JT and I have done a lot of trips together. Even more important, we’ve done multiple rides in Mexico, so this wasn’t our first rodeo. For this trip we were most concerned about fuel, camping, and food – in that order.
If we couldn’t find gas in Boquillas then we were going to have problems. Sure, we could likely cross the border into Big Bend National Park, get gas, and then cross back into Mexico, but at best it would be expensive, a big hassle, and very time consuming. The more likely scenario if we were forced to try and transport gas across the border is that the customs folks at the border would not be happy with us since what we would be trying to do would be out of the norm. If they decided we couldn’t cross back into Mexico carrying gas, then our problems would be magnified.
Additionally, the gas tank on JT’s XR650R wasn’t large enough for him to make it to Boquillas on one tank. The XRR isn’t known for exceptional fuel economy, so the 4.9 gallon aftermarket tank wasn’t going to do the trick. He would have to carry spare fuel. Luckily he had a 1.8 gallon fuel bladder he could strap on to the back of his bike which would provide the additional gas needed for him to make it to Boquillas. Probably.
For me, the stock fuel tank on my Husqvarna 701 is only 3.4 gallons; good for a max of 170 miles. Not bad except it was 235 miles to Boquillas. I needed more fuel capacity. I had ordered an aftermarket Rade tank more than a month earlier, which at 1.6 additional gallons would push my total capacity to five gallons. I get 50 mpg on the Husky so five total gallons would theoretically be enough.
I say theoretically because I was still waiting for the tank to show up at my house. I told JT the week before we left that knowing how these things usually go, the tank would show up on Saturday. Which it did. And since I was leaving on Sunday morning, it meant I had enough time to install the tank but not enough time to give it a good test. If I screwed up the installation (not hard for me to do) or if there were quality issues with the tank and it leaked (a possibility) I wouldn’t find out until we were already in Mexico and likely too late to do anything about it.
In short, gas was the wild card in this entire scenario. We could go without food for a few days and not die. We could sleep on the ground if we needed to and not die. But if we ran out of gas before we made it to Boquillas then we would be up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
One of the rides I’ve always wanted to do but just hadn’t gotten around to is riding to Big Bend via northeast Mexico. Start in Del Rio, cross into Mexico at Acuna, ride west across the Chihuahuan desert and Sierra del Carmen mountains to Ojinaga, re-enter Texas at Presidio and then ride east to Terlingua.
I’m not the first person to think of doing this. Other groups have actually completed this ride, most recently JT and Milton in 2011. You can read their Wrong Way ‘Round the Bend ride report here.
The primary challenge with this route is gas – it is about 400 miles from Del Rio to Ojinaga and there are no gas stations anywhere along the route. Previous groups doing this route have been able to purchase a few liters of gas from locals at the tiny village of Morelos. However, I was with a group that rode the first half of the route in 2007 and my group was unable to locate gas in Morelos or anywhere else in the area. So, finding gas has not been a given.
However, things have recently changed. The unofficial border crossing from Big Bend National Park into the small village of Boquillas Mexico, closed after the 911 attacks, has been re-opened as an official crossing site. Boquillas nearly died when the border closed in 2001. Today, with tourists once again crossing the Rio Grande into Boquillas and providing a source of income for locals, new services are now available, including gas (via a 55 gallon drum). If we really can get fuel in Boquillas, then it solves the gas issue with this route.
I did some checking around with Big Bend locals and was assured I would be able to buy gas in Boquillas. It would set me back a whopping $7 a gallon but it was there. With fuel seemingly available, it was time for me to mark this route off my bucket list. I called my buddy JT and we headed west the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Expedition Big Bend, here we come.
This was posted on advrider the other day:
“Researched the heck out of Adventure Class motorcycling and after the research and test rides (all on the pavement), I decided on the 1200 GSA. Magnificent bike. Off road, side of the hill, greasy dirt this 520ish beast is a bitch to maneuver. I’m a big strong boy too. Is this bike really a street bike 85%ish with a 15%ish packed dry dirt road, not necessarily off road? I fully admit I’ve been out of riding for a while with my last bike in the early 2000’s with a XR650R which is an 80-85% off road machine. So did I buy the wrong bike or do I want go just give it time. I do not like pavement so do it as a necessity when needed.”
I was sorry to tell this rider that he did buy the wrong bike since he doesn’t like pavement and will only ride it as an absolute necessity.
The big adventure bikes – and I love them – are the SUVs of the motorcycling world. They have the image, they look rugged, and they look like they can do serious dirt. But, they aren’t actually a good choice for anything beyond well-maintained, dry dirt roads (I consider dirt roads to be roads; dirt roads aren’t “off-road”). They are just too big, too heavy, take too much energy to ride off-pavement, and are too fragile (all that weight does serious damage when the bike inevitably hits the ground).
For actual adventure riding – riding that includes more that well maintained, dry dirt roads – there are better options.
This is just one man’s opinion but the most versatile bikes, the ones that can do both highway, dirt roads, and off-road, the ones that meet the full spectrum of “adventure riding” are the 300-400 lb. bikes: DR650, XR650L, DRZ400s, KTM 690, Husky 701, Yamaha WR250R, Husky TE610/630. All of these bikes are 350 lbs. or less except the DR650. Every pound of additional weight makes any bike exponentially worse off-pavement and better on-pavement. Every pound less makes the bike exponentially better in the dirt and less comfortable on pavement.
At the current state of motorcycle design, bikes below 300 lbs., such as the KTM 500 and Husky 501, aren’t great on-pavement, aren’t great at carrying heavy loads, and require oil changes a bit too frequently. Perhaps one day design will progress to the point that sub-300 lb. bikes will be more versatile, have longer maintenance intervals, and handle long distance pavement better. Today, we aren’t there yet. Leaving us with the bikes in the 300-400 lb. range as the most versatile and best able to meet the requirements of actual “adventure riding”.
Unfortunately, the motorcycling world in general doesn’t consider the 300-400 lb. dual sport bikes “sexy”. They don’t fit the image of “adventure bike”. The big boys, the 500 lb. or so adventure bikes, get all the love (and make the most profit for the manufacturers).
The 1200 GSA is a fantastic paved road bike that can also do easy dirt. And looks really good doing just that. Which is just fine for most, I presume. However, if you really want to ride harder dirt than that, then you might want to consider lighter, more dirt capable options.