Riding a Harley in Baja, Mexico: Is it possible and what’s it like?
There are tons of adventure options throughout Baja, Mexico for all levels of experience. There is also an exceptional amount of adventure motorcycles on and off the road across Baja. But this article is not about adventure bikes. This is about street motorcycles intended to stay on well-paved roads and highways.
I traveled to Baja on a Harley Street Glide. Throughout my time, I didn’t see another similar bike or anything other than highly modified dual-sport style bikes. I know that riders on street and cruiser-style bikes venture into the Baja peninsula, though during my time I didn’t come across any. Now, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible to ride this style of bike in Baja or anywhere else in Mexico, it just means you must be aware of what you are in for and understand your own limitations.
It becomes difficult in that signage is much more limited than in the states, the speed limit is listed in kilometers per hour, and many vehicles in Mexico have limited if any lights and turn signals. To overcome this, it’s best to have a heightened sense of special awareness while riding through any city. Also, if your bike doesn’t have kilometers listed on the speedometer as mine did not, a GPS-based speedometer on your phone is life-changing.
The main cities in Baja include Tijuana, Mexicali, La Paz, and Cabo San Lucas. The biggest shock to a motorcycle rider will be how quickly traffic behavior changes between the U.S. and Mexico. The laws of the road are pretty like most in the states. Speed limits are enforced more in the city than on the highway, passing laws are somewhat followed, and motorcycles are typically given more right of way.
The road conditions throughout Baja like much of Mexico are not ideal, though the cities are much worse. Based purely on the road conditions in the cities, I would rate riding in Baja as one of the more challenging of my riding career. This is amplified in its challenge by not having a bike that is built to handle large potholes and the occasional dirt road. Though I found it all to be manageable if taken with extreme caution.
The highway riding was surprisingly nice. Most highways in Baja are maintained enough to be able to keep a constant speed. There are dips and speed bumps on the highway that come up with little to no warning. Also, as you move closer to the coasts of Baja there are some patches of sand that cover the highway. I found that these are mostly limited, and the sand is concentrated toward the shoulder. So, riding the inside of the lane helped eliminate this challenge.
One of the best parts about riding a motorcycle in Mexico is not having to be inspected at checkpoints. These traditionally serve as a way of ensuring illegal transportation of passengers does not take place. This means that bikes are naturally clear. Of all the checkpoints in Baja, I only had to slightly stop at one so the military guard could give me a high-five.
Baja has many amazing little towns that present a great opportunity to explore the culture but also present additional riding challenges. If the streets in the cities are not that well maintained, you can imagine the shape of those in a very small town. Getting off the highway in most cities outside of those larger few will result in dirt roads. Now, I found them to be well maintained and, at least during my time, free of water or mud. Had it started to rain, this would be a different story. My only warning here would be for those beach towns that build many of their roads with beach sand. This stuff is slippery and easy to get stuck on. So go slow, but keep going.
I noticed that the adventure bike riders had a much easier time finding parking in Baja because they could park almost anywhere. My challenge was not necessarily in finding a spot to park as pretty much anything goes anywhere, but it was ensuring that my tires were not in the sand and that my kickstand didn’t sink. Having a $9 Amazon kickstand plate was extremely valuable. If nothing else, this gave peace of mind.
I have heard stories that police more actively approach motorcycles throughout Mexico. I cannot attest to this being true or not, but I can only say I never had an issue. Most of them waved and kept going even when I was clearly speeding.
Security is certainly an issue in a country like Mexico. There remains a lot of desperation and you will inevitably run into extreme cases of poverty. Personally, I didn’t take any precautions to lock or secure my bike other than what I do in the states. I took everything off it or out of it every night and locked the forks. If I stopped at a restaurant, bar, or gas station, I made sure that my bike and my gear were insight. I never had a single issue.
If you have any desire to take your bike to Baja regardless of what kind of bike it is, I say go. Understand that this is one of the more challenging types of riding you will do, but in that, it is also rewarding. Be cautious and aware of your surroundings. Something to know as well is that locals love motorcycles. You will naturally make many local friends just by stopping at a bar on a bike. Give yourself more time than you think to get from point A to B, try and avoid morning or evening rush hour in the cities, and most importantly, have fun! This is, at least for me, one of the most amazing experiences on a Harley that I have had.