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BicycleTourMexico.com | November 23, 2014

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is Mexico a safe place to travel?
  2. What if I can’t keep up with everyone else?
  3. What if everyone else is too slow?
  4. Will I have a map/info in case I need it?
  5. Is it true these tours are not rider-assisted?
  6. How fit do I need to be to complete this trip?
  7. What’s included in the guide fee?
  8. What’s not included in the guide fee?
  9. How do I get my bike to where it needs to be?
  10. What kind of bike and equipment do I need?
  11. Do I need to know any Spanish?
  12. What should I bring with me?
  13. How should I dress for the weather?
  14. What’s the best way to access my money?
  15. What if someone needs to reach me while I’m riding?

What if I can’t keep up with everyone else?

No one gets left behind on one of our tours. In some cases we do offer van-support and you can take advantage of that. When we have 2 guides (which is a majority of the time) one runs as a “sweeper.” When there’s only 1 guide we do allow the faster riders to ride ahead.

Will I have a map/info in case I need it?

We provide everyone with a booklet that includes a cue sheet for each day’s ride. All the roads we travel are well-marked with kilometer signs and we use those markers to detail stores (for water and snacks), places to eat, towns, landmarks and directions. Also included is the name, address and phone number of the hotel where we will stay that night. On occasion, we have riders who want to ride “faster and harder” than either group and having a cue sheet keeps them from getting lost.

Is Mexico a safe place to travel?

Since you’re interested in bicycle touring, you probably know that there is no such thing as a sure thing in life. As far as safety goes, we will discuss our experiences in the context of crime and in the context of bike touring.

Most of the violence reported in the media is gang related and has taken place in certain border areas of northern mainland Mexico, particularly around Juarez, as well as in areas on the Pacific and Gulf coasts of central mainland Mexico. The tours we offer are not in these areas. We do, however, offer tours that depart from Tijuana, where drug violence has been reported as well.

Putting things in context a bit, we can say that our recent experiences in Tijuana have been fine. It is the busiest border crossing in Mexico, and we go through town in the morning with thousands of other people, get our visas, and then leave. We don’t go to the bar district, don’t withdraw money from the ATM, don’t go exploring bad neighborhoods. It takes about an hour of riding down main roads and the primary highway to get out of town. Other than the traffic, it’s not scary.

It’s important to understand that the violence you hear about in Mexico is gang violence. If you are not involved in illegal activities and stay out of rough neighborhoods you are probably going to be just fine. Surely you would not plan a week’s vacation in certain parts of Baltimore, Detroit, or Newark, but you have likely traveled through these cities on your way somewhere and lived to tell about it.

As far as safety goes for bike touring in Mexico, we will say that most of the dangers involved would be common in whatever country you were in. Basic bike safety rules apply everywhere, and we would hope that you are familiar with them from your everyday riding.

In Mexico, as in much of the world, many people ride bikes because they don’t own cars. Drivers are certainly much more accustomed to bike traffic there than in the United States. We have found most drivers there to be considerate and patient with us while we ride.

In cities we ride together as a group while leaving or entering so that no one gets lost. The biggest dangers in cities for us have been riding in highly-congested areas and watching out for debris or loose storm drain covers, or the occasional unleashed dog. That’s pretty much like it is for us at home, too.

Outside of urban areas the biggest dangers are usually road debris, lack of paved shoulder along the roadway, and sometimes loose animals. Traffic outside of towns usually thins out quite quickly, with commercial buses and trucks being much of what passes by. We have found bus and truck drivers to be very considerate of us on the road, often giving us a friendly toot of the horn to let us know they are approaching, and we have never felt like they were impatient or trying to run us off the road.

The roads we cycle range from busy city streets to isolated stretches where we may see a car every 15 minutes, but we try to ride proactively at all times. This means using our mirrors and listening for what’s ahead or behind and adjusting our riding accordingly.

Finally, consider that the trade-off for riding through the beautiful countryside is that, should you become injured, help is not necessarily right around the corner. While we travel with cell phones, they sometimes don’t work in remote areas. We might be dependent on the help of passersby to get you to the next town.

How fit do I need to be to complete this trip?

We generally ride 30-60 miles per day, in varying terrain and weather conditions, so you probably can’t do one of these tours if you’re a novice rider. We would expect all riders to be in above-average physical shape and comfortable with the idea of spending much of each day on their bicycles, so don’t start training for your tour 2 weeks before it begins. We are not macho jock types, and we encourage people to ride at their own pace, but we will admit that some days on the tours are hard. Consider, too, the fact that, on most tours,  you must ride with panniers, so even if you ride a lot you’ll be riding with extra weight and drag you’re not used to.

Assuming you’re physically fit enough for the bike mileage, it’s also important to consider the mental aspects of a bicycle journey. We go from point to point on bikes, so in order to reach the next comfortable bed or meal we have to play the cards we are dealt. It may start raining, or there could be a headwind the whole day, you might wish for some more shade, or you may have just realized that you are not at the top of the mountain pass yet. Dang!

We do our best to accurately describe the various conditions of each tour we do, but you never know what it’s really like until you’re doing it. Most people will savor the challenges and adventures of the day, but you might also wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into when you think you’ll never make it to that hot shower and cold beer.

What’s included in the guide fee?

The guide fee pays for our researching and planning the tour and for accompanying you on the trip. We scout the routes, organize lodging and meal options, coordinate travel arrangements, answer questions, and try to make your own planning for the trip as successful as we can. While on the tour we hope that our experience in bicycle touring and our knowledge of the areas in which we ride will create a wonderful and rewarding trip for you.

What’s not included in the guide fee?

Pretty much everything else: transportation to, from and during the tour; food, lodging, beverages, incidentals, visas, entry fees, taxes, etc. The obvious exception is during our fully-supported tours, when you and your belongings can take advantage of the support van.

We make an honest effort to accurately estimate what you’ll spend while on each particular tour, but, obviously, this estimate will depend on stuff like how hungry or thirsty you are, or if you’d rather stay at the fancy hotel down the block from the modest one where we’re staying. On our most recent tours we have spent an average of about $75 a day for all of the above, excluding plane fare. Lodging estimates are based on two people per room.

One of the great things about traveling in Mexico is that it can be done very affordably, but in many of the places we visit you can probably find ways to spend a lot more than we typically do. With that in mind, we don’t try to stay at dirty hotels or eat in sketchy places just to save a few pesos, but you are free to sleep or eat wherever you’d like when we stop in a town if you don’t like our recommendations. We won’t make fun of you if you don’t make fun of us!

How do I get my bike to where it needs to be?

For tours departing from San Diego we recommend shipping your bike via FedEx or UPS to our bike shop partner in Chula Vista. We will send you the details when you register. You can get a bike box from your local bike shop for free and have them pack your bike professionally (for a small charge), or learn to do it yourself by watching a YouTube video. When your bike arrives at the bike shop they will reassemble it for a small fee and have it waiting for you when you arrive. You can ride to our hotel, which is a few blocks away. When the tour is over you do the process in reverse.

If you’re experienced in bike wrenching you can ship your bike directly to our meet-up hotel and put it together yourself. The hotel will be happy to store your box while we’re on tour.

Of course, you can also fly with your bike, but be aware that airlines often charge insanely high fees to do so.

What kind of bike and equipment do I need?

  • Additional information is available in our Bike Info section.

In our experience the most important thing to consider is bringing a bike you are comfortable with. If you like your road bike, then consider going with wider, heavier tires. If you’ve got a hybrid bike you enjoy, then switch to some narrower tires with a smooth tread surface. And by all means bring along your touring or cyclocross bike if you’ve got one.

Whatever you decide to ride, bear in mind that you will have to put a rack and panniers on it and make sure your gearing is suitable for the routes we’ll be riding. And also keep in mind that this is probably not the best time to bring along your very expensive, temperamental bike that’s outfitted with exotic European components. You’ll be left for dead in the desert.

We have lots of interesting bike information on our Bikes page, and we’re happy to answer any specific questions about bikes that you may have.

Do I need to know any Spanish?

Of course it wouldn’t hurt to know the local language, and you would get a much richer cultural experience if you did, but you shouldn’t worry too much if you don’t. We will teach you the basic words and phrases that travelers need to know, and you can bring along a little phrase book to bail you out in a pinch. We have also found that in big cities, border areas, and tourist towns there are many English speaking people and signs written in English. In smaller towns in out of the way places you are likely to encounter only Spanish, but small town folk are usually very nice and tolerant of your lack of language skills. They feel sorry for you!

What should I bring with me?

Since you will be the one carrying all of your belongings on your bike (unless you’ve chosen the fully-supported tour), the obvious answer is not too much. You’ll need clothing suitable for the typical weather conditions of the area in which you’ll be riding, for both on and off the bike. You’ll be able to wash things like socks and underwear at the hotel, so you don’t need a week’s worth. You’ll want personal items, a camera, maybe some Clif Bars, and certainly some sunscreen, a helmet and a light for your bike. We will help you figure that out when you’ve picked a tour.

The main thing to keep in mind is that you’re not going on an expedition to the North Pole, so don’t pack like it. Even when we ride in remote areas the towns we pass through have stores, and people in Mexico buy the same kinds of things you do, so you don’t need to bring 10 AAA batteries and an extra toothbrush with you.

Is it true these tours are not rider-assisted?

On most of our tours there is no support vehicle. You are expected to carry all of your belongings for the entirety of the trip, except for the box you shipped your bike in.  We do offer occasional fully-supported tours, where you and your belongings can travel in air-conditioned style.

What if someone needs to reach me while I’m riding?

We carry a cellphone that has a US number and works in Mexico. Shortly before we depart we’ll give you that number so that you can leave it with friends and family. We also carry devices enabled with Skype and many of the places we stay have wifi.

What’s the best way to access my money?

We’ll make it a priority to stop for pesos at an ATM shortly after crossing the border. It’s up to you whether you bring some cash over — or carry some traveler’s checks — as a back-up. Many places around the border and in tourist towns accept U.S. currency, so you should be fine with U.S. dollars for your first day in Mexico. While most of the hotels in Mexico accept credit cards, many small businesses don’t, so for most of your expenses while on tour you’ll want to have cash. We like to withdraw modest amounts of cash (in pesos) from an ATM as we need it, although not all the towns we visit have them.

ATMs can be used to immediately get foreign currency while outside of the United States and can also save you money when compared to buying currency at exchange rate booths. And with the worldwide availability of ATMs, you have convenient access to your money when traveling abroad.

Tips to minimize disruption of service while traveling internationally

  • Notify your bank/credit card company of your travel plans: Using your debit/credit card internationally can occasionally create false alarms with your bank’s fraud monitoring service.
  • Make sure your PIN is valid: Many countries only allow 4-digit PINs. If your PIN is longer than 4 digits, you may need to change your PIN before you depart. Also, if your PIN contains alphabetic letters, be sure to translate the letters into numbers.
  • Know your account access: Foreign ATMs may only provide access to your primary checking account linked to the card. Most foreign ATMs do not allow access to savings accounts. Do not rely on a savings account as a means of obtaining money.
  • Know your daily limits.
  • Withdraw during business hours: Some international ATMs are not active 24/7. Also, some banks only update transactions during normal business hours. This means that if you withdraw the maximum per day amount on Friday, you may not be able to withdraw cash again until the bank updates their records on Monday.
  • Have a backup plan: Just in case you can’t get access to an ATM, have an alternative means of making purchases, such as using foreign currency or a credit card. You may also be able to use your debit card to get a cash advance at a foreign bank in an emergency.

How should I dress for the weather?

You’ll want to wear comfortable clothing on your tour. For fall and winter tours in northern Baja the weather is likely to be chilly (40s – 50s) in the mornings, becoming very pleasant (60s – low 70s) in the afternoon. It’s often foggy along the coast and clear and dry inland.

Some of our accommodations may not have central heat. It has always been our experience that plenty of blankets are provided — or can be requested — so you will never be at risk of freezing to death as you sleep. However, the rooms can be cool in the mornings so plan accordingly

We like to start out the day in layers. We’ll wear a shirt, a warm layer (a light sweater or insulated jersey), and a windbreaker. If it’s really chilly we’ll wear wind-proof gloves and ear warmers. We’ll shed these items as our bodies and the air warm up. While it doesn’t rain much during our tours, it’s good if your windbreaker is water-resistant. Some people touring like to carry a full rainsuit, but in our experience they just don’t work. If it rains, you’re gonna get wet.

As far as below the waist goes, you’ll most likely want some padded bike shorts, and maybe some legwarmers or tights if it’s really chilly.

While you probably have a lot of this bike clothing already, we would like to stress that many places in Mexico, and particularly many of the small towns we will be passing through, are conservative places. The folks in these towns don’t want to look at every inch of your Lycra-bound body as they wait on you in the restaurant or store.

We ask that you respect their culture and cover up a bit. You can ride with athletic shorts over your bike racing shorts. Better yet, you can get around on your tour just as comfortably in padded mountain bike shorts, which are looser fitting and have pockets for your stuff. You don’t need that skin-tight jersey. People in rural Mexico generally don’t wear skin-tight clothing or short pants of any kind, so please pack accordingly.

A final clothing consideration is what kind of shoes to wear. Part of the fun of bike touring is stopping to explore the interesting sights, whether they are in town or the middle of nowhere. For this reason, a lot of bicycle tourists prefer to ride in stiff-soled athletic shoes and use toe cages on their pedals. This also eliminates a pair of shoes you need to carry around on the tour and makes it a lot easier to push your bike down a sandy street.

If you want the extra efficiency of bike cleats, we recommend using SPD pedals, which will allow you to wear a shoe with a recessed cleat that you can actually walk around in.