On my recent adventure down the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) to the Great Smoky Mountains region, I rode the infamous Tail of the Dragon. How could I not? It’s become a spectacle that no self-respecting motorcyclist would miss while in the area. And I got a fun picture in the bargain.Killboy.com is one of at least three companies that shoot photos along The Dragon. A lot of people come here for the sole purpose of having a ride photo captured. It’s a nice perk, if you’re a photo geek like me. And it only cost me $6.
I would never plan a trip to North Carolina/Tennessee specifically to ride The Tail of the Dragon (aka The Dragon), but a lot of people do. It’s just one of those roads that’s become a must-ride for anyone on two wheels. Lately, it’s also been growing in popularity with car enthusiasts. Unfortunately, its popularity has become one of its downfalls.
Here’s a great documentary video about The Dragon done by the Eastern Tennessee PBS station.
It can be a bit of a spectacle at times. And loud, as you’ll see in this next video.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool road. For those who don’t know, The Dragon is an 11-mile stretch of road at the NC/TN line, which borders Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are 318 curves packed into those 11 miles. Take a look at the Google map embedded below.
Mike and I first visited in 2007. I had my V-Star 1300 Tourer at the time. The Dragon does have lots of curves and quite a few challenging spots. It was much more fun on my current bike, even if the speed limit has now been dropped to 30 mph.
I did capture a video during the first 8.75 miles of Run #1. It would be a tedious 18 minutes at normal speed, so I kicked up the video playback to 2x speed. (Don’t worry folks, I was not going as fast as 2x speed makes it seem.) There is no sound.
There are many better roads to ride in the area. Like the nearby Hellbender, which is now called the Moonshiner 28. I rode the 30 or so mile portion of NC-28 between US-74 west of Bryson City and US-129 at Deal’s Gap. It’s got lots of long sweeping turns as well as a higher speed limit (maybe 50 mph?).
Here’s a panoramic shot I captured from a pull-off. The pavement you mostly see is in the pull-off, it is NOT my bike parked in the middle of the road.
When doing research on the different road names, I came across a July 2010 post in the ADV Rider forum by klaviator, Beastly Adventurer that hit the nail on the head where The Dragon is concerned…
I have noticed that most people who have been riding it for a long time still call it Deals Gap while newer riders, tourists and the media call it the “Dragon”
Personally I still call it Deals Gap. To me Deals Gap is (was) a fun road with lots of curves and no cops. (Yeah, I know I’m dreaming.) The Dragon is an overcrowded tourist destination where flatlanders go to buy a t-shirt, wobble through the curves and go back home to brag that they “Slew the Dragon”… Just my opinion.
As I mentioned earlier, The Dragon’s popularity is one of its downfalls. People of all skill levels come from far and wide to ride The Dragon. It’s not for everyone. Not only does it require skill to maneuver in the turns, you need to know how to ride defensively (AWAY from the center line in blind curves) and be prepared to stop on a dime since you never know what’s around the next turn.
For the most part, although it looked crowded at the resort, I encountered little traffic. And this is one of the rare places in America where cars will actually pull over to let motorcyclists pass. 🙂
I did come up behind one guy who was moving along okay in the straights, but struggling a bit in the turns, so I hung back a bit. I even captured some of his struggles on video. If you missed it during my ride video, check out the brief clip below. (No, he didn’t crash. But he was close.)
Here’s another video clip I HAD to share. I laughed when it happened, and I giggle every time I watch the clip.
The guy was looking at my favorite sticker, which says, “You Just Got Passed by a Girl.” Sorry about the cloudy lens. That was at the end of Run #2, so there’s either bug guts, general humidity, or both on the lens.
I had to have a silly pic, right?
Finally, here are some other pics I captured while at The Dragon.
So that was my Dragon experience. Have you been there before? If you could only ride one road in the area, would that be the one?
Personally, I’d choose a different road. If it was the only one I could experience for some strange reason. But, since I was there without an agenda, I figured I’d go ahead and enjoy a run or three.