Cactus Fruit and Community at FASS Bike – Locke Hassett
Words and photos by Locke Hassett
A few weeks back, I found myself an hour from the Mexican border with no real plan. This impromptu trip was a response to bad weather in Moab and a spooky snowpack in the La Sals putting a damper on a spring break sufferfest that had cooked up. I found my passport in my truck, and we decided the night before leaving to head to Baja instead. This would in no way be the same trip, and I’m ok with that. Still, I couldn’t go on a week-long road trip and leave the bikes at home. Luckily, my co-pilot understood my addiction and played along. Before the border crossing, I sent some friends a message asking for tips of cool places to ride in Baja. Lael came through with the recommendation of checking out FASS Bike in Vicente Guerrero and the trails near there. Lael knows what’s up, so I heeded their advice.
Vicente Guerrero is a mid-sized town on the northwest coast of Baja California, a few hours away from the Sierra Madre, and the bustling tourist town of Ensenada. Northern Baja was not the desertscape I was expecting, but rather a lush landscape dotted with wineries and artisan cheese makers. This was especially true this year, as an unusually wet winter lead to a superbloom of Lupine, California Poppy, and plenty of flowers I’ve yet to be formally introduced to. Vicente Guerrero itself lacked the feel of a tourist town, which I appreciated. The lands’ fertility and peoples’ industry mingle together here: VG is a major producer of all sorts of berries you find in your grocery store, as the massive berry fields and Driscoll’s warehouse alluded to. The streets bustled with kids getting out of school and folks going about their day rather than other gringos on spring break. This was the Baja I was hoping for, not the tequila-soaked nights in Cabo.
FASS stands for Flor, Antonio, Salvador and Salvador: the family who runs the shop. The family vibes were strong here. As Salvador Sr. told me about the history of the shop, Flor talked with a friend and organized the clothing racks in the back, while Antonio and Salvador Jr. watched their dad repack hubs and did homework. Viviana the iguana hung out in her cage while customers perused the selection of bikes and accessories.
The shop wasn’t always on the main drag and stocked with offerings from Specialized. 10 years ago, Salvador found himself riding competitively, and needed a high-end shop to maintain his bikes. The problem was, he didn’t want to drive hours to Ensenada or San Diego to get his suspension serviced. His answer? Start his own shop. His background in motor vehicle mechanics ensured he was comfortable with a wrench, and after customers started coming his way, he decided to take it further and get training from Specialized, Park Tool, and SRAM. The shop started on a patio adjacent to their home, tucked away on a back street. It now sits on the main road and is an authorized service center for Fox suspension and anything Specialized.
“I saw the market for it, and no one else was doing it, so I did,” Salvador told me while cleaning out bearing cups. “There’s a racing scene here, people want to ride, and they want to ride nice bikes that are well maintained. People think that Mexico doesn’t have much of an MTB culture, but that’s not true”.
The Baja Divide has been a blessing for the shop as well. “When it’s our low season, we start to see bikepackers from all over the world coming through here. Nicholas [Carmen] helped me out a bunch organizing the new location, and he’s talked of re-routing the ride a bit to come through here, as we are one of the only shops on the route”. A map of the divide sits in the shop, signed by hundreds of explorers. I even managed to spot a few recognizable names. Gifts from divide riders sit in the service area, and the shop sells bikepacking bags. This is yet another example of expeditionary cycling being a great thing for tourism and local economies.
We were lucky enough to meet the shop family on a day that a group ride was scheduled for. Right at shop close, people started showing up. We rolled out as a group, all of FASS included, and pedaled east of town into the hills. The ride blended dirt roads, doubletrack, and some twisty singletrack through Cholla and flowers. We overlooked the expansive berry fields and the Pacific. Salvador picked a fresh cactus fruit (Pitaya) and shared it with us. Stabbing it with a knife that he brings just for this purpose and shedding the spines off, he let everyone try the sweet, red fruit.
The group split into two, one following harder singletrack while the other group explored some more doubletrack snaking through the verdant hills. Red dirt mixed with rock outcroppings, and we laughed as the sun set slowly, showering us in golden light. Just as the last frame on my roll advanced behind my shutter, one of Salvador’s friends flowed around a corner. As I depressed the shutter button, I was struck with some anxiety that I would be out of frames for the sunset, but more than anything, I was just happy to be out there. Gravity induced laughter knows no language barriers.
We followed the family to their post-ride favorite: a hot dog shop. These hot dogs are adorned with roasted peppers, pinto beans, and fresh onion. Though I preferred the fish tacos that Salvador recommended for lunch, it felt great to sit with a family and their friends after a ride. Bikes have done a lot for me, and a lot for Salvador, but what never ceases to make me smile is the ability of these machines to create community.
We finished our hot dogs and said our goodbyes, with Salvador reminding us that if we were ever in Baja again, we had to get ahold of him to ride. This family shop proved to me again that bikes connect a lot more than dots on a map.