For the past year, I have been living in Tijuana and commuting to work in the US by bicycle several times per week. As one of the world’s busiest border crossings, this place can be a bit intimidating at first. In this article, I walk you through, step-by-step how to travel from San Diego to Tijuana by bicycle. I’ll also give you a few tips to make this crossing as easy and painless as possible.
Riding From San Diego to the Mexico Border
Assuming you are starting in San Diego, there are two ways to get to the border. Either you ride your bike down or take the trolley.
To get to San Diego, I recommend you take the Greyhound bus.
Ride to Tijuana
From downtown San Diego it is about a 16 mile ride to the border. The road is good and fairly flat. There are bike lanes most of the way. Depending on your skill, you can make the ride in a little under 2 hours. Here’s a link to the Google Maps directions from downtown San Diego to downtown Tijuana. You are riding to the border town of San Ysidro.
Take the Trolley
To take the trolley, get on the blue line and ride all the way to the end of the line in San Ysidro. The ticket costs $2.50 one way. Bikes are allowed in trolley cars that don’t have stairs. There is no bike storage in the trolley car. You just have to stand by the door and hold your bike. When you enter the car with your bike, I recommend you try to place it next to the door that is opposite the one you walked through to enter the trolley car. This door will not open until the last stop where you are getting off. This is nice because you won’t need to move your bike for the duration of the ride. You can get off without having to maneuver your bike around other passengers.
From where the trolley drops you off, you’re just about a block from the border. Simply follow the signs to the Mexican Immigration building.
Choosing the right border crossing into Tijuana
There are 2 border crossings in San Ysidro. If you are crossing with a bike, you will want to take the eastern crossing, called PedEast, to enter Mexico. This is where the trolley lets off.
The reason you want to use this crossing if you are riding a bike is that the metal turn-style that you must pass through to enter Mexico is big enough to accommodate a bike at this crossing. The turn-style at the other crossing to the west is too small and you’ll have to have someone open a gate for you to pass through with your bike if the gate is locked.
For a step-by-step guide to the border process, check out my guide: Walking Across the Border to Tijuana. The process is the same for people crossing by foot and by bike.
Do I need a visa
For most nationalities, you will need an FMM visitor’s permit if you are staying longer than a week or traveling further south than Rosarito. The permit costs 575 pesos and is valid for 180 days. You can pay for the permit at the border. Usually, the wait is less than 15 minutes. Once you have the permit, the next time you cross you can use the Mexican citizen’s lane and just show your permit and passport to the officer.
You could take the risk and go without the permit if you are just staying in Baja and returning to the US. If you are planning to tour further into Mexico, you will want to purchase an FMM as I have heard that it is required to board the ferry from Baja to the mainland. You may also need to show it at various police checkpoints throughout the country. I have also been told that there is a $100 exit fee/bribe that you will be charged if you can’t produce your FMM when you leave Mexico through another border.
For more info, check out my complete guide to the FMM tourist permit.
Traveling From the Border to Downtown Tijuana by Bicycle
After crossing the border, your first stop will most likely be downtown. The ride from the border to downtown Tijuana is about 1.5 miles. The first few blocks are a bit tricky due to traffic but after that, you’re on a path the rest of the way. To ride to downtown Tijuana from the border:
1. After exiting the Mexican immigration building, continue following the path until you reach a street called Frontera. This is the first street you will come to after crossing the border.
2. Once you reach Frontera, stay on the right side of the street and take a right. You will ride up an incline and cross a bridge going over the cars waiting to cross into the U.S.
3. After crossing the bridge, continue riding straight until you get to a big intersection.
4. Take a right at the intersection and continue about 50 feet. Cross the street and you will be on a walking street.
5. Now you are on the path to downtown. Follow this street over the Tijuana River and continue until you reach the big arch. This is the heart of downtown Tijuana. The arch is located at the start of the main tourist street, Avenida Revolución.
Recommendations to Make the Crossing Easier
- I recommend doing this crossing in daylight. Drivers in Tijuana are fairly considerate of cyclists overall, but navigation can be tricky and there are no bike lanes. If you can avoid it, it is best not to ride in Tijuana after dark.
- When crossing back into the US, I recommend you use the western crossing also called Pedwest. I have found that the lines are generally shorter. During busy times it’s usually around an hour wait to cross.
- After passing through immigration on both the US and Mexican side, you will need to run all of your belongings through an x-ray machine. If you are traveling on a fully loaded touring bike, allow yourself more time to cross because you will need to remove all of your bags to have them checked.
Traveling from Tijuana to Rosarito or Ensenada by Bicycle
If you are a bicycle tourist cycling the Pacific Coast or heading down Baja, you’re probably just passing through Tijuana. The ride to Rosarito or Ensenada is not too pleasant, unfortunately. I have heard from cyclists who’ve made the trip that this section was the worst of the whole trip. You have two options:
- Take the main road (Highway 1)- This is the only legal option. The road is heavily traveled and doesn’t have a shoulder for most of the ride. The only advice I can give is to take it slow and be careful. I highly recommend you have a rear view mirror so you can keep an eye on traffic behind you. If possible, ride this section on a Sunday when traffic is light.
- Take the toll road (Highway 1D)- This road is excellent. It has a wide shoulder and is perfectly paved. The problem is the fact that bicycles are not allowed. If you decide to take this route, you run the risk of being kicked off by the police. You might get lucky and slide through. You might not. If the police catch you and ask you to leave the road, they will probably just tell you to get off at the closest exit and get on the main road. Not really a big deal but I’d rather not have any interaction with police if I can help it.
Staying Safe While Riding in Tijuana
When riding in Tijuana, I recommend you take a bit of extra precaution and always use cycling safety gear. While riding in the US, oftentimes I don’t wear a helmet but I always do when riding in Tijuana. Cars pass closer here and there are fewer bike lanes. When I first moved to Tijuana, I bought the following gear:
- Schwinn Thrasher Bicycle Helmet-I purchased it from Amazon and it has held up really well. You can read my full review on the helmet here.
- Via Velo Heavy Duty U-Lock– So far, my bike hasn’t been stolen.
- Mirrycle Bar End Bike Mirror– This is a well-built mirror with a good viewing angle. You can read my full review of the mirror here.
One thing to consider when traveling to Tijuana is that your US health insurance most likely won’t cover you while you’re in Mexico. You may want to consider purchasing travel insurance. I use World Nomads and have had good luck with them. They can cover you in the event of theft, injury, or medical emergency. For more info and a free quote, check out my travel insurance page.
Final Thoughts on Crossing from San Diego to Tijuana by Bicycle
Overall, this crossing is pretty smooth. The biggest hassle is having to run all of your gear through the x-ray scanner while holding on to your bike.
Have you cycled to Tijuana? Share your experience in the comments below!
For more information on cycling in Tijuana including safety tips, bike shop recommendations, and cycling routes in the city, check out my guide: Cycling in Tijuana: A Guide for Bicycle Touring and Commuting.
Check out my Ultimate Guide to Visiting Tijuana for an extensive list of things to do in Tijuana. It also includes bar, restaurant, and hotel recommendations for all budgets.
Friday 22nd of July 2022
Hi, thanks for the google map direction biking from SD to Tijuana.
Do you also have one from somewhere in downtown Mexico biking BACK INTO SD?
Tuesday 26th of July 2022
I'll try to add a map to the article later. From downtown, you can get on Calle Primera and follow it all the way to the border. You'll cross a bridge over the river and end up in Plaza Viva. From there, you're basically at the border.
Thursday 22nd of April 2021
When I looked at the mexican immigration site info on the FMM visa, it stated this as one of the conditions...
"The applicant acknowledges herein that the FMM has a maximum validity of 180 calendar days and shall be valid for one entry only"
Does this mean you were paying the fee every time you crossed back into mexico? 3-4 times a week would be $90-$120.
Thursday 22nd of April 2021
I only paid the fee once. At the border in Baja, immigration lets you use the FMM for multiple entries until it expires. I believe the policy is the same at the entire northern border but I'm not 100% sure. If you fly out or exit at the southern border, you can only use the FMM once.
Wednesday 5th of February 2020
Why would it take an hour to get back to the US with a bike? Does it take an hour if you're a pedestrian? If not, do bikes always take much longer than if you're walking?
Wednesday 5th of February 2020
Cyclists and pedestrians go in the same line and take the same amount of time to cross. During busy times, the pedestrian line gets backed up and it can take over an hour to cross. Sometimes you can cross in less than 10 minutes. You can check the wait times on the CBP website here.