High Speed Hijinx Down Mexico Way
By: Steve Engelbrecht
The San Francisco Bay Area is world renown as a melting pot for fringe lunatics, misfits, and alternative lifestyles. We're all nuts and motorcycles only make us worse. And, buddy, we don't like cruisers, we like speed. We crave danger. The more we get, the more we want; like junkies and politicians.
Eight years ago, some of our local two-wheeled action heroes were sitting around, feeling creative. They were probably sniffing glue out of a bag and watching "Cannonball Run," but they came up with the ultimate Sunday morning ride: the Cabo 1000.
Picture this: you start off at the border to Tijuana at 4:45 a.m. and race all damn day down that endless, empty, inhospitable, sunburnt peninsula named Baja California. You race straight through to Cabo San Lucas, at the very tip. That, my friends, is 1060 miles of dangerously crappy Mexican two-lane road, twisting back and forth through the desert, coast to coast, and over the mountains. It's hot. The locals drive very slow, as if asleep. The cows and goats merge without care. Some of the road is gravel, some is under water. Do it flat-out. And, of course, it's illegal. The speed limit on the Mexican highway is a laughable 80 k.p.h. (50 m.p.h.). The Federales carry machine guns. God help you if you crash and get hurt, there's only one even half-decent hospital way down at the tip of Baja, and American Medical evacuation costs about nine grand. Is it really dangerous? You bet! The entire road is dotted with shrines to the countless thousands who have died on this road in cars and they only built it in seventy-three.
The race is organized by one of it's founders, and original competitors, Ray Roy. The race has only one rule that I was able to discern: an eleven gallon gas limit.
Over the past few years, race preparation has escalated. The top runners are mostly on huge, open class sportbikes, with five gallon auxiliaries plumbed in, powerful headlights, and extended windscreens. But there is variety, a lot of 600's and some 750's and a BMW twin or two.
For a long time, I had wanted to do this race since it sounded so great and I am a man, but I always managed to cop out. I couldn't figure out if we were talking moto-nirvana here, or masochistic, mind-numbing agony. In the end, my friend Robert and I had talked so much shit over the years about going, that we had to go just to save face.
While other competitors spent months prepping their bikes, I bought an 89' Yamaha FZR 1000 and Robert picked up and 84' FJ 1100 just days before the race. At least we changed the tires, chains, and oil before we left.
The first year of the race, I believe, there were only eight competitors. The race has proven more and more popular every year, with almost forty turning up for this, the eighth, running.
The race record was set in 1990 by the late, local, racing icon, Chris Crew: ten hours, forty-four minutes. Chris did it with no auxiliary tank and thirteen gas stops. Think about that. The entire length of Baja, running at an average speed just a tick slower than 100 m.p.h.. Subtract forty minutes for the gas stops and man you're cooking.
As we lined up to take off in the morning, it was still dark. It was cool, not cold, and the air was clear and dense. Visibility for the dark leg of the race looked good. I felt pure, adrenal magic when we all took off from the border, lugging it through the toll booth. I know everyone else felt the same. Anything could happen.
Tijuana is a run-down, oily maze: crowded and confusing, with a variety of clover-leaf options. Everyone had pre-run the start the day before; we at least knew how to get out of town.n.
I just got in line behind the leader as we sped up, running 115 m.p.h. or so through town, until we hit the toll road on the coast. Forty bikes provide a lot of candle power.
The first stretch is 85 miles of "modern" four lane freeway that stretches to Ensenada, with three toll booths. We, the lead group, had our little morning dice down this curvy, high speed, sweeper road. Man it was sweet. I had never done one- fifty in the dark before.
Our first thrill came only ten miles in. The road had sunk about four feet for a section of maybe fifty yards due to erosion. This section lay in wait, blind to all of us. I hit it at about ninety. The road fell away and I landed a second later, in time to hit the jump that brought the road back up to level. The back end of the FZR kicked up about five feet and sideways. I'm sure many of you know that last second of impending death feeling, but I was spared on re-entry. Praise Yamaha. We were flying.
At Ensenada, we all raced through town, almost going over the bars on blind speed bumps in the dark. At the end of town, Robert and I had our first gas stop, kissing the lead pack goodbye. Their bikes had another hundred miles of range with the extra tanks. That marked the end of that fine freeway. It was just two lanes from here on out.
The leaders, at this point, were Ray Roy on a Kawasaki ZX- 11, "TJ" Tucciarone on an almost new FZR1000 and Randy Bradesku on a BMW K100, fully set up for distance riding. TJ's first stop was just past the rock gardens, at Catavina, 230 miles into the race. When he arrived, Ray and Randy were already there, gassing up. TJ waited his turn, filled up, and took off. TJ had figured his gasstops out perfectly. He would need only six.
TJ picked off Roy and Randy in the next fifty miles and he was gone. At the halfway point, in Mulege, TJ was 19 minutes ahead of Randy and Roy. TJ Knew he was leading, so he just stayed on the gas and kept his head down, sometimes running through the long desert straights at an indicated 170 m.p.h. He had planned from day one to break that five year old record of ten hours, forty-four minutes. The last two hours TJ really wicked it up: averaging over one hundred twenty WITH a gas stop!
In Cabo San Lucas, there is a nightclub that has sponsored this race for years and is the finishing point. At 2:49 p.m., TJ pulled up at the finish and set a new record: ten hours, nineteen minutes. He was there so fast that his girl, who had flown down to meet him, wasn't even hanging around the place yet. What a stud.
The battle for second was a bit of a grudge match. The year previously, Ray had won, beating Randy by only ten seconds! This year had them racing through Cabo again, only seconds apart, with Randy coming in as the winner by half a minute. They made it in eleven hours and four minutes; six minutes faster than last year, and a personal best for both.
Fourth place went to Antonio Nunez (Roberts little brother), who set a new record for this 600 class on a 93' Honda F2: eleven hours and twenty-nine minutes. Mr. Nunez said he had to drag his knees through the three hundred miles of twisties to compensate for top speed.
As for Robert and I, things went a little sketchy. After our first gas stop, all of Roberts luggage fell off in the dark. Robert and I had the Buddy System going for this race (a first I hear), so we spent ten minutes trying to fix it, while many a squid caught up and passed. Once underway we spent fifty miles in the dark, winding through a mountain pass in dense fog. It was soaking wet and scary as hell to be running blind at ninety.
Dawn was fantastic. Robert and I were sick of running in the dark. We got on the gas and repassed our way back up to fourth. Running through the city of San Quintin, two hundred miles in, we hit heavy traffic. The road is narrow. We were passing agricultural trucks suicidally when I got caught out. Out in the oncoming lane, playing chicken with a school bus, on a part of the road raised over ten feet off the ground. Oh man, I couldn't get back in my lane, completely blocked so I had to bail. I jumped off the road to the left, into a ditch at over eighty on a five hundred pound street bike, and right into a dirt wall. And I kept it up. Somehow, the bike just punched through the wall and I kept going. Robert told me he'd never seen anything like it. Our luck was holding; we were special. Praise Yamaha.
The race is like some kind of Road Warrior, demons of the wasteland, psychotic episode. It's ninety degrees plus. You just keeping going, never slowing. Wind noise is deafening. Your neck kills from the pressure of wind pushing your helmet. The endless, giant potholes are harmless, as long as you go fast enough to fly over them. Hours of high speed reckless abandon make you wonder how many lives you have left. One straight was so long, I ran at one-fifty for an entire tank of gas.
Without extra tanks, Robert and I spent a lot of time passing people only to get repassed by the jerks while we gassed up and chewed Powerbars. Also, we screwed up our gas stops, stopping too often. At least there were plenty of gas stations.
I had to sand bag a little to make up for Robert's FJ's short comings. The old pig was slow. Seven hundred miles into the race, we were running seventh and eighth, cruising at one thirty-five when the buddy system finally paid off.
Tom Griffith, 93's winner, buzzed us at 160 plus on his ZX- 10 and I just couldn't let him go. We had passed him an hour earlier , in the twisties coming down a mountain. I wicked it up and got into his draft. I was preparing to pass, after which I would slow back down and hang with Robert. I was just a few feet behind him, just ripping across the desert, when my FZR 1000 blew. I was going so fast I couldn't see any smoke. It just stated vibrating and decelerating. I was in denial and I hit the electric reserve, but it was all over. Instant loser. The rear tire was covered in oil, so I pulled in the clutch, and hung on for dear life. I parked and Robert pulled up, shaking his head. I could see a cloud of smoke going back a mile. We were just standing there looking at it when what was left of rod number two fell out of the fairing. It was quite sad, but also hilarious. There was a six inch in diameter hole in my case. Yamaha's suck. Who knew?
We were a hundred miles from anywhere. I told Robert he could go on and leave me to the vultures, but he didn't. What a moron. God love him.
It took us three hours, but we finally got the bike towed by very friendly locals to town and left it at a gas station with other very friendly locals. Like true professionals, we decided to finish rest of the race two up!
You never really know a person until you ride two up, for 300, miles at a hundred and thirty m.p.h. But it wasn't bad, that FJ was like a couch. We traded off piloting and made it to Cabo at 7:27 p.m. It took us fourteen hours and fifty-seven minutes; the last hour in the dark. We made fourteen gas stops. We had to bribe our way out of a ticket and we lost all my luggage.
On the other hand, we came in 21st. The first ever two-up finish. After all our drama, we still finished a head of fourteen people.
The last finisher came in at 1:30 a.m., and man was she beat. None of the racer's got hurt. One threw a chain and cracked his case He spent the night in the desert. A crash truck driver named Bruce, (there are two trucks) got into a head-on collision with a local, who had seventeen kids, and was ripped open from chest to belly by the steering column. He won a two hundred mile ambulance ride and a week in a dirty hospital. After that there was talk of jailing him for improper insurance, but he is home safe now.
What a great place to end a race: at a resort. We had great parties, surfed, made friends, and influenced bartenders. Racer Spanky did his acid dance. We were happy. I asked the winner how he felt about the race. TJ smiled, "I'm bad ass, man. I smoked all you losers." No argument.
The Cabo 1000 is an amazing experience. I will never forget running that road, living the Mad Max dream. I recommend it highly. Just don't forget that once you're there, you still have to ride home.
l.Tj Tucciarone 10:19
2.Randy Bradesku 11:04
3.Ray Roy 11:04.5
4.Tony Nunez 11:29
5.Jason Potts 11:55
6.Kay Vetter 11:58
7.Tom Griffith 12:04
8.Josh Prentiss 12:31
9.Mac MacFarlan 12:31
10.Matt Prentiss 12:33
When Fast Seems Slow: The Cabo 1000by J.B. Roth
"If you wanna go fast with a whole lot of fast riders, do Cabo. But you gotta decide before hand whether you wanna race or just get there in one day. If you wanna race take your nuts and tuck them somewhere safe, 'cause your gonna have to go so f*cking fast for so long it ain't funny. Just be ready to ride till you die. Even if you wanna do it in one day, ya still gotta blaze. There ain't no goin' slow." -Anonymous
Cabo. Say it over and over real fast and you start to sound like a Thanksgiving feast. And this is a feast you will give thanks for. After two years of personal procrastinating, my friends had finally convinced me that free beer and food was worth riding 1000 miles. In one day. Hopefully finishing by sundown. Oy. This is not a decision one makes lightly. You can't really change your mind in the middle, and breaking down in Mexico is no fun. This race/rally is not for the faint-hearted. For me (just back from a 12,00 mile trip around the perimeter of the U.S.) it was a major challenge.
Preparation is everything. However, there never seems to be enough time to get everything done. Time becomes the most precious resource you have, and I needed an awful lot of it. My FJ 1200 needed new brake pads, tires, plugs, chain, a valve job, plastic welding, ad, of course, fresh tires (you must have fresh tires).
The next most precious resource is easy to guess. I'm talking about, of course, money. My pals told me I should cross the border with at least $500. Add all of the work and parts to this and you can see how I ended up spending about $1500 total for this excursion (which is still not that much). As I said, not to be taken lightly.
The last resource is mechanical knowledge. If you don't have a lot of it, you must find someone who does-a mechanic. Unless you have a brand new bike (or are mechanically inclined yourself) this is a must. My mechanic was (and is) Matt Prentiss of Munroe Motors in San Francisco. Matt and I stayed until 4:00 AM three nights in a row working on Cabo bikes. (All this while working on his own Cabo bike, as well.) Needless to say, I could not have done this without his help. Matt was the Green Angel.
Now that you have the bike ready, it's time for the next step-the ride to the border. Once again that time resource comes into play. Wade and I had our ride all set up (his van) right up to the Wednesday before we left. That is, until he blew up his transmission. What do you do then? You run into Spanky at the Zeitgeist and he offers to lend you his truck. Way to go, Spanky. (And Lady Luck.) Of course, nothing is perfect-I still had to bump start the damn thing at every gas station.
Still, we didn't have the worst of it. Franco got his bike on one truck, broke down, rode back to the city, got another truck, broke down again, and ended up riding his bike to the border. Hard Core.
I had a whole lot of buzz words to say at this point-fear, nervousness, worry, anticipation, etc., but I'm sure you get the picture. It was all just a lot of pent up emotion and frustration as I wait for-
You start in the pitch black of night at 4:30 AM. At this point the fear has really started to kick in, and the adrenaline rush has got your hands shaking. Then, by twos and threes, away you go. The first part of the race/rally requires a bit of care. Although the road is good, the fog is gnarly. (And the errant pet is most inconspicuous-Laura missed a dog by two feet!) Then the road gets worse. Ensenada is always a thrill. Watch out for those innocuous speed bumps. How many are there? Four, seven, ten? Quite a waker-upper, especially in the dark.
Outside Ensenada things open up a bit. The fog you've been squinting through is finally starting to lift enough to see the sun-but the sun cheats you. It comes out in one valley all bright and warm, and in the next the fog makes it black and cold again.
Now the sun is up, and so is your speed. This is where 120 mph seems a little slow in the straights. The curvy stuff is something else. (I love those little grave markers at each corner-former Cabo riders?) Make sure you note The Valley of Rocks, The Valley of Cactus, and especially the Glass Waterfall (when a Coca-Coal truck crashes in Baja, the natives steal all the unbroken bottles and sweep everything else to one side).
Now that things are well lit, all you can see is desert. This is where you really appreciate the fact that you're all alone-no CHIPies, no cars, no pedestrians-just you and the road. Basically, you can go as fast as you want. Or dare.
Meanwhile, all sorts of interesting things were happening around me. A couple of unscrupulous racers/rallyers decided to run the three toll booths (S. and B., you know who you are) which resulted in Moto James sitting in the back of a Federales cruiser for forty minutes. When they finally let James go (with his first souvenir-a ticket) they kept his license. Suffice it to say, James lost his license here last year, to.
Anyway, the last of the fear is starting to drain away at this point, and you're starting to feel real comfortable with the bike at high speed. The straights are beginning to open up. There is nothing like being on a road that goes straight as far as the eye can see, with the lane markers blurring by your knee. At last you come to the Steel Eagle at guerrero Negro. This basically marks the halfway point. This also marked the end of the race/rally for my pal Wade, out with a thrown rod. Wade was in an inexplicably good mood, possibly due to the number of "safety meetings" he had.
The next stretch of road becomes much crappier. Now big grooves and ruts await you on the straights. The road gets a little better when you get into the mountains and the curvies, which eventually leads you into Santa Rosalia, and the ocean. The following section from Santa Rosalita to Loreto is possibly the prettiest section, and certainly the curviest.
Meanwhile, more interesting things were happening around me. Britt, who had been puking all day (and he hadn't even had any Mexican food yet), finally broke down outside Loreto. He left a note written on the side of his gas tank-one good reason for a white paint job-and found the one room available in town. Britt and his girlfriend Rachel had a tough day. Rachel crashed at Guerrero Negro, and when she went to sit down in the shade five Mexicans took her bike and impounded it. Oy.
Outside of Loreto I found Laura, out with a fuel flow problem. Since I wasn't going to win anyway, I stopped to help, as did Moto James a little later. This would turn out to be most fortuitous, as I lost my front fender at about 130 mph, and my headlight was caked with mud. By the time it got dark, Laura's custom fog light made the last hundred miles into Cabo much easier and safer.
Anyway, it's getting late, and your facing the last section before La Paz. These are the straightest straights of the day. You're basically hitting the highest speeds of the day. The last hundred miles past La Paz are the most dangerous. You're tired, the road is full of washed out gullies, cows, dogs, crazed drivers (one truck ran off the road just as it passed Laura) and in my case, it's dark as well.
Then, finally, you arrive at Cabo, where the cold beers await. It took me eighteen hours, and I came in twelfth. Tom (Trouble) Griffith was the winner, in at about twelve hours. I quote Tom: "ride hard, ride fast." Personally I find it difficult to ride hard and fast, unless my leathers have been let out. Sean Crane arrived with only one bolt holding his engine to the frame of his CBR900RR. "It still wheelies great!" said Sean. I must admit, I was slightly disappointed when all the riders were in bed by 10:00 PM. So what if you just rode over one thousand miles-where's that party spirit? I and a few other nameless hardy cronies stayed up long enough to close the bar (Dave the manager left us a bucket full of beer-way to go, Dave!)
Are you kidding? Everybody talks about the ride down, but let's not forget the trip back. Unless you have your own personal jet (with room for your bike) you have to get back the hard way. The basic goal of day one is to get to Mulege. Mulege has awesome beaches, especially Coyote Beach where you'll find Jake, a retired fireman who built his own house and is full of stories. Mulege also has the Hotel Serinidad, home of the Miss Mulege contest. If you get drunk enough you can hit one of the contestants, get into a fight, fall off a wall, slip on a step and cut your head open on a chunk of concrete, just in time to fall asleep in a pool of your own blood. Just as Sean. It must also be said that the first day out was Matt Prentiss' day to shine. He stopped and fixed no fewer than five bikes on the way back to Loreto, including his own. Truly, a Green Angel.
The second day began with the retrieval of Rachel's bike. Liberacio'n! Then Britt proceeded to put it back together (sort of) and we all rode to our next destination, Bahia de Los Angeles. Those two were very Hard Core, especially Rachel. Not only did she ride back to Punta Prieta on a piece of wood taped to the back of Britt's borrowed bike, she then rode her crashed bike to the border. Britt was heard to say, "The first thing we did wrong was leave San Francisco."
I had been wondering since we started where all the terrible potholes were in Baja. I found them all on the road to Bahia. (On a blown rear shock, no less!) There were also numerous washed out gullies, some full of cows (as Kendall can attest to, having fended one off with her hand!). It was worth it, though, especially after dark when the waves in the bay glowed with phosphorescence.
The third day was the day of the dry lake bed. A must stop on the return, I had been anticipating the photo opportunities for years. Lots of dust, however, especially if your downwind of the riders. Still, good fun. By the time you make it back to the border, you can't believe you did it all in one day the other way.
That's about it. It seems to me that every good ride should be an adventure, and generate lots of stories. This one did both, in buckets. Oh, and if you go, don't forget a bottle opener! (And toys for all the little kids at the gas stops on the way back.)
I'd like to thank Wade and Ray for getting me started on this whole thing, Matt for making it possible, Spanky for the truck, Mark and Marty for the cash, and Michelle, Rachel and Laura for dispelling the myth that girls are sissies!
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