Zongshen Vs. The Copper Canyon
MMM rides a Chinese Dual Sport Motorcycle into Mexico
by Marty Mataya
I’ve been climbing the steep grade up this mountain for seven miles now and it’s time for a break. The Zongshen 200 and I are both getting a little warm. The switchbacks come every few hundred feet. The corners are covered with two inches of white volcanic rock dust. When riding these dirt roads through the Sierra Madre, the ever-changing views make you part of the mountains; not like some paved overlook with painted white lines so the motor homes can line up just so.
I continue upward. Lack of momentum means its first gear and 10 mph for the little 200. No complaints from the bike. It is cooler at this altitude and the Zongshen grinds up the last couple miles.
Reaching the top also means smoother roads through the forest. We follow the ridge along a combination of dirt and gravel roads to the town of Cerocahui, where we will spend the night. The Church is at the center of many of these small mountain towns. This one dates from the mid-1600s and is still in use today. Many are quite grand, considering it requires hours of driving just to get to a paved road. The hotel feeds us very well. Both dinner and breakfast are typical Mexican fare. The food rivals the scenery as reason to travel here.
Today our destination is Chinipas, Chihuahua, via an easy 70 miles of dirt roads. Our first stop is in Bauochivo, one of the few towns in the area with an official Pemex station. Pemex is the government-run oil company and only brand of gas in Mexico. As we get closer to Chinipas, the roads and trucks get bigger. There is a huge mine here that extracts gold, silver and other metals. Large cascades of tailings cover the mountainside.
Spending the night in Chinipas means dinner at Gaby’s, famous for amazing tacos cooked outside by the center plaza. Seating is plastic tables and chairs covered with Tecate beer logos (F.Y.I: bring your own Tecate.) The local dogs sit around and wait for scraps. We savor the warm, starry February night. The sleeping accommodations aren’t as pleasant. There is little hot water and electrical wires poke out of walls and ceilings, waiting for prey like a hungry spider. You get used to it.
We leave on another sunny morning, crossing the Rio Chinipas, the western boundary of town. There has been little rain and the water is only axle-deep on the Zongshen. Still, the rocky bottom is slippery as we bounce across. The mighty 200 is happy today on dry dirt, our speed in the 20s. This economical little bike (under $2,000 new) is very competent until the surface overwhelms the suspension. The other 200cc bike on this trip is a Suzuki DR-200 ridden by Rachel. She is a very good rider and zips past me over the rough stuff. Otherwise, the bikes are of fairly equal performance.
Our destination for the day is Uruachi, about 100 miles north. We climb another mountain and are rewarded with smooth dirt roads. We stop at the tienda in Loredo for snacks and rest, arriving in Uruachi late in the afternoon. I ask for rooms on the lower level of the hotel. The owner assures me I want to stay upstairs in the nicer rooms. We share another 70º February evening of good food, good beer and good times with friends. Tomorrow we head to Creel.
Today starts out like all the rest: Eat breakfast. Go find someone who has gas in his shed. Head up another mountain. Half way to Creel, I stop on a bridge after a right turn to find front tire quickly going flat. Luckily, I have an extra tube and get it fixed before the group catches up. By now, a light sprinkle has turned to tiny ice pellets and I have nowhere to go but up. Soon it is snowing hard. Al has caught up and neither of us really knows the way. Since your not really lost til you’re gas is gone, we have no choice but to continue through the snowstorm. There are a couple inches of snow on the ground. Traction is OK, but we can’t see what we are riding on, so it’s time to slow down. After about a half-hour of this, we head back down to lower altitudes and the weather clears up. Soon after, the rest of the group catches us. Turns out we were going the right way.
We spend the night in Creel, a tourist center for the railroad trips in this area. In the morning, it’s off to Chihuahua City for some R&R. The first 80 miles through the foothills are on smooth dirt roads with random piles of boulders where you don’t expect them. It’s a very nice day, sunny and slightly cool. When you have been riding at 15 mph for a week, 50 mph seems really fast. We have a good ride to the pavement for the last 70 miles to Chihuahua.
Standing in front of a small motorcycle shop in Chihuahua, the Channel 12 news team arrives to interview the gringos. Must have been a very slow news day. Later, Rachel and I got our 15 seconds of fame on Mexican TV.
Now it’s Wednesday and time to head for the border. It is 30º F and sunny when we leave. I have brought along an electric vest, but my Vega riding gear is doing its job nicely so I don’t need to plug in. The Zongshen hums along nicely at 55 to 60 mph, with a top speed of about 70. This turns into a top speed of 45 when going up the mountains on the eastern side of the desert. We arrive at the border. The crossing only takes a few minutes, and we are back in the USA.
The Zongshen delivered between 70-90 mpg and never missed a beat. The suspension was a bit overwhelmed at times, but came back with no leaks or ill effects after being pounded for 1,300 miles. The Peso is having a rough spell against the dollar at about 14:1. The ten days of riding in Mexico cost $300, plus $70 for insurance and import fees. And that’s not trying to be cheap: hotels, two meals and a lunch everyday, gas, and cocktails. You can still have an adventure without asking for a financial bailout. They seem to be easy to get, so I am still going to ask. Please don’t tell your congressman.