Growing up in a family of off-road racers, I've been going to the deserts of Mexico for racing since I was quite young. In 2004 at age 14 I completed my first leg of the Baja 1000, riding with my dad in our 2/1600 buggy. I'm not here to talk about off-road racing though, rather this will be kickoff to a series of posts about riding in the deserts of Baja California. This post, my first, will be about preparation. My next post will offer some tips and following that I'll show you some of the places I have gone, to give you ideas for your own Baja adventure.
During one of my rides down in Mexico, I took this photo of my then riding partner south of San Felipe on the morning of our third day. We had the thought to bypass some boulders on the shore via the ocean. Finding the waters too deep, we turned back and went around them via a jog inland.
Step 1: Get the Bike: Easy, if you're planning to ride down in Baja then chances are you already have a bike and are familiar with riding it. For dirt riding I prefer the Honda XR650R, as a budget rider I can appreciate the reliable horsepower of the bike. If you'll be sticking to the streets, anything will suffice, from a Vespa to a Hayabusa.
Step 2: Prep the Bike: Change the oil, clean the air filter, lube the chain (and re-apply chain lube each morning of the ride). A solid foundation for having your bike ready for Baja. Depending on age, replacing tires and chain/sprockets can be considered. This is basic stuff, remember that while you'll be out of your element, the bike will be happy perfectly within its' own. If your bike has been reliable in the deserts of California, there is no reason to think it won't be fine south of the border. This is of course, assuming you have kept your bike well maintained. If you haven't given it much love over the course of your ownership, give it a full prep: greasing axles and suspension linkage, adjusting valves, how deep you go depends on the condition of your bike.
Step 3: Outfit the Bike: Another easy one, if you allow it to be so. For dirt luggage I use Dirt Bagz. The most bang for your buck, these are great bags. They will last a lifetime and offer great customer support when your rear tire sucks up one of the buckles because you left it undone, and need a replacement. Stray away from hard luggage cases when doing serious dirt riding. For the street, again, almost anything will do. I use ebay.
Step 4: Buy a map: Plan your route and duration A great map for planning your route and navigating Baja is the Baja California Almanac available here. It includes both dirt trails and paved highways. Understand the basics of your route. Will you need a larger capacity fuel tank? Will you be camping? Will you be staying in towns? This is only important insofar as your next step, putting together your gear.
Step 5: Compile your hardware: Pack a small bag full of tools that will be necessary on your bike. Don't go overboard, obviously a lightweight, comprehensive kit is best. Purchase two tire irons, and a front tube. If necessary, a front tube can be used in the rear until you get a replacement. Be sure you know how to change a tube with your tire irons before you rely on them in the middle of the peninsula. If you're on an XR650R, purchase a spare countershaft seal.
Buy a Spot Tracker. If you're like me it will pay for itself over and over again, following you across borders and continents for years to come. Pack a minimum amount of clothing necessary. Don't overdo it. You have riding gear, and you have one pair of non-riding gear max. That's it, move on. You'll be dirty, clean when you can, don't over pack. Bring cash, most of your trip will be paid for in cash, bring enough to get you through without relying on seeing an ATM. Have at a minimum some basic first aid.
Step 6: Head South: That's it, you're done. You're going to mull over gear, rethink routes, reconsider the trip for as long as you delay going. There comes a point when you just need to grab your passport, your riding partner, get on your bike and go. Tell some friends and family where you're headed, have them follow you on the Spot Tracker to keep an eye on you. Though bringing a truck down is nice (if you have somewhere to store it), I have in the past chose to ride from my house in Orange County, through my entire trip and then returned home the same way.
While this is a very brief guide, it covers the basics of what you'll need to conduct a successful multi-day ride down in the Baja Peninsula. Bottom line is, have fun and enjoy the incredible ride! New Baja riders should also consider taking a guided tour of Baja, through some very reputable companies such as Baja Off-Road Tours or Wide Open Baja. The advantages of this direction are numerous, not limited to having seasoned riders show you the best places on the peninsula in a group of other riders.