Baja riding legend's memories: the motorcycle revolution and the first motorcycle tour business in Baja

July 10th, 2018

Please enjoy a Baja legend's early Baja memories.

Well, I (Richard S., 84 y.o., San Diego) just woke up thinking about one of them, so I'm lying here in bed writing about it. If I don't write it before I get out of bed, I'll forget about it.

baja riding legend

During the 60s the two stroke motorcycle Revolution took over the racing world. They were so much lighter and faster than the four strokes that they pretty well dominated all the aspects of racing except flat track. But, at that time they weren't nearly as easy to start as the four strokes, something that totally reversed in later years. Of course I was a dedicated 4 stroker from my professional racing career when there was nothing but four strokers, but I had succumbed to racing Huskies and Maico two strokes by the latter half of the 60s after I retired and started racing motocross as that fad swept the nation.

baja two stroke motorcycle riding

From 1964 when I first moved here from the East Coast I had fallen in love with riding in Baja. That had occurred when my wife and I had flown into Bahia De Los Angeles, and while we were there, 2 desert sleds came through on their way to La Paz. These were the Triumph and BSA big four strokes that were about the only bikes of that time big enough and reliable enough to be trusted to make it all the way to La Paz. The Honda four strokes of that time we're reliable but not big enough to carry all the gear necessary. At that time to make it as far as LA Bay without getting lost or breaking down was quite an accomplishment. These guys, dusted down with all their gear, looked like they had just crossed the continent of Africa and had been on the trail for a number of days. At that time the road from Ensenada to La Paz did not exist and the only way into La Bay was either by boat or by flying into the dirt strip as we had done. Flying down to Baja in my Convair L 13 was fun, but immediately I knew I had to discover it by dirt bike.

Now, I'll get to the memory that I woke up with that started this whole flood of thoughts. By 1972 I had founded the first motorcycle tour business in Baja, called Cycle Treks Baja, just to justify my excuse to go riding down there. I would offer three and five day trips which varied, but usually included loops through the Pine Forest, Mike's Sky Ranch, San Felipe, Bahia De Los Angeles and Ensenada. The food and all the booze you could drink was included. All that free booze was an inspiration because it really helped promote the tours, but it cost me very little because they would drink like fishes the first day and pay such a price the next day they would hardly drink after that. Pounding over the Baja Terrain on the 4-inch suspensions of that time with a hangover was a lesson not to be forgotten. I charged 300 and 500 for these tours and they provided their own bikes. Surprisingly, most of the people came from the Midwest and East Coast trailering their own bikes across country during the winter months. I had considered providing the bikes myself and rejected it because I only wanted to take experienced riders and not have to babysit novices. And, I wanted to go fast.

riding dirt bikes in Baja, California

On this particular tour that I woke up thinking about Joe Parkhurst, the founder of Cycle World magazine, had heard about the tours and sent a writer along for an article for the magazine. Good publicity for me. I always stressed in my brochures what to bring and what not to bring and especially what tools to bring and to travel light. The Japanese-American writer from the magazine showed up with one of those big red, rolling, multi drawers shop toolboxes. It would barely fit in the back of the van and it was full of tools and test equipment. The van space was really Limited because we camped out at least one night on these tours so there were cots, sleeping bags, folding tables and food, etc. Everybody carried their own big backpack. My unique touch that I was always proud of was that I would send the van on ahead to set up a surprise somewhere in the middle of nowhere. When the tour rounded a bend in some pristine spot, there would be set up tables with tablecloths, hurricane lanterns, wine glasses and all the luxuries of home and the food already prepared.

So this Cycle World writer insisted on taking his toolbox along over my strong suggestion otherwise. Since I coveted the upcoming article, I yielded. (this damn Google Voice app just translated I yielded into are you loaded). The toolbox was the last thing loaded into the back of the van. What a pain. The van belong to Richard Rowell, a riding friend of mine, who helped me on the tours and drove the van. We were on the stretch of road between Ojos Negros and Sawmill (Acerraderro), having just loaded up after a break, the van in the rear following the bikes. At some point, we stopped to wait for the van and discovered that the van's rear doors head come open and the toolbox was gone. We had passed only one Mexican pickup so we turned around on the bikes chasing back to get the toolbox. It was gone. Only a couple of tools were laying on the ground to betray where the toolbox had exited. We could never find that pick up which had probably turned off somewhere. I can just picture some Mexican rancher of that era trying to figure out the Exotic test equipment of Cycle World magazine. The writer was so pissed at me that I never got an article out of Cycle World for his freebie 5-day tour.

legend dirt bike riding Baja

I did go on to meet Joe Parkhurst a couple years later in a rather unusual way. My friend Joe DeSimone would come from Philadelphia each winter, trailering bikes across country with some other of my early racing friends, to go riding in Baja. Joe had one of the original Honda motorcycle dealerships and had gone on to get a Datsun dealership by this time, as well. He was a well-known racer of his time and knew everybody. How he knew Joe Parkhurst I don't remember, but Joe Parkhurst had only founded Cycle World several years before, yet they seemed to be good friends. Joe DeSimone and our group showed up at Mike's Sky Ranch on our bikes one late afternoon about dusk. Everybody was at dinner as we walked in in our dust-covered riding gear and Joe said to Joe "Hey Joe, how you doing". Joe Parkhurst had been standing giving a speech as we walked in, so he interrupted it to introduce my friend Joe and then the rest of our group. He then went on to give about a three-minute biography of my friend Joe DeSimone. There were about 40 people in that room, who's who of everybody in the industry all the way down to the racers. The bill had been footed by Honda to reward Marty Smith, who had just won the National Motocross championship. Joe Parkhurst had done such a good thumbnail biography of Joe DeSimone that someone in the group challenged Parkhurst to do the same kind of a biography about everybody at the table one at a time. It was amazing, Parkhurst not only knew everybody at that table, first name and last, but everything about them. Already, his magazine of only a couple of years was the largest selling Cycle Magazine in the world and I can see why. He was only a private in the army during the Korean War, proof that they would have made Einstein a cook and Alfred E Neuman a general. Parkhurst path and mine crossed a couple of times over the years in Baja and of course, I couldn't remember his name when we met but he remembered where and how he met me, as well as my name, much to my embarrassment.

Wow, I really went rambling on, but since I have gone to all this effort since I hate writing so much, I think I'll pass it on to a few other friends as well. (So write us, we will post your responses here).

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