Eco hits the flats after a looooong day in the hills

Eco hits the flats after a looooong day in the hills

“Is it scary?”

That’s the first thing everyone wants to know about bicycle riding in Mexico. For us it rarely was. Partly because of our riding style, partly because of our route choices, certainly because of Mexico’s friendly drivers, undoubtedly thanks to the Golden Bubble, and perhaps because of good luck. In any case, the riding in Mexico was generally way more gratifying than riding in the US. The key to this gratification: choosing beautiful routes with little traffic.

our favorite sign

Riding Style

No matter where we are, we employ a fairly simple strategy for keeping cars at arm’s length. This strategy works the best and is least unnerving when drivers are courteous, as Mexicans generally are. It’s simple: if there’s plenty of room for you to ride on the shoulder or next to it while a car passes then that’s a fine place to be. But if you think a car would have to come

our first major foray into the freedom of the yellow road

uncomfortably close to you to pass, then you take aggressive (or is it defensive?) action—you take the lane. Basically taking the

our first major foray into the freedom of the yellow road

lane means that you ride far enough out in the road that a car can’t pass you without going into the other lane, as it would to pass a car. This strategy takes guts! You have to be willing to ride out into the lane with however many cars slowing down behind you. But it does minimize being squozen. A variation on taking the lane that’s even less likely to anger drivers: instead of riding in the middle of the lane, where it’s obvious that you’re trying to take it up and prevent a car from passing you, you can instead just ride about a yard inside the white line. Drivers will almost always still drive all the way into the other lane to pass you (since they can tell there’s not enough room to squeeze their car and you in the same lane), but they won’t think that you’re “trying” to take the lane. With a big group, it’s psychologically easier to take the lane. We often did this on freeways, even riding 25 miles in the whole right lane of a freeway that leads into Mexico City.

Of course, it’s important to be courteous. This means pulling over to let a line of cars pass when appropriate.
000_0017000_0018000_0020tobin-gets-ready-to-call-god


Route Choice
This is the most important part of having wonderful rides in Mexico. We avoided high-traffic highways whenever possible. We planned our routes using the Guia Roji, the best road atlas to Mexico. Secondary roads are colored yellow in the Roji. Despite warnings from Mexicans that yellow routes might be dangerous due to banditos, we chose them whenever feasible. Many red least-favorite-signroutes (primary highways) are also low-traffic. This is pretty hard to predict without seeing for yourself, but the remoteness and the size and number of towns served by a road are often good indicators of its traffic or lack thereof. You might consider avoiding some of the really narrow, fairly high traffic routes, such as the 1 down most of Baja. Of course, this is also one of the most beautifully austere routes in the country…   Many routes have two choices, a new highway and an old highway. Sometimes the new highway will have almost all the traffic and the old highway will be barren. More info about roads and driving in Mexico, some of it relevant.

As far as hills go, Mexico seems to be one big one from sea to sea. Bring your granny gear.


Getting Directions

Assume that no one you ask will give you good directions, nor will reliably estimate how far it is or how steep it is.


getting-directions
Night
It seems that the country has almost zero enforcement of drunk driving laws (or maybe there aren’t any?). Supposedly, 90% of highway accidents in Mexico happen between dusk and dawn, largely due to the saturation of inebriation. Unless there’s no traffic at all, night riding is therefore scary.

Mexico City
Some folks in our crew were so daunted by the prospect of DF streets that they left the tour before we got there. The fears seemed unfounded. We rode all over the city at all hours for two weeks and felt safe doing so. When riding together, we would usually take a whole lane. There are bike lanes in DF but they aren’t respected by drivers.

Toll Roads “Cuotas”
Most toll roads have signs that prohibit cycling. We heard of some riders getting stopped by the Federales and made to turn back while riding the toll road south of Tijuana. But we heard of other riders pedaling the same section with no problem. We ourselves road several toll roads; they usually have really wide, safe shoulders, but can be noisy. Once we were stopped (on a cuota heading into D.F.) at the booth and told we couldn’t proceed. Then a jefe came and said we could use the cuota if we paid the cuota rate for cars. Then his jefe came and said no way. From then on we just rode through or around the toll booths sneakily or fast.

Guadalajara sign tells how long it takes to bike to cool spots

Bike Advocacy Groups

Guadalajara sign tells how long it takes to bike to cool spots

We collaborated with and rode in group rides with and were assisted by several groups working on really cool, forward looking bike plans and projects, mostly in Guadalajara (Colectivo Ecologista Jalisco, Gdl en BiciCiudad Para Todos) and Mexico City (Bicitekas). Don’t miss out on the super sweet cruiser rides and critical masses in those and other cities. Some of our best biking experiences and best meetings of cool people happened on those rides. The “critical mass” rides weren’t what we were used to: they generally have police escorts and hardly any confrontation. Search for things like “paseo nocturno bicicleta Guadalajara”.

One of the things bike advocates in Guadalajara did was put up these bike racks that integrate a sign telling directions, distance, and time to places in the city.

Police and Federales

Maybe only the narcotraficantes are more feared than the dreaded Federales by Americans who haven’t been to Mexico. We were stopped on the side of the road shortly after entering Mexico, just south of Tijuana, when a futuristic policia machine pulled over. Out stepped two strapping Federales with (semi?) automatic weapons. We had a couple moments to tell them what we were up to before their radio squawked and sent them peeling away in pursuit of something more dangerous. The next day, we were again stopped on the side of the highway when a cop car pulled over. It turned out to be the same guys, plus a new one. We chatted for awhile, and handed them a CD. The youngest Federale unwrapped it and took it back to the car. He popped it in and clicked through a couple of tracks til he landed on “Stuck on Earth.” He turned the stereo up loud, and the squad car suddenly seemed more cholo. He started dancing.

Many other times cops would start following us, we’d get nervous, and it would end up that they were just driving behind us to keep us safe from other drivers. Like these guys who followed Eco up most of the 2-mile hill to Mazamitla with a tidy string of traffic behind.

sany0255sany0265

Route

mexico-tour-route

Our detailed route as near as it’s available can be found at bikely.com, a really cool spot for finding bike routes that other (often local) cyclists recommend. The Mexico functionality of bikely doesn’t allow you to actually trace roads, so our route shows straight line distances, not the actual distances of the tour, but it’s close enough.

“Is it scary?”

Eco hits the flats after a looooong day in the hills

Eco hits the flats after a looooong day in the hills

That’s the first thing everyone wants to know about bicycle riding in Mexico. For us it rarely was. Partly because of our riding style, partly because of our route choices, certainly because of Mexico’s friendly drivers, undoubtedly thanks to the Golden Bubble, and perhaps because of good luck. In any case, the riding in Mexico was generally way more gratifying than riding in the US. The key to this gratification: choosing beautiful routes with little traffic.

Riding Style

our favorite sign

our favorite sign

No matter where we are, we employ a fairly simple strategy for keeping cars at arm’s length. This strategy works the best and is least unnerving when drivers are courteous, as Mexicans generally are. It’s simple: if there’s plenty of room for you to ride on the shoulder or next to it while a car passes then that’s a fine place to be. But if you think a car would have to come uncomfortably close to you to pass, then you take aggressive (or is it defensive?) action—you take the lane. Basically taking the lane means that you ride far enough out in the road that a car can’t pass you without going into the other lane, as it would to pass a car. This strategy takes guts!

our first major foray into the freedom of the yellow road

our first major foray into the freedom of the yellow road

You have to be willing to ride out into the lane with however many cars slowing down behind you. But it does minimize being squozen. A variation on taking the lane that’s even less likely to anger drivers: instead of riding in the middle of the lane, where it’s obvious that you’re trying to take it up and prevent a car from passing you, you can instead just ride about a yard inside the white line. Drivers will almost always still drive all the way into the other lane to pass you (since they can tell there’s not enough room to squeeze their car and you in the same lane), but they won’t think that you’re “trying” to take the lane. With a big group, it’s psychologically easier to take the lane. We often did this on freeways, even riding 25 miles in the whole right lane of a freeway that leads into Mexico City.

Of course, it’s important to be courteous. This means pulling over to let a line of cars pass when appropriate.
000_0017000_0018000_0020


Route Choice

our least favorite sign

our least favorite sign

This is the most important part of having wonderful rides in Mexico. We avoided high-traffic highways whenever possible. We planned our routes using the Guia Roji, the best road atlas to Mexico. Secondary roads are colored yellow in the Roji. Despite warnings from Mexicans that yellow routes might be dangerous due to banditos, we chose them whenever feasible. Many red routes (primary highways) are also low-traffic. This is pretty hard to predict without seeing for yourself, but the remoteness and the size and number of towns served by a road are often good indicators of its traffic or lack thereof. You might consider avoiding some of the really narrow, fairly high traffic routes, such as the 1 down most of Baja. Of course, this is also one of the most beautifully austere routes in the country…   Many routes have two choices, a new highway and an old highway. Sometimes the new highway will have almost all the traffic and the old highway will be barren. More info about roads and driving in Mexico, some of it relevant.

As far as hills go, Mexico seems to be one big one from sea to sea. Bring your granny gear.

Getting Directions

getting-directionsAssume that no one you ask will give you good directions, nor will reliably estimate how far it is or how steep it is.

Night

It seems that the country has almost zero enforcement of drunk driving laws (or maybe there aren’t any?). Supposedly, 90% of highway accidents in Mexico happen between dusk and dawn, largely due to the saturation of inebriation. Unless there’s no traffic at all, night riding is therefore scary.

Mexico City

Some folks in our crew were so daunted by the prospect of DF streets that they left the tour before we got there. The fears seemed unfounded. We rode all over the city at all hours for two weeks and felt safe doing so. When riding together, we would usually take a whole lane. There are bike lanes in DF but they aren’t respected by drivers.

Toll Roads “Cuotas”

Most toll roads have signs that prohibit cycling. We heard of some riders getting stopped by the Federales and made to turn back while riding the toll road south of Tijuana. But we heard of other riders pedaling the same section with no problem. We ourselves road several toll roads; they usually have really wide, safe shoulders, but can be noisy. Once we were stopped (on a cuota heading into D.F.) at the booth and told we couldn’t proceed. Then a jefe came and said we could use the cuota if we paid the cuota rate for cars. Then his jefe came and said no way. From then on we just rode through or around the toll booths sneakily or fast.

Bike Advocacy Groups

Guadalajara sign tells how long it takes to bike to cool spots

Guadalajara sign tells how long it takes to bike to cool spots

We collaborated with and rode in group rides with and were assisted by several groups working on really cool, forward looking bike plans and projects, mostly in Guadalajara (Colectivo Ecologista Jalisco, Gdl en BiciCiudad Para Todos) and Mexico City (Bicitekas). Don’t miss out on the super sweet cruiser rides and critical masses in those and other cities. Some of our best biking experiences and best meetings of cool people happened on those rides. The “critical mass” rides weren’t what we were used to: they generally have police escorts and hardly any confrontation. Search for things like “paseo nocturno bicicleta Guadalajara”.

One of the things bike advocates in Guadalajara did was put up these bike racks that integrate a sign telling directions, distance, and time to places in the city.

Police and Federales

Maybe only the narcotraficantes are more feared than the dreaded Federales by Americans who haven’t been to Mexico. We were stopped on the side of the road shortly after entering Mexico, just south of Tijuana, when a futuristic policia machine pulled over. Out stepped two strapping Federales with (semi?) automatic weapons. We had a couple moments to tell them what we were up to before their radio squawked and sent them peeling away in pursuit of something more dangerous. The next day, we were again stopped on the side of the highway when a cop car pulled over. It turned out to be the same guys, plus a new one. We chatted for awhile, and handed them a CD. The youngest Federale unwrapped it and took it back to the car. He popped it in and clicked through a couple of tracks til he landed on “Stuck on Earth.” He turned the stereo up loud, and the squad car suddenly seemed more cholo. He started dancing.

Many other times cops would start following us, we’d get nervous, and it would end up that they were just driving behind us to keep us safe from other drivers. Like these guys who followed Eco up most of the 2-mile hill to Mazamitla with a tidy string of traffic behind.

sany0255sany0265

Route

mexico-tour-route

Our detailed route as near as it’s available can be found at bikely.com, a really cool spot for finding bike routes that other (often local) cyclists recommend. The Mexico functionality of bikely doesn’t allow you to actually trace roads, so our route shows straight line distances, not the actual distances of the tour, but it’s close enough.

7 comments to “cycling in méxico”

  1. Hi,

    I just found your website and I think it’s very interresting! I’m a french canadian currently travelling by bicycle and I planned to reach Panama and fly back! I’m near California now and I’d liked ton know more about riding in mexico. I planned to take a bus from L.A to Mazathlan, Mexico. I will also be in the raining season so I think I would be better off inland than staying on the sea side… Anyway, contact me if you can, and if you might know somebody or a way to meet somebody to ride with in this part of the world, let me know please!

    Anthony

  2. Hey there Anthony, many appologies for being such slow communicators. I trust you’ve had a wild adventure. Drop us a line at gingerninjas@gmail.com if you still could use any advice.

  3. Hello.

    How lucky i am to read that, hehe. I’m belgian and with a friend of mine we are currently cycling in Mexico. We had the great chance to meet a friendly mexican photograph called Jose Luis, who told us about you guys. Your project is fascinating. He also told us that you are planning to take the mexican roads again. Maybe we can cross at some point. I’ll keep chacking your website.

    Love, love, cycling brothers.

    Cedric

  4. yes yes yes, amor amor, hermanos de las dos ruedas!

  5. I LOVE YOUR MUSIC AND WANT TO JOIN YOUR NEXT RIDE IN MEXICO AMAZING YOU ARE ALL AMAZING.

  6. thanks, bro! We’re here, come meet us and carry a speaker! We have too many!

  7. hello I just wanted to congratulate you on your adventure. I will be doing a bike ride from California to Panama next year and I been looking for some information as I would like to travel for a couple of months in Mexico and your website has been grate in getting some good accurate information. Thank you. Keep up the good work and hope to meet in the road someday.

    Alex.

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