The Greatest Road in North America.
Story and Photos by Jim Foreman
There we were. Riding in the lead, and opening up the throttle to go even faster. Tom White, a former road racer, keeps steady on my tail and continues the chase. Criss-crossing mountain peaks and ridgelines on the new toll road, we traverse Alpine style tunnels that arch, turn, and dip with a perfect surface beneath our wheels. Finally coming around a tunneled corner, the egress brings us to a marvel of engineering. The spires and support cables rise above the road surface revealing a spectacular gorge. We are now on the world’s tallest cable-stayed bridge.
For many riders on this 19-day journey through Mexico in 2017, this day, in particular, stands as the pinnacle of a spectacular trip.
Late in 2016 we planned a group of US-based riders down to Mexico to participate in the 21st annual Motorrad Convención Internacional in Zacatecas. Immediately, five of the ten slots were spoken for by the participants of the last Mexico trip through Chihuahua and Sonora. This year, Riders from SoCal, Colorado and North Carolina all met in El Paso, TX to be a part of this special event.
The group consisted of members from the South Coast BMW Riding Club, the BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado, and the Brotherhood of Shanghai. Several riders are also members of the GS Giants.
The trip took us to amazing destinations including Chihuahua, Durango, Zacatecas, Queretaro, San Miguel de Allande, Guanajuato, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan and Baja California.
It’s during our stay in Mazatlan that we were able to traverse ‘El Espinazo del Diablo’ or ‘The Devil’s Backbone.’
The day began fairly typically. We began eastward to Mex 40 (Libre).
Mex 40 (Carretera Mazatlán-Durango) once was a very dangerous road. It served as the only link between the port city of Mazatlán to the state of Durango. In the worst of times, it was said that there would be occasional bodies that would show up on the side of the road in the morning. Since the opening of the new parallel toll road, the Libre road is mostly forgotten, except by motorcyclists. The previous nine-hour journey now only takes two and a half hours
The road that stretches from Villa Union, Sinaloa to Durango is commonly known as El Espinazo del Diablo. The Espinazo is actually only a small mountain feature on one part of the road. The whole road, because of its notoriety, got the name.
El Espinazo del Diablo is 125 miles of relentless twists, turns, curves and elevation changes. The scenery is among the lushest and most beautiful one can imagine. The danger for motorcyclists is keeping one’s eyes on the road. The newly surfaced road is immaculate, and because of the parallel toll road, it’s wide open with almost no vehicle traffic.
The greatest hazards to riding this road are cows, wild horses, and burros. Look for fresh piles on the road as your warning. Secondarily a danger is riding above one’s ability. This road does not suffer fools lightly.
Now with all the scary part out of the way, this road will also change your life for the positive and give you a sense of accomplishment no tamer of the ‘Tail of the Dragon’ could ever understand.
About 20 miles in, the road rises in elevation, and the temperature becomes perfect for comfortable riding. Only near El Salto does the elevation rise to 8700ft and becomes a bit cold.
Now, once one finishes the road in a couple of hours, the best surprise is yet to come. Imagine Germany’s famous Nurburgring with tunnels and across the world’s tallest cable-stayed bridge. That’s the new toll road that awaits your journey back. Currently, at $165MN ($9 USD), it’s one of the most expensive toll roads in Mexico. It’s oh so worth it. The toll road is lightly traveled, as well. Trucks and motorists are quick to give way to motorcyclists and passionate drivers who want to pass.
The beauty and majesty of nature’s designs along with the impeccable engineering the road designers used make for an experience you probably can’t get anywhere else in the world.
US roads like CA-1 (Pacific Coast Highway), US 191 (Arizona’s Devil’s Highway), US 550 (Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway), Utah’s Scenic Byway 12, Cherahola Skyway in North Carolina all pale in comparison to the diversity, intensity, and rewards granted to riders of these great roads.
In late September 2018, another group of intrepid US-based riders will head south for the annual Convencion in Morelia, Michoacan.
One thing is for certain, above all else. We’ll be riding El Espinazo del Diablo again!
Jim Foreman leads groups into Mexico on short and longer trips through Authentic Moto Travels. If you’re interested in discovering or re-connecting with our great neighbor, to the south, please contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 310 923-6635.
For a helmet-cam video of the scene described at the beginning, click Play below,