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Recently one of my favorite riding friends Wendy & I were offered the chance to ride for a week in Central Mexico – an opportunity to see the real Mexico from the seat of a BMW GS, along with 2 friends, Chris & his uncle Jerry. Jerry lives full time in Ajijic just south of Guadalajara, Chris and I flew down a day early, Wendy came in a day late and caught us up, and this is the story of how the trip went! It was organized by Riders of the Sierra Madre, a well equipped tour company that operates just south of Guadalajara. They provided BMW motorbikes, all the planning, booking & support we could need : Ray who led us, Terry and his wife Amalia who went two-up and rode sweep, and lastly Dan who drove the van (picked up Wendy from the airport complete with her bike and a spare, and also rode the Backbone with us). We were a small, experienced group of riders that rode fast into the corners, came through the off-road sections with grins plastered to our faces and out the other side of the whole trip making plans for the next one!
Day one 11/12/2020. Guadalajara to San Sebastián.
We arrived at Sierra Madre shop ready to rock and roll at 7.30am. Croissants and coffee started the day nicely, bikes packed and we were off at 8am. Our route took us around the southern edge of Guadalajara to pick up the 70 toward Puerto Vallarta a nice twisty but fast road that was mostly well paved and not too heavily trafficked. I got used to overtaking at will, lane splitting everywhere and generally owning my space on the road. At Mascota we stopped for gas and I got my first real taste of cobblestones. I had not appreciated that every Mexican town we passed through would be cobbled! I can see that in no short order I’ll be flying quite happily over them, but today it’s been a bit tense. The 70 became the 90 and at La Estancia we turned off to San Sebastián, which sits in a box valley high in the hills and up 7 kilometers of cobbles…. yikes. I’m glad we got here early as I didn’t sleep too well last night and I can nap for a bit before regrouping for dinner.
Wendy flew in to Guadalajara this afternoon and was picked up by Dan the driver of our chase van, packed with a bike for her and a bike for him (or as it turned out a replacement for one bike that got one too many patches in the rear tire). They are due to catch up with us around 9.30 this evening.
It’s been a lovely first day!
Day two 11/13/2020. San Sebastián to San Blas.
Wendy had the introduction by fire to the group and the ride. We started the day with an amended plan to take a road that our tour leader Ray had not been down before but would mean we didn’t have to slog through Puerto Vallarta and would be a good ‘short cut’…. what possibly could go wrong??! We left around 9am and for the first few km all was good tarmac road. We turned at La Estancia and rode through the small cobbled town. We left cobbles and we’re briefly on tarmac before the road fairly rapidly disintegrated to what I would otherwise call a jeep track. All my previous off-road skills came into play and I learned a LOT more over the next 33 kms! Steep, rutted, rubble, mud, gravel and water crossings we had it all. (We called it the Double Fuck Dirt Road). Had we known ahead of time what we were going to tackle I am quite sure some of us would have said NO! But I’m so pleased we did it and came out the other side grinning from ear to ear. I love off roading and I love riding a GS! We had lunch along the way, which included fresh Marlin, Sea Bass & various cuts of meat, followed by an exceptional dinner at the hotel complete with the best flan dessert we ever tasted! The rest of the ride was all beautiful scenery into San Blas, on the coast and significantly warmer than the mountains we had left behind.
Day 3. 11/14/2020 San Blas to Mazatlan
We decided again to deviate from the planned route up to Mazatlan. Instead of riding around the coastal route (boring) we elected to ride inland and find some twisties before dropping down to the coast. We approached Mazatlan right about rush hour which was also the warmest part of the day with temperatures hovering around 84ºF. This combination made lane splitting necessary. A word about lane splitting in Mexico. There are motorcycles everywhere, as it is a cheaper form of transportation given the higher fuel prices and of course the good weather. It is not uncommon to see a smiling 2 year old hanging onto the handlebars with sister, brother and/or mom or dad on the back with groceries in hand. As a result, Mexican drivers not only expect motorcycles to weave in between traffic or pass them on the highways, they very courteously make room for them! What a nice surprise! We arrived at our beach front hotel in time to watch a beautiful sunset followed by a hilarious impromptu beach photo shoot, poolside tacos and hotel room karaoke! Another wonderful day – I am loving central Mexico. It’s beautiful.
Day 4. 11/15/2020 – The Devils Backbone – up and down!
So! This is the reason we came to Mexico. The Devils Backbone has 583 corners along its 75 km stretch. We zipped up to the start using the new road with tunnels and bridges that eliminate most of those curves. The Baluarte bridge is the highest in the Americas and it is spectacular to ride over. There was an annual race down the backbone in the morning that closed the road to all traffic so it was a good thing we decided to arrive at the top around lunchtime. The fastest riders apparently did it in just under 47 minutes, and we took well over an hour (maybe closer to two!). It is a spectacular road with not just jaw dropping views on each side of the spine, but also cows, pigs and dogs – who all knew well enough to keep out of the way. My clutch hand got a good work out with second and third gears up and down every 30 seconds, and a good deal of braking into pretty much each corner. Historically ever since I high sided on my Tiger seven years ago, I’ve had a problem with left hand turns. After today I can safely say any hint of that problem is gone. We arrived back in Mazatlan exhausted and excited for the following day as we were going to ride back UP the same set of twisties and continue on to Durango. Wendy and I took full advantage of the pool and then the beach, complete with swings at the bar as we watched the sun go down on another glorious day.
Day 5. 11/16/2020- Mazatlan to Durango – up the Backbone again
We left Mazatlan without mishap, our lane splitting skills now at a premium as we stayed tightly together and wove fast through the traffic. Back UP the Backbone – way faster and much more comfortable than going downhill thats for sure – or maybe we just knew what we were doing and did it better?! If anyone thought that central mexico was all desert they’ve only been to Baja – these mountains are spectacular, wild, mostly untouched oak and pine forested canyons and plains with farmed plantations of corn and agave. Durango was a pleasant surprise after the plush 4-star resort of the last two nights. Our hotel was just off the main square and dates back to the mid-19th century. Built in the Colonial style, it featured arches, high exposed beam ceilings and marble floors – Hostal De La Monja is worth the stay. We walked to dinner through the old town to a steak restaurant (after all we were in beef country now). La Descendencia has it’s own ranch and my T-bone steak was about as perfect as it gets.
Day 6. 11/17/2020 – Durango to Zacatecas
Another beautiful day of riding across valleys, up to mountain passes and down the other side, always interesting and I’m going to say wonderfully restful after the previous couple of days! One of the things I love about motorcycle riding is the zen introspection of some long straight roads. In this case, interspersed with the odd truck or slower car that needed overtaking followed by some good cornering as we wound our way up and down. However all that zen disappeared in a nano-second as we got into Zacatecas and we had to navigate suddenly narrow, very steep cobbled streets in this town that spans both sides of a fairly narrow valley. There’s a cable car that runs between the two hill tops and our hotel was in the lowest, oldest part of the city, requiring a steep, off camber drop to the left and then straight down. I sat at the top and watched a couple of us drop in and I’ll admit it. I lost my shit. I tried, bottled out half way through the curve down and thought I was going to drop the bike. Luckily there was a street to my left that I could ride into and so I did. Parked up and waited for a valet!!!!! Ray, our lead rider came back up with Chris who hopped on my bike and rode it like he stole it. I hopped on the back with Ray and O M Fn God, – instant regret. He also rode it like he stole it – whistling as he went. I am never happy when riding bitch – total lack of control doesn’t sit well with me! But I rarely yell. This 2 minute ride had me screaming. Wendy couldn’t do it either and she screamed too. If I have any regret it is that I let all my fear get to me that afternoon. We had time to walk around and do a little souvenir shopping, gondola riding and general sightseeing before finding dinner and then heading back to the hotel – another fabulous old building full of character.
Day 7. 11/18/2020 – Zacatecas to Guadalajara – or the Earthquake ride!
We took the less steep exit out of the city and made our way south back to Guadalajara and the shop. I must have not listened closely enough to the morning briefing. With half an ear I heard the words ‘mountain pass’ and ‘earthquake’ but really didn’t take in any more. I had my maps all stored in both GPS and in Rever so what ever – I knew where we were going and off we went. After a couple of hours riding we suddenly did a U-turn, Ray telling us he’d missed a turn. Funny, I thought, looking at my instruments, map clearly has us going straight on. But I have learned to follow Ray and not the map so off we went. Up hill, roads disintegrating before our eyes, bigger and bigger potholes, around bends, road getting better…. not for long, getting worse again, and then around another corner and O M G all over again – NO ROAD. Up on the pegs super fast, down into first as we navigated the earthquake zone. My GPS telling me in no uncertain terms this is NOT an option, please turn around! Interestingly Rever knew better and didn’t blink. Suddenly super glad for all the off-road we had done a few days earlier this was a breeze (ish) and we were through. I want to go back and do it all again, this time with my Go-Pro attached to catch all the stuff I couldn’t possibly get this time around.
The dotted line is the delineation between municipalities and the earthquake zone is where that line and road meet – neither municipality wants to fix (a probably unfixable) road.
I’m coming back – probably a LOT! Riders of the Sierra Madre is a great company with well maintained BMW bikes to rent, great tour guides and an owner willing to push his own limits to make the trip great! We had lovely hotels, never boring routes, and crucially a small group. This tour was effectively a private one as we all knew each other and could dictate speed when roads allowed for it. We had Ray leading, Terry riding sweep with his wife (mad props to both when we did the off-road day!) and Dan driving the van – except for the Backbone day which he rode with us. 2,527 km of FUN.
We were a well matched group and I cannot WAIT to go again. Watch this space for a plan to ride Coast to Coast – Guadalajara to Oaxaca and back…. Something like this over 14 days. Let me know if you’re interested!
Jesus. This trip had all the treachery: Left Turns, Lane-Splitting, Cobblestones, Ruta 666 and DFD Roads! A spine-tingling journey on the Devil’s Backbone. Would expect nothing less from you!!!
A fantastic trip! Every day was a new adventure! We packed a lot of WTF’s, laughs and smiles in those miles that we won’t soon forget!
I am both a Realtor and Interior Designer. I have transitioned from simply selling homes to selling what makes homes beautiful.
©Suze Riley 2013
Absolutely fantastic summary. You really captured the spirit of the trip. Can’t wait to ride more of Mexico.