The idea of bicycling the highway down the Baja peninsula is one which
seems to have reached its peak in the late 80's and early 90's. The
groups cycling the highway under the direction of sponsoring
organizations (both commercial and non-profit) have vanished.
It has been reported to me that increased traffic on the highway
has prompted this decision. I only see individual riders and
small unsupported groups on the highway these days.
From the point of view of being a frequent driver of the highway
I could dedicate quite a few words to arguing the dangers of
this activity to both the bicyclers and the people in
passing vehicles. What I will do instead is simply present the
basic arithmetic of the highway from the view of someone riding
a bicycle - you may then draw your own conclusions regarding
Basic Arithmetic of the Baja Highway
Width of the pavement: 19 feet
Width of the shoulder: 0 feet
Width of a truck/bus/RV: 8 feet
Added width for mirrors: 1 foot
Width used by two passing trucks/etc: 18 feet
Safety separation used by
two passing trucks/etc: 1 foot
Room left for a bicycler: 0 feet
The highway was constructed to just accommodate two passing
8-foot vehicles, and no more! Many of the roadsides drop off
anywhere from a few feet to a few hundred feet (in these extreme
cases, there will usually be a low guard rail right at the edge
of the pavement). Also, the edge of the pavement will often
have chunks broken off or washed away, leaving "edge potholes"
which have to be dodged.
February, '97: I'm now going to back off on my vow
to not argue safety issues. On my trip north I had a very close
call between Vizcaino and Guerrero Negro. For a brief instant
of time, there were three "vehicles" sharing the highway - my 8
foot wide camper, a van, and a bicycle! Now, I ask the
potential bicycler of the Baja highway, are you really willing
to place yourself in such a situation? Is the Baja ride worth
the risk to yourself, and to others you don't know? If there
had been an accident, I believe that I would have personally
survived. However, the bicycler and the occupants of the van
were in a more uncertain situation.
Here is what happened. I was heading north and the bicycler
was heading south, as was the van (followed by two other cars).
As I approached the bicycler, I eased off and watched the
situation. The van appeared to be slowing as should be the
case. However, just when I had reached the bicycler, the van
came up behind the bicycler and made a sudden swerve around. I
think the van was probably going faster than first appeared to
be the case, and, perhaps, felt pressured by the cars behind. I
probably already had the outer dual wheel over the edge of the
pavement, and could not move over any further, although I did
not have the time to react even if there had been room. The
passing occurred with less than inches to spare in my
Right, wrong? If deaths had occurred, the question of right
and wrong would have been quite irrelevant for those whose lives
had come to an end.
November, 2000: On my drive from La Paz to Southern
California I came upon the scene of an accident which most likely
involved two bicyclists and a large ("18-wheeler") truck
(northbound). When driving north above Guerrero Negro I rounded
a curve to the right and came upon an overturned truck.
The truck had "flipped" just a short time before, and
another truck driver had parked his rig in front of the fallen
truck to provide blocking and warning to southbound vehicles.
That driver and two bicyclists (in color-coordinated outfits and
aerodynamic helmets) were vigorously waving me past. The
indication was that the driver of the first truck was OK, and
that requests for help had been sent. It was reported to me by
a traveler passing the scene a bit later that the driver of the
flipped truck had been helped out the passenger side of his
Now, what might have happened? Given the position of the fallen
truck (grounded wheel half way across the southbound lane), the location
of the parked bicycles (facing north on the right-hand side of
the road), and the fact that the truck flipped after the
curve, my conjecture is that the truck swerved sharply to avoid
the two bicyclists he suddenly found around the far side of the
Assuming this to be the case, the consequences of the accident
may prove to be very trying for the bicyclists. They would
certainly be judged to be part of the accident (remove them from
the picture and the accident wouldn't have happened), and so
would be held by the police pending financial resolution. I
would expect that no Mexican insurance company would provide
liability coverage for someone bicycling on Route 1, so the
bicyclists would not have any insurance coverage valid in Mexico
(see the Auto Insurance Page for more information).
If the bicyclists are judged to be at fault for the accident,
they will be held by the police until they can provide financial
restitution - probably well above $10,000US given the costs of
righting the truck, towing it to Guerrero Negro or Ensenada, and
then performing the actual repairs. To say this possibility is a
nightmare would be putting it mildly.
Unfortunately, the nightmare may extend to the truck driver as
well. If he is judged to be the guilty party, he'll possibly lose
his job or, if he is an independent truck owner, face that part
of the costs not covered by insurance (assuming he was insured).