When I sat down to write the other day, I had every intention of doing something very simple and straightforward about motorcycle tires. As I set about outlining tread depths and rubber compounds, I found myself daydreaming about beaches, fish tacos, and stocking my panniers with campsite cervezas after long days of riding. The smell of diesel wafted through my mind and I started wondering how long it would be before I could load my motorcycle onto the ferry and head back to Baja.
My last trip to Baja was in February. February now holds space alongside the morning I woke up in Santa Cruz, California to the news of 9-11 happening in New York, my childhood city. February now reminds me of my dad telling me exactly where he was when JFK was assassinated and Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon’s surface. In February, the coronavirus pandemic had yet to become a thing and, when it did become a thing, that last blissful trip to Baja was cemented in my mind.
It makes me so happy in hindsight that I spent this February on the road and out of the country. But enough rambling and reminiscing about the days before COVID stole the show … let’s get back to Baja.
Have you ever planned to set out for a long trip, laid out your gear, loaded your panniers and GPS tracks only to look down and realize your knobbies look more like racing slicks than dual sport tires? No? Me neither. Asking for a friend…
Okay, truth be told, that’s exactly what happened to me a couple days before heading to Baja. I had just dropped a chunk of change on a new rear shock and totally spaced attending to my treads. With 48 hours until takeoff, I didn’t have enough time to order fresh rubber from Revzilla, so I headed to the dealership in the next town over to see what they had in stock.
Cochise Motorsports is a great multi-brand shop with lots of dirt bikes, street bikes, and side by sides — plus an awesome vintage collection that’s worth checking out the next time you find yourself in southern Arizona. What they don’t have, other than the occasional Africa Twin, is many adventure bikes or the tires to suit them. My heart sank a little as I pawed through their backroom looking for dirt-worthy shoes for my BMW.
Scanning the stacks, a TKC80 caught my eye. It was the wrong size for my 21 inch front wheel, but next to the Continental was a perfectly sized set of Dunlop Trailmax Missions. They seemed sturdy enough but looked nothing like the dirt churning, traction-inspiring knobbies that I was hoping for. Nonetheless, I brought them home, put them on the F800GS and headed south a couple days later.
Now, I’ve spent a decent amount of time in Mexico over the course of my life. It started in my 20s and drifted into my 30s when I was a travel-obsessed young vagabond living in my Toyota pickup with a couple of dogs and the occasional boyfriend. Usually in search of rocks to climb, cheap living, and beaches, I had done a fair amount of mainland exploring, but up until February, I had never been to Baja.
When Sterling, my longtime (i.e., not occasional) boyfriend, and I set our sights on Baja for a winter trip, we had a couple weeks free of work responsibilities at our little motel in Bisbee and plans for a proper vacation on our motorbikes. We crossed the border just a few miles south of Bisbee in Naco. You can’t get vehicle importation permits in Naco, but if you stick to the Zona Libre, you don’t need them. So, we headed south through Sonora to San Carlos to take the ferry from Guaymas to Santa Rosalia.
In classic Mexico fashion, the ferry was a couple days late in departing Guaymas and we kicked around the beaches, bars, and coffee shops of San Carlos waiting to load the bikes onto the lower deck for the overnight water crossing.
The ferry finally spit us out in Santa Rosalia before dawn and we brewed coffee on the steps of Panaderia El Boleo waiting for the first hot pastries to roll out of the oven. From Santa Rosalia, we spent the next two weeks meandering down, and then back up, the peninsula. Needless to say, the whole trip was pure Baja bliss.
I could go on at length about the tranquility of Bahia Conception or the gnarly delight of the Mulege Road to San Juanico and its countless water crossings. I could also dive into culinary minutiae about the plentitude of fish tacos, the incredible loaves of bread at Caffé El Triunfo, and the pescado blanco that was swimming mere moments before eating it at Playa Buenaventura. The mixologist in me could endlessly expound upon the variety of mezcals that crossed my lips and my margarita aficionado was truly satisfied at the simple perfection of tequila, lime, and salt.
All that aside, our Baja trip was the stuff that adventure motorcycle dreams are made of. There were free campsites whenever we wanted them and cheap hotels when we didn’t. We were lulled to sleep by the sound of the surf on the shores of Cabo Pulmo and occasionally awakened by a tamale guy coming along in the morning. Roads on the map were sometimes just a suggestion, lending themselves to the sort of riding that takes your breath away with beauty and simultaneously keeps you on your toes. After all, you are here for the adventure.
Sterling, a frequenter of Baja over the years, put a video together that sums up our Baja trip nicely (and politely leaves out the part about me hoisting my bike out of that Mulege Road water crossing). It’s a lovely little video and it will give you a sense of the route we took in February as we ambled around the peninsula.
Also, about those tires I picked up at the eleventh hour before our departure, I was beyond impressed. I’ll leave out the nitty gritty about tread depth and rubber compounds, but the Dunlop Trailmax Missions were altogether awesome. My pre-Baja concerns were quickly abated as soon as we hit that south of the border grit and the tires far exceeded my expectations.
The best adventure rides often include long stretches of knobby-polishing pavement and Baja was no exception. Unlike some of the other 50/50s, the Mission’s aggressive tread is carved into the surface of the tire, which makes for tons of grip off-road while maintaining impressive surface contact on the tarmac.
I should also mention that the darn things last forever. If you’re the kind of person who likes replacing your rear tire every couple thousand miles, this is not the tire for you. Shortly after returning to the states from Baja, I sold my GS with 3500 miles on the Missions and they looked none worse for wear. In fact, Dunlop claims that the rear will last for over 8000 miles, so when I get to spend twice as long in Baja next time, I won’t have to worry about swapping treads mid-journey.
I’m not sure when that next trip to Baja will be, but it sure won’t stop me from daydreaming. At this time, Mexico is still a Level 3 Travel Advisory by the CDC with heavy restrictions from the State Department. Perhaps I just need to make my case at the border that going back to Baja truly constitutes “essential travel.” Because, really, what could be more essential than fish tacos, beach camping, and an endless supply of incredible adventure riding?