Bikepacking in Baja: How to tips from a recent journey

Image of bikepacking on beach
Bikepacking in Baja in a palapa at Los Arbolitas beach on the Sea of Cortez near Cabo Pulmo.

Ride, eat, sleep, repeat. Life is simple when traveling by bike. You carry everything you need and find everything else along the way. At least, that’s what we did while bikepacking in Baja a short time ago.

I recently returned from riding the Baja Divide Cape Loop, a 400+ mile bikepacking route that covers the southernmost region of Baja, California. I traveled with my husband Chris as well as two of my adventure buddies, Niner Ambassadors Kim and Ben McCormack. We first met a few years ago while Kim was part of a two-person team, pioneering the first crossing of the Oregon Timber Trail. During that trip we found similar passions for traveling by bike over long and adventurous routes.

The Cape Loop of the Baja Divide seemed fitting to us – a straightforward bikepacking route with plenty of options for food, water and lodging. There were just enough unknowns to be a perfect mix between exciting and relaxing, a nice winter break from the rain, cold and snow of of our home states of Colorado and Oregon.

Bikepacking in Baja you get to see sea turtles on the beach
Sea turtles released into the Pacific Ocean at Todos Santos

Over the course of three weeks we had a memorable time bikepacking in Baja with a couple of the usual mishaps. All in all it was a wonderful trip. On the last day, as we packed our gear to head home, we sat down together over a round of Topo Chicos to synthesize 18 days on the road.

Here’s our take on the basics of bikepacking in Baja, specifically the Baja Divide Cape Loop:

WHO WOULD LIKE THIS TRIP?

Baja is for semi-adventurous types with some bikepacking experience. It’s not totally hardcore but not necessarily ultra beginner-friendly. Beyond the pedaling and sleeping out under the stars, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the local culture and immerse yourself in an ever-changing landscape. It’s not all cactus and sand out there. The mountains are surprisingly lush and the people happily welcome you into their lives.

Rosa from El Rosario. We stopped at her tiendita while bikepacking in Baja towards El Triunfo. She fed us a delicious bowl of homemade refried beans.

HOW SHOULD I PREPARE MY BIKE?

Make sure your bike is in good working order, tuned, lubed and ready to roll. Niner’s SIR 9 steel mountain bikes turned out to be a great choice. Riding off-road on wash-board and sometimes rocky roads can push a loaded bike to its limits. We recommend using dry lube and adding four times the recommended amount of sealant in your tires. It worked for us – after over 400 miles of touring, we had 0 flats. Yes, zero.

WILL I GO HUNGRY?

While there are plenty of small towns and tiny stores along the way, there are stretches where you will need to carry extra food and water. It’s optimal to reserve space for 2-3 days of food and water in your bags and on your bike. Don’t forget to stop at the Tortilleria for fresh, hot tortillas. And as they always say “if you can’t cook it, peel it, boil it…forget it.” It’s true – we learned the hard way.

WHERE DO I SLEEP?

Bikepacking in Baja requires that you ride on sand.
Most of the Baja Divide Cape Loop is off-road with plenty of sand. It’s not the best surface to ride on – just keep the handlebars straight and the gears easy.

The Baja Divide has a wide range of lodging options from beach camping under the stars to luxury resort accommodation. It all depends on your budget and how much gear you want to carry on the bike. Our group enjoyed a mix of both from oceanside camps to basic hotels. If there is anything we would do different next time, it would be ditching the sleeping bags for a simple down blanket. During our January to February time-frame, the days and nights were warm.

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW?

That’s for you to discover!  There are bound to be good surprises, things that make your trip unique and memorable. In travel (as in life), it would be boring to know every detail of a route and have everything go according to plan. If that were the case for us, we wouldn’t have had lunch with Rosa, released sea turtles into the Pacific Ocean or had the best cup of coffee and apple pie ever. These moments weren’t in any guidebook or blog, they were just there for us to discover.

WHO WE ARE AND SOME OTHER GREAT IMAGES

The Niner SiR 9s wait while we eat breakfast in Todos SantosKim and Leslie take a break while bikepacking in Baja to watch for whales in the Sea of Cortez.
The salty air and sand can take a toll on a bike. We found that dry chain lube, applied once daily, got us through pretty well.Niner Ambassadors Kim and Ben McCormack ride through the surprisingly lush Sierra La Laguna mountains.
Leslie Kehmeier, team documentarian. Kim McCormack, team medic and master of motivation.
The best tacos (with deep fried corn tortillas) in Baja might be found at Tito’s in Cabo PulmoWe had no shortage of brilliant sunrise and sunsets, including this beautiful morning along the Sea of Cortez near Cabo Pulmo
Ben McCormack, team logistics and head of carnitas taco testing.

By Leslie Kehmeier

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