Bad Baja Roads

by Elden Carl

Even though I’ve spent the past 20+ years riding, servicing, building and studying
KLR650s, I find I’m still faced with new problems based on changing conditions.  The
same is true with my WR250R, DR350 and DR650s and other bikes I’ve owned since
being honorably discharged from the military in 1955 (the first was a new 200cc Triumph
Tiger Cub).

With 257,000 miles on KLR-A models (1987 thru 2007) and somewhere close to a
million miles on all the bikes I’ve owned, there is no way to stop learning if I want to
continue to improve the efficiency and safety of my equipment.

Pauline’s 1989 KLR is a case in point. Purchased slightly used in 1990 and owned by
Robert Buchanan from 1994 through 2004 the upgraded old girl (the bike) is still
running strong (so is Pauline). At present the bike is being prepped for a couple of
multisurface rides in Arizona with Bruce Redding, Tex Ernhardt, Eric McKee, Phillip Orth,
Paul Tomlinson and Rod Morris among others.

As with all changes including perceived improvements, testing is an important part of the
development process, especially for a 20 year old motorcycle ridden by a 75 year of
guy. Enter Rod Morris, our off-road riding partner of many years.

About three weeks ago Rod and I headed for Baja on a 300+ mile overnighter to
Ensenada Mexico. We crossed the border at Tecate Mexico 30 miles from our
respective homes and headed east on pavement. About 17 miles out and half a dozen
miles south of the border we aired down all four knobby tires (15psi front and 12psi rear)
and headed south on what has been for years our favorite Baja dirt road, the El
Compadre, which ultimately leads to Ojos Negros, Ensenada, San Felipe, Mike’s Sky
Ranch and many other interesting places.

Our first stop was about 15 miles south at the top of a mountain south of Neji Valley. I’ve
been stopping and looking down on that beautiful valley since my first Baja ride with Alan
Dietor in 1974. Alan was my dirt riding mentor who in 1977 lead Jeff Ziems, David
Kramer and me to a second place team finish in the longest and toughest motorcycle
event of the time, the two day Tecate 500 mile enduro (only two out of about 50 4-man
teams finished intact that year). In all, Alan Dietor was responsible for the 4 Tecate 500
trophies hanging on my wall. Alan, with a half dozen Tecate 500 trophies plus several
thirds through fifths in the much easier but faster Score Baja 500 and 1000 on stock
equipment, is the best dirt rider I have ever ridden with and a heck of a good guy.
Thanks Al! But I digress.

Behind Rod and me where we stopped above Neji Valley was a road I hadn’t been on for
15 or 20 years. Since the road ultimately lead to La Prieta’s El Compadre Ranch which
we had to pass through anyway, I suggested we try it. After dead ending at several
ranches that hadn’t existed the last time I traveled the road I finally found the abandoned
section leading to La Prieta’s Ranch.

It wasn’t long before we came to realize how much weather damage a non-maintained
Baja dirt road can sustain over almost two decades. For the most part Rod and I
negotiated several miles of ditches, whoops and off cambers. The worst part was the final
2 to 3 miles following a chopped up deep sand wash which finally came out at the El
Compadre Ranch. What a relief!!

Please KLR, don't fail me now!

Please KLR, don’t fail me now!

Rod and I understood in reflection why we saw only dirt bike and ATV tracks during our
ordeal.  If there were any KLR tire tracks in that wash besides our own they were
probably put there by Big John Brande, the best KLR-A single tracker we ever knew. But
it couldn’t have been John – he now lives on the east coast.

Aside from the detour through hell that we had experienced, Rod and I were amazed at
the poor condition of the remaining 40 miles of the El Compadre Road. Lots of loose sand,
ruts, wash board and storm damaged sections from the previous winter’s storms.
Not a good place for giant BMW and KTM twins or even KLRs, especially if you’ve
added lots of weight up front and installed raising links.

No missing this Mexican flag flying  over Ensenada - Viva Mexico!

No missing this Mexican flag flying
over Ensenada – Viva Mexico!

Upon hitting the pavement at Ojos we aired the tires up to 24 front/22 rear and headed west to Ensenada for some good food and sleep. After a restful overnighter in Ensenada, Rod and I headed east again to travel back through the mountains via the 60 + mile Constitutional Park/Laguna Hansen dirt road. Again we experienced much more
difficult road conditions than we expected. Lots of sand and a difficult rocky section several miles north of the Park.

Just north of a particularly rocky area I waved down an oncoming SUV to warn him
of what was ahead. He didn’t have any protection for his engine pan and I’ve since
wondered if he made it to Laguna Hansen with all his oil.

Rod and I were a little bummed out over road conditions north of Laguna Hansen so
what happened while talking with the young male SUV driver gave us a welcome lift.  
There, suddenly appearing in the open left rear window of the vehicle was the largest
dog’s head we’d ever seen (see photo). I could see through the window that the
animals butt was almost touching the rear passenger door on the other side. After
being assured that “Goliath” (what else?) would more likely lick my face off than bite
me, I petted and scratched his monstrous head while Rod snapped a photo of this
half English Bull dog, half Quarter horse (or something else big). At close to 200 lbs
I’m not used to being out-weighed by a K-9, but then I was looking at the greatest dog
I’d ever seen! What a guy! “Viva Goliath”

Elden meets Goliath!

Elden meets Goliath!

Upon completing our meeting with Goliath and family, Rod and I continued north on
the dirt another 20 miles to La Rumarosa where we aired our tires back up to Baja
rough pavement pressure (21psi all around). From La Rumarosa to the Tecate
border crossing and on to our respective residences in Crestwood and La Mesa Rod
and I put another 70 or so miles on the KLR clocks.

Giving the bikes a break at Laguna  Hansen

Giving the bikes a break at Laguna

I had decided while fighting the deep chopped up sandy road sections on this trip that I
wasn’t going to wait for the grader that may not do his work before winter arrives. After
comparing notes with Rod who, like me, had considerable difficulty negotiating some deep
sandy sections of road chopped up by 4 wheeler tracks that crisscrossed each other
creating waves which constantly deflected the front wheel from one rut to another, I came
up with a plan.

I wanted to stabilize the front end thereby reducing the severity of the cross-grain impacts
on the front wheel. The changes not only made the front end easier to control, but at the
same time slowed the deflection process down allowing the pilot more time to take
corrective action.

How do I know it worked? Well, Rod Morris and I took the same 300 mile trip in reverse two
weeks later and immediately after I had completed some modifications mostly at the front
end.  Forgive us but we omitted the section from hell near Rancho El Compadre. The
changes I made both up front and at the rear of the 1989 “A” model KLR650 are detailed
in Technical Insights.

I’m pleased enough with the results that I obtained due to the changes made that I wish I’d
come up with them years ago. One thing is for sure, the modifications accomplished are
here to stay on my MSM A Model. Rod is considering at least part of the modifications on
his MSM KLR. His pavement KLR like mine will remain with near stock rake and trail and
equipped with a 19″ front wheel.

In order not to lose rake and trail upon installing a 19″ front wheel and 100/90 X 19 tire,
don’t forget to drop the rear approximately 1″ with lowering links. Obviously this will lower
your KLR approximately 1″ overall reducing your lean angle and ground clearance. You
shouldn’t make such a change if you are a radical rider and/or have weak springs front
and rear. Our street KLR’s have Progressive springs up front and Top Gun spring at the