.m. at his designated pit-stop location.

Ryan Dudek portrait

The race goes right through town, so it's easy to find Ryan standing under the faded Modelo sign just as he said he would be. It's 6 a.m. and his teammate is expected around 7. Ryan has a relaxed nervousness about him, and we joke around for a while. As expected, his teammate races up just after 7—this is good news. They are running in second place. Fuel and a few quick checks of the bike and he's gone. He'll race the next 150 miles before turning the bike over to another teammate. We find out later that his team makes the podium with a third-place overall finish. We make our way down to the beach where we will spend the day watching the race and quickly become friends with a group of race fans from Tijuana. We share warm homemade tamales purchased from a local family. They shared the contents of their cooler. Aren't race fans great? After hours and hours of Trophy Trucks, buggies, and motorcycles roaring by and showering everybody with dirt and rocks, the sun sits low in the sky. Hungry and thirsty from a hard day on the beach, we head for dinner. At Cocina Familiar, we order a round of Tecates and sincronizadas, a quesadilla of sorts made with Monterey cheese, ham, and salsa. As day turns to night, we're reminded by the endless parade of pickup trucks blaring Mexican-style polka music that race weekend is a huge party. Like the Superbowl and the Fourth of July combined. Another long day and again we turn in early.

Sunday. Time to make our way back across the border. Our weekend of waves, dusty trails, boulder-launching Trophy Trucks, and perrones grandes was over. Time to get back on the camino that will take us back to schedules, crowded surf spots, and paved roads. But we are thankful. Our "someday" finally had arrived. Shared, as it should be, with friends.

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