Baja California, Mexico, is an off-road and adventure motorcycle rider’s playground. Located just south of San Diego and Imperial counties, it is a well-traveled destination for riders and racers all over the world. Being based in California, the Cycle World crew makes frequent trips to the peninsula for work and play every year. The rules are few, the people are friendly, and the riding is varied. In the same day you could be blasting along a Pacific Ocean beach in the morning, ripping through a pine forest in the afternoon, and finish off the day with a kilo of shrimp for dinner on the Sea of Cortez. And of course there is the rich racing history of the Baja 1000, Baja 500, and San Felipe 250. Once you go, you will return again and again.
Jeff Allen, Cycle World’s photo director, spends more time in Baja than any other staffer. It seems every other week he is heading south to ride, surf, and relax. So when he was asked to sit down for an episode of 5 Best Bikes, it was a foregone conclusion that we would get his take on the five best motorcycles for riding in Baja.
Our 10-minute time limit for coming up with the list is quickly becoming more of a suggestion than a rule; after 11 minutes and 30 seconds we had our list. Only the racing happens on time in Baja...
Triumph’s 1200 Scrambler 1200 XE just made the cover of Cycle World Issue 1, 2019, after we rode a special project that will be raced in the Baja 1000. It’s got capability and style—a great combo for Baja.
Close your eyes and think of a silhouette of an adventure motorcycle, it probably looks like a BMW R1200GS Adventure. It’s a go-to choice for thousands of adventure riders each and every year, and is BMW’s best-selling model. It’s got the comfort to cover the entire length of the Baja Peninsula and the suspension and off-road chops to handle almost anything you might come across.
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Need some extra capacity for luggage, surfboards, friends, and your dog? The Ural Gear Up Sahara is the answer. Both Jeff and I love Urals for their weirdness, fun, and capability. The Gear Up Sahara has all of the bells and whistles for anything Baja throws at it. It’s got extra lights for night riding, a jerrican for extra fuel (for your or your friend’s bikes), a shovel, and, most importantly, on-demand two-wheel drive. Mud and sand are no problem as both the rear wheel and sidecar wheel put the Ural’s 45 hp to the earth. It won’t get anywhere fast, but it will get there.
You can’t talk about motorcycles and Baja without the Baja 1000. Racing brings massive amounts of money to Baja, and the locals are massive fans. The KX500 is no longer in production, but this massive two-stroke was the king of all SCORE racing in Baja when Kawasaki’s Team Green won year after year after year in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a classic that is still found throwing massive roost in the sand washes outside of San Felipe.
The KTM 790 Adventure R will be hitting dealership floors in the next month or so, and should be crossing the border for Baja right after. This is the way to see Baja at speed and comfort. Its long-travel WP Xplor suspension will be a boon on the rough and rocky roads, and the slim ergonomics and snappy dirt-bike-like handling won’t wear you out as quickly as other adventure motorcycles. It’s as close to a rally bike as any Adventure has ever been.