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Old 12-06-2013, 04:12 PM   #1
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Joined: Nov 2013
Location: Singapore
Oddometer: 112
Mexico by Motorcycle ... in 1981

Mexico by Motorcycle ... in 1981

Younger riders might chuckle at some photos of touring in Mexico thirty years ago pre-GPS (paper maps), pre-cellphone (phone booths), pre-Internet (public library), pre-Lonely Planet (South American Handbook, People's Guide to Mexico), pre-Facebook (postcards), pre-ATM (traveler's cheques), and pre-digicam (Ektachrome 200). Older riders might wince. These are mostly photos from the highway, or where the street scene today will be different.

In 1979 Ted Simon published Jupiter's Travels and I had just read it. The Mexican Baja highway had only been open for a few years. By 1981 my 1974 motorbike had taken me to every Canadian province, territory, and US state (except Hawaii) so it was time for something more adventurous on it. Mexico beckoned.

The route, about 11,000 kilometers, the thick red line:

The black lines are other trips made on the same bike, drawn on this paper map decades ago.

Heading Off

The kit:

The 1974 BMW R75/6 carried nearly its own weight in accessories, riders (two), and equipment. In the red bags are Eddie Bauer sleeping bags, Thermarest air mattresses, and a Sears tent. They were used in the USA, but not in Mexico - it was too hot, dusty, or unsafe to camp in the open.


The entire trip was planned on photocopied map segments, which were pulled out one by one. Starting mileage on the bike: 65,454 miles (106,000 km). The only problem with paper maps was navigating inside and out of big cities, such as Guadalajara.

Riding to Mexico

Oregon coast:

The wire antenna in front of the red bag was the antenna for the homemade security system. This silent alarm went off again and again when children tried to climb on the bike in Mexico. It was clever, but a bike cover would have been more effective!

Mexican farm workers harvesting the crop at dawn near Castroville, California.

Pacific Coast Highway #1 near Big Sur (Bixby Bridge):

Los Angeles:

Mount Palomar:

Vintage T-shirt; Phil Funnell was at that time the largest BMW bike dealer in Canada and a well-known long-distance motorcycle tourer.

Carretera Transpeninsular

The Baja highway just after passing through Tijuana:

Almost no traffic. Wonderful. It was my first ride outside North America and it felt like high adventure.

I don't have a photo of the inside of a Baja cafe, but I do have permission to use this superb drawing (c)1979 by People's Guide To Mexico (

This is exactly what roadside eateries were like ... and hot! No TV on the wall, no muzak; drop a coin in the Wurlitzer.

The Vizcaino desert

Guerrero Negro

Sea salt factory:

Guerrero Negro motel. It was so windy during the afternoon that the bike set off the motion alarm several times, despite the bike being in the motel courtyard.

The Baja morning was surprisingly cold and foggy, but only for an hour:

Desert soldiers.

Ride to Santa Rosalia

Santa Rosalia

Overnight Ferry to Guaymas

I slept on deck next to the people in the photo, and in the morning we were all streaked with soot. I popped a float bowl off the bike and washed my face and hands with gasoline.


This hombre is cool:

Los Mochis and Topolobampo

Roadside grave:


Note the party-line telephone wires on the left:

One of my favorite photos, shot from the seat of the motorcycle:

Puerto Vallarta

The ceiling fan was so low the steel blades nearly chopped off my fingers. They were bleeding and bruised after I reached up while removing my T-shirt:

Ride to Guadalajara

Agave Azul farm next to the town of Tequila:



Hacienda d Cobos Hotel:

Guanajuato's Mercado Hidalgo:

Volkswagen was still producing Beetles in 1981:

The last Beetle manufactured anywhere rolled off an assembly line in Mexico in 2003.

Tortilla maker ... it's HOT in there:

Museo de las Momias de Guanajuato:

Guanajuato is a pleasant university town:

But on the other side of the tracks:



In 1981:

Note the preponderance of pickup trucks. The same spot today, courtesy of Google Earth:

Only the Relojeria (jewelry shop) behind my motorcycle seems still to be in business in the same location.


Plaza de Toros Alejandra in Durango:

The man in the window of the ancient church liked the BMW:

"¡Muy bonita moto, señor!" he said.

Ride to Juarez

Good roads, no traffic.

70,000 miles (113,000 km) on the odometer, highway 45 south of Juarez:

Navigating with the paper maps ... lost again:

One horsepower:

Two horsepower:


Child discount cigarette vendors opposite the Juarez cathedral near the border crossing:

The border guard at Juarez was very friendly:

In this photo the plastic bubble mounted over the headlight to protect it from flying rocks is visible.

Riding Home

It was good to be camping again:

Santa Fe:

Near Carlsbad:



It was nearly freezing in the morning. The bike cranked very slowly and would not start: I had filled the engine with straight SAE 40W oil to protect it during hot desert riding; it was too viscous at low temperatures. Even the kick-starter (remember kick-starters?) couldn't get the bike going. I put my Optimus gasoline campstove under the motorcycle, heated the engine's oil pan for half an hour, then used jumper cables belonging to a pickup truck owner to start it. I switched to 20W-50 multigrade oil after that!

The trip consumed one front tire, two rear tires, and three oil changes, all do-it-yourself. Motorcycle tire life and engine service intervals were short in those days.

When I showed the photos to my good friend in Vancouver it inspired him to ride to Mexico the following year on his BMW R60/5. On that ride he met a Mexicana; they became penpals (pre-Skype). My second ride to Mexico was in 1984 to witness their wedding in Tepic. Thirty years later they are still married (and he still has the R60/5).
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:19 PM   #2
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Beautiful photos, images on real film. Mexico hasn't changed very much. Beautiful bike, the height of touring sophistication. Thanks!
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:20 PM   #3
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What a wonderful report! Looks like you had a great time, and you even got to meet Gandolf the Gray on the way to Rosalia! Bonus! Besides being a fine report in its own right, it also serves to remind us all that it is not really necessary to have all the 2013 farkles in order to set out. Thanks!
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:35 PM   #4
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Old 12-06-2013, 09:59 PM   #5
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So bad ass!
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Old 12-06-2013, 11:04 PM   #6
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thank you

That was great, thank you for taking the time to post this up. How come you've waited since the 80's to do it? Been too busy?

"Don't worry" they said "It could be worse"
So I didn't worry and it did get worse!

My biggest ride yet. Oz to UK. Read all about it here
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Old 12-07-2013, 04:41 AM   #7
Dr LC8
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That is a great report!

From time to time some of these vintage reports come up on the forum and are so appreciated! I love them, thank you!

Explore Alps Off Road:
2012 Ducati Multistrada 1200
2008 KTM LC8 990 ADV S
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Old 12-11-2013, 08:21 PM   #8
Markaso del Norte
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Thanks for sharing this trip and pictures, your photos have held up well.
Most of us would never venture on a trip like that with a high mileage bike Inspirational.
Truly an adventure!
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Old 12-12-2013, 09:01 PM   #9
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Actually, at 65,000 (106,000 km) it never occurred to me that this was a high-mileage bike; I thought it was just getting nicely broken in. I had seen BMWs with hundreds of thousands of miles.

I rode my self-maintained airhead 100,000 miles (before it was wrecked in a deer strike) and it never once left me stranded, although it suffered a few non-critical or roadside-repairable failures.

In contrast, I rode my dealer-maintained, sixth-hand R1100R from 60,000 miles (97,000 km) to 90,000 miles (147,000 km), and during this 30,000 miles it has had to be trucked to a dealer three times, in Singapore, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai! The previous owner had to truck it at least once, in Malaysia.

The things that broke on the oilhead which were not roadside repairable:

* Hall Sensor. Does not exist on the airhead. Points don’t work as well as electronic ignition, but they are easily replaced by the side of the road with the tools in the toolkit. I replace the expensive Hall sensor every two years, just in case.

* Fuel Pump. Does not exist on the airhead. Gravity feed is enough for carburators.

* Clutch lever (behind the transmission). Exists on the airhead, but never breaks as far as I know, and if it did break it could be replaced with the tools in the toolkit in ten minutes. On the 1998 oilhead the clutch lever is behind the drive train and replacement requires a workshop with a large socket wrench, a heat gun, and a torque wrench. I carry a spare now when touring, even though it is not a roadside repair.

* Valve stem: Does not exist on the airhead. Replace the inner tube with the tools in the toolkit.

The downside of the old bikes is that the routine maintenance was higher to maintain reliability and performance. The parts wore in predictable or visible ways and was not difficult to do the work yourself to save money (which I didn’t have very much of). This was my basement in the winter of 1979, when the bike was five years old: time for bearings, oil seals, cam chain, and rear splines before heading to Alaska next summer.

The Canadian winters are long, in this way I could spend time with my bike when it was too cold to ride! And of course, if it did break on the road, I would know how to repair it.
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Old 12-07-2013, 05:33 AM   #10
52 Weeks of warm
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Love the RT.
Love the year.
Love the pics.

Siskall and Ebhert would give it 5 starts…I give it 11.

In 1982 I rode my Honda 250XL with my girlfriend on the back from San Antonio Texas to Mexico City. We had $40 cash and stayed in 2 motels, were served alcohol (we were 16 & 17) and were told we would be paying off the cops when pulled over so be ready to shell out cash.

We rode past many cops that looked us up and down and I am certain determined we werent worth the trouble.

Man those were great times. Wish I had a camera back then.
You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
Mae West
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Old 12-07-2013, 05:42 AM   #11
Back in S. Korea
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Fantastic ride...32 years ago!
My TAT trip in 2014:
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:01 AM   #12
Ol Man
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Thanks for taking the time to put your trip report together.
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:16 AM   #13
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Wow, just fantastic, thanks for taking what must have been a lot of time scanning old photos. That was the same year I took my first big trip, I was 24 and we rode from Atlanta Georgia to the Pacific ocean and back, 6 weeks. I have all those photos in a shoe box, I should scan them!
"A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free."
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Old 12-07-2013, 08:19 AM   #14
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I enjoyed that. Thank you very much.


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Old 12-07-2013, 07:07 PM   #15
Joined: Mar 2012
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excellent..but i thought these type of rides were only made after 2004 on the modern better stuff with all the high dollar suits and gizmos (I used moms garden gloves for protection back in the day as an example)...i never went anywhere outside my own town until 2008 when i got a cell phone..most excellent it-god speed
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