Bicycling the Baja Highway

Baja California Information Pages

# Bicycling the Baja Highway

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 safety issues.

#### 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 estimation.

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 truck.

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 curve.

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).