This is part two of Jeanette and my 2023 journey through Mexico on our motorbikes. Click here to read part one where we ride from La Paz in Baja California Sur to Ensenada in Baja California.
In 2023 Jeanette and I make another large journey through Mexico. This time we’re headed from La Paz in Baja California Sur to the Yucatan area. We try to ride as few toll roads as possible and try to avoid western tourism where that makes sense.
I’ve planned a route over the last few months. And on April 24th we left La Paz with all our belongings and started our big adventure. We hope to get a good look at Mexico post-chinese flu.
From Ensenada to Puerto Penasco
In this part of our adventure we head east, through the northern parts of Mexico. It consists of only 3 segments. For the first segment we planned to ride from Ensenada in Baja California to Puerto Penasco in Sonora.
I had prepared a route via Tecate, on the USA border, to Mexicali and then crossing the Rio Colorado river delta into the Sonora desert.
We left Ensenada in the morning under a cloud cover facing stiff winds. The forecast predicted the wind should stop once we crossed the mountains near Mexicali. Looking forward to that we went on our way wearing long pants, jackets and 3 layers of clothing.
After a mostly uneventful ride of casual rain and relentless wind from every direction we finally crossed a mountainous area near Rumorosa and *poof* sunshine and no more winds! Woohoo!
There were some road repairs in the mountains and a semi-truck got stuck in a bend in the road so we took some pics while we waited for traffic to clear.
After a quick break and a hotdog at a truckstop near Mexicali we drove through the Rio Colorado river delta and headed into the Sonora desert. In a small farmers town we were warned by the locals not to loiter around as some guys on a black motorbike were trying to rob other motorists. We were lucky and didn’t encounter any trouble.
Because todays distance was 500+ kilometers this is the bit where I wanted to drive faster to make up some time and reach Puerto Penasco before nightfall. Speeding along highway 3 we quickly left civilization behind and into the desert were I crashed straight into this massive hole in the road.
Jeanette was behind me and could barely avoid it but I boinked through the hole going about 100km/h (~60 mph). Miraculously I came out fine at the other end but my wheel didn’t survive. A big dent on the right side, smaller one on the left and the tire didn’t hold air anymore.
After gathering my wits for a few minutes and cursing Mexican roads, Mexico in general and everything in it we decided to head back to the last town, some 20 kilometers back. This of-course took ages with a bent rim and an almost flat tire. We did find a friendly mechanic who had no tools to actually do anything useful but he tried to bend the rim straight with a massive wrench. Despite his good intentions he didn’t have much luck.
His advise was to head to a bigger town further down the road;
“The one with a traffic light in it.”
“Right, we saw a traffic light. How much further is that?”
“Oh, just 10 or so kilometers.”
Having little choice we limped there, which took a good 30 minutes. After looking around a bit we found ourselves in a similar situation. A car friendly mechanic with few tools. He did manage to make a weak seal with paper and oil so we could carefully drive to a better repair place… But as soon as we left his workshop the tire deflated again. So that was a wasted effort.
BMW roadside assistance is a joke
While the 2nd mechanic was working on trying to get the tire to hold air we called BMW roadside assistance and spend 2 excruciating hours on the phone with their incompetent callcenter only to realize that no help was coming. It took almost an hour before they understood our problem, who we were and that we definitely had a BMW motorcycle. We provided pointless details and endless explanations and wasted a lot of time before they to promised a tow truck that never came. We got promised a hotel in the wrong city. And they would send a local taxi that doesn’t exist and then the connection was lost, or they hung up on us. When we finally got them on the line again they basically cancelled all service because “They do not provide service for BMW”. Oh, right, of-course… What were we thinking calling the BMW service number?!
So with no hope of help arriving anytime soon we paid the mechanic for his time and drove 27 more kilometers on a flat tire in the dark along a rural highway to the first place that looked like a city. Google Maps said it had a motel so we could get some dinner, rest up and rescue ourselves.
It’s now over a week later (at the time of writing) and we’re still ‘waiting’ on that tow truck, a taxi and for them to call back. You know, because BMW cares for our safety and wellbeing…
Anyway, we made it to a hotel in Guadalupe Victoria at around 10 at night. Exhausted, frustrated and me wishing I could ride this damn bike of of a cliff and go do something fun again. I was convinced our trip would be over, or at least be delayed for several months while we waited for a new wheel and BMW to finally do something useful – Since they control the parts and repairs.
Fixing a bent rim in 3 easy steps
We found some helpful people in the motel who assured us it wasn’t a big deal and we’d be on our way the next day. I wasn’t so optimistic. But whatever… If everything got screwed up further I needed a new rim already anyway. Or so I thought.
Step 1 – get directions
The next day we decided not to bother with BMW roadside any longer and figure things out ourselves. We extended our hotel stay for a few more days and headed into town – Explore a bit, see what’s what and try and find some capable help. We spoke to a few cops that were posted near the hotel and asked where they’d service their bikes. Officially in Mexicali, far away, but they pointed us to a place near the local hospital. On our way there we spotted a Michelin tire service center with in it a well connected guy who pointed us to a rim repair shop and a mechanic. Aha!
Step 2 – Hiring scruffy dudes to make stuff happen
The rim repair shop turned out to be a welding shop and after showing him a picture of the rim his only request was to bring the bare rim and he seemed confident to be able to fix the thing. No biggie he said. Great!
A few minutes later at the mechanic shop we were assured they could help and they claimed to have tools to remove the wheel – Which was only half true, but they managed with ‘only’ minor damages to the rim to get it off the bike and remove the tire from it.
Then, after lunch, back in the welding shop the guy used a blowtorch, a mallet and a grinder to convince the wheel to be round again..
He spent about 45 minutes on it and afterwards we tightened up all the spokes and spun the wheel for a few minutes to eyeball its roundness and some minor adjustments and 300 pesos later I was on my way back to Michelin to ask if they could put the tire back on with their magic tire machine. As I didn’t trust the mechanic guys to handle it without causing more damage.
Step 3 – Putting things back together
Michelin kindly put the tire back on and inflated it. We checked if the air stayed in by dunking it in a bathtub full of water which it did. We then measured it to be 32psi and I could head back to the mechanic to reassemble the wheel onto the motorbike. They somehow managed and 500 more pesos and 20 minutes later I could ride my bike again.
All in a days work, for less than $100US I had multiple people work on my wheel and fix it sufficiently enough to ride again without noticeable difference. I think. Not too bad!
2 days left
Since we extended our hotel stay with a few days we spent those putting the stress behind us, curse BMW roadside a bit more and exploring this dusty town, city, whatever…
We found the people to be amazingly welcoming friendly. Especially when they found out we weren’t Americans and even more so when we tried to speak Spanish. Which was a very weird but welcome experience after all the stress and miserable experiences of the last few days.
We wandered around the small town center, tried some of the local restaurants and stumbled across a 2nd hand street market which was full of curious and friendly people as well. And finally we would attempt our Sonora desert crossing again the next day.
Finishing our ride to Puerto Penasco
We headed out again, riding at a slow pace this time so we could avoid the thousands of potholes. I managed to crash into the first one, but many more followed. Occasionally we followed in the slipstream of trucks swerving all over the lanes avoiding holes for many kilometers.
As soon as we crossed the Sonora state border the road got much better and we could speed things but considerably.
We made a brief stop for drinks and fuel in a small town called Golfo de Santa Clara.
And another stop for some photos at a large salt flat.
And overall we had a nice sunny ride to our destination. The first 100 kilometers or so was very intense for me as I didn’t trust the wheel. Every little bump and vibration was butt-clenching suspicious. But over the past week I rode about 1100 kilometers on it and it seems fine. I’ll probably replace the rim when I arrive in Yucatan.
Sometime in the afternoon we finally arrived in Puerto Penasco, 4 days later than planned, and quickly headed to a hotel and then the beach to enjoy the nice weather and sea view there.
If you recall, I mentioned the desert crossing consisted of 3 segments. I’ll talk about those other two in the next post where we continue our adventure to Hermosillo and Guaymas in Sonora.