Baja Divide Update; Presentations in San Diego, CA on 2/4 and 2/5

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Attention San Diego area riders! Lael, Alex and I will be presenting about the Baja Divide on two consecutive nights, describing the routebuilding process, the rewards and challenges of touring in Baja, and more information to help plan a self-supported tour of the Baja Divide next season.  Sponsored by the San Diego Mountain Biking Association, we will be at Border X brewing in Barrio Logan, San Diego on Feb 4, and in Escondido on Feb 5.  Both events are at 5:30PM and more information can be found on the SDMBA Facebook Events page.  Small donations to the project will be accepted to help fund immediate expenses.

The Baja Divide route is taking shape.  Since December 8th, 2015, we have ridden well over 2000 miles from San Diego, CA to San Jose del Cabo, B.C.S., MX, including several loops in the southern cape.  Several friends have joined our routefinding efforts on a diverse range of bikes, arriving from from Missoula, MT; Anchorage, AK; and Fort Collins, CO.  These are the first riders to experience the Baja Divide, although at this phase that still includes a few dead-ends, a bit too much sand, and a lot of tacos and beer.  

However, there are several gaping holes in the route and many smaller details which require honing.  As such, Lael and I, accompanied by our friend Alex, have returned to San Diego.  We are planning a few days to reorganize ourselves and tune our bikes before crossing the border at Tecate for another month of riding in Baja.  All three of us will fly to Anchorage in early March to catch the last month of winter and the best month of fatbiking.   

I’ve had many considerate offers from supporters of the Baja Divide project offering professional expertise, encouragement, and money.  At this time, I have plans to build a proper website this spring, with help.  I’m still considering the details of a printed resource, although I consider it an essential part of the project as a way to enable broad scale planning and to communicate with locals along the route, especially to share such basic concepts as where you are going and where you have come from.  To follow the route, a GPS will be required.  Lastly, I am not accepting any individual donations to the project at this time.  Once the route file is complete and the new website is live, I aim to seek corporate sponsors for the project whose business and ethics reflect those of the Baja Divide.  As such, though our efforts and their expense, the route is meant to be a gift to the bikepacking community, and all digital information will be available for free.  Currently, Lael and I are funding the project, with limited in-kind assistance from Revelate Designs, SRAM, Advocate Cycles, Sinewave Cycles, The Bicycle Shop of Anchorage, Cal Coast Bicycles in San Diego, and SDMBA.

If anyone in the cycling, outdoor, or travel industry is interested in supporting the Baja Divide, please contact Nicholas at bajadivide@gmail.com.

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Alex arrived in Loreto with his expedition-grade Surly Pugsley, built with a Rolloff hub, Gates Carbon Belt Drive, and packing a small Martin Backpacker guitar.  He is a close friend from university in Tacoma, WA, now working summers as a fisherman in SE Alaska, originally from Fort Collins, CO.  He speaks excellent Spanish, having spent considerable time in Ecuador, Argentina, and Mexico.  He has touring by bike in the USA, Baja, and Ecuador.  Language skills aren’t essential to ride in Baja, although while developing the route it is incredibly helpful.  The Pugsley is well suited to soft-conditions, although the weight of this particular build is burdensome on the more technical sections and on prolonged climbs. 

While in San Diego, Alex is sending his portly Pugsley back home and replacing it with an XL Advocate Cycles Hayduke.  After two months in Baja, we’ve decided that 3.0” tires are the preferred tire size, while a suspension fork makes the riding more safe, comfortable, and fun.  The “sombrero casco” is a custom creation.   

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Erin also joined us in Loreto for three weeks, and flew out of San Jose del Cabo.  She is a close friend from university in Tacoma, WA, originally from Ketchikan, AK, now residing in Missoula, MT.  She has ridden the length of Baja by mostly paved roads in the past, and has also toured the Idaho Hot Springs Route.  Erin rode her secondhand Trek X-Cal 29er with 2.4” and 2.3” tires on relatively narrow Bontrager Mustang rims, which required a little engineering to ensure a secure tubeless system.  Her bike was well suited to all of the hardpacked riding, although she struggled in soft conditions more than the rest of the group as she was riding the narrowest tires.

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Christina joined us in San Jose del Cabo for a sun-soaked ten day ride, escaping the cold, dark winter in Anchorage, AK.  Christina and I first met while working at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage, although she now manages the Trek Store of Anchorage.  She is originally from San Fransisco, CA.  She is an experienced mountain biker and road rider and is signed up for several endurance fatbike races this winter including the Susitna 100 and the White Mountains 100.  She met us last year to ride in Israel for ten days, enjoying the worst weather in our three months in that country.  We promised sun in Baja, and Baja delivered.  Christina rode a Trek Farley 9.6 with 27.5×3.8” Bontrager Hodag tires on TLR Jackalope rims.  Her bike excelled in soft conditions, over rough terrain, and while climbing, thanks to a lightweight bike, big wheels, and a minimal load.

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Lael continues to enjoy her 27.5+ Advocate Cycles Hayduke.  The tires are wide enough that at lower pressures, she can ride through all but the deepest sand, which the Baja Divide route intends to avoid.  The modern geometry and the RockShox Reba suspension fork make technical descents a breeze.  The bike climbs well and the tires maintain traction well on steep climbs, perhaps better than a fatbike in some cases.  Ultra-wide tires have a tendency to sit atop rocks and gravel, loosing the connection to the ground.  Expect a complete review at Bikepacking.com later this month.

We plan to service both of our forks in San Diego, as well as replace her chain and rear tire.  Aside from those wear parts, her bike has performed flawlessly over Baja’s diverse roads and tracks.  

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My pink Meriwether Cycles custom has become a trusted friend.  For riding in Baja my wide 35mm rims and 2.4”/2.5” tires do well, although even I am often wishing for a proper plus bike.

I was planning to convert the bike to 27.5+ with a new wheelset and tires, but have decided that the design is best suited to 29” wheels.  Compared to the 29×2.4” and 2.5” tires I am using, a 27.5+ wheelset would lower the bike by about a centimeter.  In fact, I like how it sits and how it rides right now, so I’ll save myself the expense and simply mount a bigger tire to the rear, a 2.5” Maxxis Minion DHF.  These tires are more aggressive than I need, although the tire volume and durable casing are excellent.  

I’m also looking forward to trying a SRAM 11-speed group soon.  For the steep rolling terrain we often encounter, I find myself forcing shifts from the big ring to the little ring with haste, which occasionally gets ugly with a worn drivetrain (i.e. chain suck).  A single chainring system reduces the number of shifting permutations, and focuses my efforts in a simple upshift-downshift pattern.  I’ll be using a combination of parts, including a steel narrow-wide 28T chainring and a steel 1150 10-42t cassette.  Can a SRAM 1×11 drivetrain be a durable touring group?  Now that the technology has spread around the globe and to lower pricepoints, this will be a more frequent consideration.

We are all using tubeless wheel systems and between the five of us and two months time, we haven’t had any flat tires.  Correction, Lael was carrying a 2” thorn in her tires for weeks, until it finally poked through her rim strip and flatted her wheel.  The tire was fine, so we removed the tire and repaired the rimstrip with a small square of tape.  The tire reseated easily and we were on our way.

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Our time in Baja has been restful thanks to great weather and long nights under the stars, but since dedicating ourselves to the Baja Divide project, our commitments have grown and life is now quite busy again.  We plan about six days of work and preparation while in San Diego, crammed into about three and half days.  We cross the border back to Tecate this Saturday, February 6, and plan to arrive in La Paz by Mar 6 to catch a flight back to Alaska.  That distance, and the amount of work we have in between, will be challenging.

Even so, life is good in Baja.  We’ll be certain to enjoy our time here and we look forward to sharing it with others.

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13 thoughts on “Baja Divide Update; Presentations in San Diego, CA on 2/4 and 2/5

  1. Nick – I just wanted to comment on the fat vs. plus vs. skinny tire traction issue. I have used all of them extensively and one of the most over used and incorrect statements I read online during this plus tire obsession phase in the MTB media is that the bigger the tire the more traction.

    In fact for some important riding situations [slick surfaces] the lower ground pressure of wider tires pushes the knobs of a wider tire into the ground with less force resulting in less traction than a skinny tire at higher pressures because the knobs can’t get “through” the slick surface.

    This is compounded by the fact that many if not most wider tires use lots of smaller less aggressive knobs to keep weight in check with the assumption that because the tire is wider and lower pressure the many small knobs will add up to lots of traction.

    Where I live in the PNWet throughout the winter slick roots, mossy rocks, wet soil and mud provide exactly the type of traction challenges that fatbike and plus tires fail at. Come dry weather they would provide excellent traction, but that’s also when skinny tires provide more traction than you can use.

    That’s why despite being an early adopter of both fat and plus tires my day to day trail bike rolls along on 2.4″ tires.

    For exploring and mixed surface touring I do like my 29+ tires because of the amazing roll through of the very tall wheel and the way the wider tire adapts to varying conditions really well [except as noted above]. On balance it’s a win for me, but I don’t tour the PNWet in winter.

    Thanks for mentioning the traction issue with wider tires in your posts. I think it’s a point worth discussing as more and more people go plus/fat crazy may not appreciate this downside.

    • You’re right, a lot of people quickly conclude that fatbikes always produce more traction. That is not true.

      Definitely, for trail riding I think 2.3-2.75″ will be the sweet spot, relying on aggressive tread patterns and durable casings. I’m excited to finally see the new crop of 2.8″ Maxxis tires on the Santa Cruz High Tower. Will we finally land on 2.5″, 2.6″…

      The conditions in New Mexico first taught me that larger tires do not necessarily provide more traction, as the classic “loose over hardpack” soils result in larger tires sliding on top of the dirt, like walking on marbles on a hard surface.

      For the Baja Divide the reason I recommend 3.0″ tires is for flotation (primarily), while the natural suspension of a larger tire at lower pressure is a benefit on rough roads. Traction is not the reason. However, on the topic of pneumatic suspension, a 3″ tire is much more controlled than riding 4″ or 5″ tires. While riding MTB or rocky roads on a true fatbike, it always seems like the tires are too soft or too hard as the road/trail changes from rocky to sandy and back. It has been exciting to watch Lael ride the Hayduke in Baja compared to the other bikes. That’s why Alex is shipping his Pugsley today, from now on he’s also on a Hayduke.

  2. Hey Nick! Excellent words! Loving the stories and pics y’all are sharing!
    I was wondering… Where does one find a 28T steel narrow-wide chainring?

  3. Hi! Just wondering if you’d consider a 29+ on the front of your Merriwether for Baja, assuming you had room for it. Do you? Lowering the BB with 27.5+ makes me apprehensive about going that route.

    Lots of excitement around these parts about your route! We plan to ride it next winter. Don’t know if we’ll do the mass start or not yet.

    • Gary, I’m getting along pretty well with the 2.4 Ardent and 2.5 Minion combination on most sections, although I might change my mind once we dip back into the sandy central and southern parts of Baja. The north is generally much more firm, with more moisture. I might be able to fit a 29+ in the rear, actually, which might be the better solution for me. I’ll play around with these ideas when I get back to AK this spring, as I’ll be at the bike shop for a few months of work. However, I know that I don’t want to give up my Pike fork, and 29+ won’t fit in there. The MRP Stage might fit a 3.0″ tire, and those forks are the only thing that feel as good as the Pike.

  4. Nick…where are you two wintering again…Austin? Drop me a line if you’ll be in or passing through Arizona. As you may recall I rode from southern AZ to San Jose del Cabo in Jan 2015 and would love to share stories/intel. I’ve got a place for you to camp here in the Tonto NF just east of Mesa. I work 10 on / 4 off so will be traveling and riding when not there. All the best this winter, MP (cousin of Jane Douglass).

    • Matthew, We’re in Baja for most of the winter, then back to AK to catch the last month of winter fatbiking. Any favorite routes from your ride? I think we’ve explored most of the obvious routes, and found a few less common sections too.

  5. Hey there, I just finished riding the Baja and I heard runoff you all riding concurrently, unfortunately never met up. Anyway, I’d love to ride your route. I’ll be staying posted. I love off road Baja. I did a couple back country routes there I could lend but you may already have them. Thanks!

  6. Hello Nick,
    mate, a fab story as usual. You guys sure do get around….!!!! Next I’ll be reading of your gyrations around the Moon….or Mars….!!!
    Float that boat, skinny versus fats, 29er, plus tyre conversations intrigue me as they shall no doubt continue for ever. Running light I think makes a big difference no matter what rubber you revolve.
    I can attest to 4″ Pugs getting severely stuck in the mud, 2.1″ blazing through rooty, slippy leaf litter and then, giving up and walking when it’s all too much.
    My ECR has a new set of i35WTB’s and 2.5 Minions. Apart from these tyres weighing 1.1 kilo’s they seem to be an interesting compromise for the moment. The i35’s are very nice by the way.
    I am off next week to Spain to test my theory.
    Best wishes to you and the lovely Lael. Ride safe man.
    Peter Mac. London. UK.

    • Thanks Peter! Great to hear about the i35s, and I do love the Minions for times when you need real traction (unlike the Knard). The Dirt Wizard are a great tire as well, very similar to the Minion DHF. Lael used one on the front for our second Baja ride.

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