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— Organizers of the semiannual Rosarito Ensenada Fun Bicycle Ride recently announced that the September 27 event would be their last. As with Baja tourism in general, participation in the ride has been declining. In April, it dipped below the 5000-rider mark, which organizer Gary Foster says is his break-even point. City officials and business leaders in Rosarito are scrambling to keep the lucrative event alive. They believe it is the latest victim of “bad and unfair” media coverage of Baja California.

Foster, a trim, clean-cut man of 43, sits in a coffee shop at a table overlooking Cass Street in Pacific Beach. Dressed in a blue surf-shop T-shirt and gray jogging pants, he speaks almost too softly to be heard over the hiss and gurgle of the cappuccino machine 20 feet to his right. “A guy named Dave Dickson, who was leading tours for the youth hostels, discovered the route between Rosarito and Ensenada and found out it was exactly 50 miles. So he was kind of the founder of it. And 1980 was the first ride for which he advertised and charged admission.”

Dickson ran the Rosarito-to-Ensenada ride from 1980 to 2000. “I started working for him in 1989. I was on the rowing team at San Diego State, and we had to raise money for boats and oars, and one of the fund-raisers was handing out water at the bike ride. So I met Dave and started working for him part-time while at school. After I finished my undergrad, I stayed on for a while.”

A few years later, Foster went away to graduate school, then took a telecom job in Denver, which he held for five years. In the meantime, he recalls, “Dave Dickson retired, and he advertised at the end of 1999 that it was going to be the last ride. But in 2000 he sold it to two guys down in Ensenada, Guillermo Rodríguez and Alejandro Treviño. [Throughout the ride’s history] we’d worked with Guillermo Rodríguez. His business was printing T-shirts. During all those years, he printed the T-shirts for us. And because he was an Ensenada local, he always helped us with getting permits and overcoming any roadblocks with the government.”

Rodríguez and Treviño, Foster says, “are 50-50 partners in the Señor Frog’s stores. They also own a newspaper in Ensenada, El Vigía. And [Rodríguez] has a boutique winery. Their interest in the ride was they didn’t want to see it come to an end. They wanted to keep it alive because it was such a big influx of tourist revenue into Mexico, especially their hometown of Ensenada. So they bought everything from Dave, all the rights, the trademarks, and everything.”

Foster continues, “They ran it from 2000 until 2003. They got decent crowds, 6000, 7000, 8000 per event, but the business was failing.”

Foster left his telecom job and moved back to San Diego. One night, “I was grabbing dinner and catching up with Guillermo. He said, ‘We’re having a lot of trouble with the business, and we know that Dave [Dickson] doesn’t want to do it anymore. You are the only other guy in the U.S. who knows how to do it, so would you like to come work for us?’ And I said, ‘I don’t want to work for you, but if you are looking for a partner or you want to sell the business, I am interested.’ So I worked as a partner, and we set up two companies. One is in the U.S., Bicycling West. That is the one that I work for. And Bicycling West operates as basically an advertising firm. We do sports marketing, advertising in all media, from Internet to direct mail to bulk distribution of brochures. The second company is in Mexico, and it is called Paseo Ciclista Rosarito Ensenada. And that company owns everything in Mexico, the intellectual property, the name of the event, the trademarks, the logos, all artwork; it gets the permits for the ride, posts the ride, collects the revenue, all that stuff. So the event pays Bicycling West. I bought in at 50 percent of each company.”

Foster won’t divulge the amounts he paid to buy into the companies or how much money he’s made from the two for-profit businesses. “This has been my only job for the last five years. I’ve bought a house five blocks from the beach in PB, and I have four kids. My wife works too — we’re a two-parents-working family. So I’ve done all right. Not as much as when I was a director in telecom. But it’s also a lifestyle business. In telecom, I was working 60, 70, 80 hours a week and traveling. I had 80 employees and a $41 million budget. But I never got to see my kids. Now I’ve been working a normal 40-hour week or less. In the middle of the day, if my ten-year-old son says, ‘Dad, I want to take a bike ride,’ we hop on the bikes and take a ride. It’s been nice. I’m going to miss that.”

The business grew, Foster says, through 2006, “and then in 2007, the business fell off, and it was just not something we could overcome. We had been averaging 7500 people, but in the April 2008 ride, we just had, we had between 4900 and 5000.”

Five thousand riders, each paying a $35 entry fee is $175,000. Seems like plenty of money, especially twice a year. But, Foster says, “Our event is a destination event. We are pulling people from the U.S., about 75 percent from the U.S., primarily coming from L.A., Orange County, and San Diego. When most people go across the border, they want to feel safe, and they want to feel that if something happens, they are going to get the same level of care that they would get if they fell off their bike up here. So what we have done, ever since I worked for Dave, we’ve always provided life-flight helicopters and airplanes to bring people up. So if someone has a critical injury on the course, we can actually pick them up right on the course in Mexico by helicopter, come across, touch down at Brown Field and clear customs, and bring them right to a hospital here in the U.S.”

Asked if they have ever had to use that service, Foster answers, “Almost every event we have, something happens. Cycling is the most dangerous sport of all the popular sports.”

Foster also hires U.S. paramedics to go down and be on call. And, because of Mexican law, they can’t use volunteers to staff any aspect of the ride. “So at the water stops, people handing out T-shirts, people handing out numbers and registrations, they are all paid employees. In Mexico, you can’t use someone as a volunteer the way you can here.”

On top of medical and staff costs — Foster won’t divulge how much they are — there’s a federal revenue tax on the registration fees. And the cities of Rosarito and Ensenada each charge a per-rider tax, a practice Foster describes as “a very counterproductive way of thinking. If you look at the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon, the model they use is, every time they go to a new city, the city pays the company to bring the event to them because it generates tourism. So what happens is, Rock ’n’ Roll doesn’t have to make any money on participation because they are getting so much from the cities. But for us down there, we do it upside down. We go down there, we have to pay the city to put on the event. We have to buy the permits to put on the event. Every police officer that is stationed along the route, we have to pay his salary for the day. It adds up, and it’s cost prohibitive.”

Ron Raposa, public relations director for the City of Rosarito, blames the demise of the bike ride on American media coverage of Baja, “including things like the recent cover story you ran in the Reader” (“Greetings from Tijuana,” August 7).

Asked what the economic impact of the ride has been for Rosarito, Raposa doesn’t have dollar figures but offers, “Well, we had 5000 to 7000 participants plus friends and family members that came down, that stayed in hotels and ate in restaurants and spent money in Rosarito and Ensenada twice a year and created a great deal of publicity for the area. It’s a wonderful event with wonderful people. They never had a problem with anything down here, and we never had a problem with them. We’d like to see it continue, and we still hope that some way might be found. If it can’t continue, we’re going to miss it. There’s no question about it. As for the exact economic impact, well, we get over a million visitors a year here, and we’re starting to see a recovery in tourism this summer, so it’s not going to kill us. But we’re surely sad to see it go. It’s extremely sad, and it truly is the result of bad and unfair U.S. media coverage, and I put the Reader cover story in that category. I can’t say it any more sternly. Twenty-seven years, 375,000 participants, and never a single serious crime among them. But the U.S. media are simply scaring people away with biased, unbalanced, and unfair reporting.”

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David Dodd Sept. 25, 2008 @ 2:28 p.m.

The bargains in Tijuana and other parts of Northern Baja are gone because business is rotten now. No one is selling in volume anymore, because tourism has dried up. And many Mexicans enjoy shopping in the United States because many items that are purchased there are more expensive here, mainly because they are imported. Electronics is a perfect example.

I wasn't here in the eighties, but in the last several years, local government has done everything that they can in order to make the tourist zones of Tijuana more attractive. Avenida Revolucion has been transformed into a more pedestrian friendly zone, and even Zona Norte, the red light district of downtown Tijuana has been upgraded to make it more attractive.

So far as the movements and preferences of Mexican businessmen, I am sure that some of it is because they fear kidnappings. Keep in mind that this has little to do with tourism; the average San Diegan is more likely to be carjacked than kidnapped. My guess is that most Mexican businessmen who have businesses over there are now living there because they are tired of crossing the border every day.

And one thing to remember about Mexico, it isn't the United States, it doesn't work the same way here, and it never will.

The prison riots have always occured in unpredictable intervals here, they happen in the United States as well. The difference is, the Mexican press is now free to report these unfortunate incidents, where no more than twelve years ago, the government still tightly controlled much of what the press was able to report. Also note that Mexican news looks to other coutries like the United States in order to find a more successful method to market their product.

The guns were taken away from the police force in order to locate arms that were used in unsolved crimes in the greater Tijuana area, by the Federal Police, in order to weed out corruption. It worked. Several cops are now in prison. The guns were returned to the other police long ago.

And the Mexican Army, while once considered suspicious, have been nothing but wonderful in the fight to keep Tijuana as safe as it can be. No system is perfect, on either side of the fence, but the federal and local governments here are continuing to take steps to make it better.

If anyone feels uncomfortable in Mexico, then I would advise them not to visit again until they feel comfortable. But if judgments are to be made only on the basis of what the American press reports, then no one will ever come here, it isn't reported accurately most of the time.

And for those who feel brave, it's common sense. Respect the laws here, stay in the city near other people, know that you have the same rights as anyone else, don't let the cops intimidate you, and it probably isn't a good idea at this time to wander out into the wilderness where you're vulnerable.

Those days are gone for now, but there is a lot that Baja has to offer in other areas.


Ponzi Sept. 25, 2008 @ 8:59 a.m.

And the cities of Rosarito and Ensenada each charge a per-rider tax...

American media coverage of Baja, “including things like the recent cover story you ran in the Reader..

Corruption and excuses. Clean up Mexico and maybe Americans will be back.

People (not just Americans) want to fell safe. That;s why less and less people go to Mexico. It's unsafe.


David Dodd Sept. 25, 2008 @ 11:09 a.m.

The media really does get it wrong a lot when it comes to coverage of Baja California. I've lived here for over sixteen years, and my problems with coruption have been few, and I have felt safer here in Baja than in San Diego. But I'm not sure that the negative media coverage is entirely to blame.

After the Homeland Security Department changed the way that the border is handled, it has become quite an ordeal to return to the United States. Passports are now required for re-entry and the customs process now ensures that long lines are the rule rather than the exception.

The tourism businesses in Tijuana and Rosarito have been failing since then, and the lack of money means that some of the shadier Tijuanenses that could get by as strip-club doormen or other endeavors that rely on tips and so on, might be prone to more illegal activities.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean that crime is on the rise. Police corruption is always going to be an element here, but empirically it isn't any worse than I've seen it since I've lived in Baja. Some of the police will rely on a scared tourist in order to score some free money. Standing up to any local cop who is on the take is encouraged, and so long as it is done respectfully, and the tourist has committed no crime, the corrupt cop will not waste their time with it once he or she knows that their intimidation isn't working.

The Bicycle Ride event is failing mostly because a certain number of foreign participants are needed in order to break even, and there are several reasons why the event cannot gain enough entrants, not just one.


Ponzi Sept. 25, 2008 @ 12:57 p.m.

I have lived in San Diego all of my life and used to enjoy going to Tijuana, Rosarito and Ensenada. In the 1980's.

It just feels unsafe and dirtier than I recall. The bargains are really gone, perhaps due to free trade. We can purchase things here a lot cheaper. Why do so many Mexcians come to shop at Walmart and Costco in Chula Vista?

Safety? Why do so many Mexican business owners moved across the border to Otay Mesa, Bonita and the Coronado Cays? Safety.

My friends that used to go for surfing, scuba, and other sports don't bother anymore. The Baja 500 is at risk of collapasing because of safety concerns.

Prison riots that cause their Federal Government to fire all the top prison officials. Entire police forces being told they cannot have guns. Military vehicles patrolling the streets?


jerome Oct. 1, 2008 @ 11:16 a.m.

when will you people wise up stay away fromTJ you are fodder for the pigs, it will be years before the corruption is eraticated and TJ is safe again..........


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