El Diablo Made Me Do It

Two-wheel trekking through the Baja backcountry

Jeff Spurrier

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In a place where you’re never more than 24 miles from the beach, it’s easy to succumb to briny obsession, but Hiram Gastelum would like to remind you that the Baja Sur comprises other, more substantial elements. Namely deserts that sprout forests of tall cardón cactus, foothills veined by flash-flood arroyos, and mountains rising steeply to 6,000 feet above the gulf. All of which, as mountain-biking clients of Gastelum’s Katun Tours know well, make for excellent inland expeditions. Though based in the proprietor’s native La Paz, Katun Tours (800-377-9741; leads trips throughout the East Cape, especially around Los Barriles, which is also the site of the El Diablo Challenge, a four-day bike race held each March. The surrounding countryside is threaded with 50 miles of trails cut over the past few years by local bikers and staffers at Vela (800-223-5443), the windsurfing resort seasonally based in Los Barriles’s Playa del Sol hotel. From November through March, Vela rents new-model front-suspension Specialized bikes for $30 per day.

The trails are mostly hardpack, with tight curves, technical sections, and great ridge rides overlooking the Gulf of California. Keep watch for local backcountry denizens: caracara hawks, frigate birds, rabbits, snakes, and the occasional bobcat. Loop rides range from 90 minutes to four hours and can easily be tackled solo. (Ask for maps at Vela.) Just be prepared for washboard ruts and calf-scratching flora—and bring spare tubes and/or tube sealer.
For an overnight trip to a side of Baja most tourists never see, sign on for Gastelum’s San Antonio de la Sierra trip ($165), which ventures 40 miles into the foothills of the Sierra de la Laguna, stopping at a local ranch for dinner (beans, tortillas, cheese, and maybe grilled goat meat) and camping in a miniature pine grove.

From October through April at Gastelum’s traveler-friendly Cafe de la Frontera, on Calle 16 de Septiembre at the Malecon in La Paz, Katun Tours rents Voodoo bikes with Shimano LX components for $18 per day; guided trips run $50 per day, including lunch.