The Dragon: Fun But Over-hyped

28 Jun

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.

ToadMama on The Tail of the Dragon (June 23, 2015)

ToadMama on The Tail of the Dragon (June 23, 2015) [This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. Source: Killboy.com]

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.

Here’s a map with many if not all of The Dragon’s curves marked and/or named.

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.

Panoramic Capture Along NC-28

Panoramic Capture Along NC-28

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?

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Silly Dragon Pic

Finally, here are some other pics I captured while at The Dragon.

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Dragon sculpture fashioned from bike and car parts.

 

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Me with the dragon sculpture.

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.

11 Replies to “The Dragon: Fun But Over-hyped

  1. Ahhh, so many wonderful elements in this blog post, Toadmama:

    1. Your ride on Deals Gap has to have been worth it mostly for that photo of you in the curve. What a cool pic! And you lookin’ like the pro rider that you no doubt are. Awesome–just awesome.

    2. I wonder if Left Foot Lenny had a change of clean undies in one of those cases he was dragging with him… I hope for his sake that he did. 😀 No doubt he’ll be bragging to his buddies that he “Slew the Dragon!”, all while smelling of lavender and saying, “Oh, don’t mind the dirty laundry in my pannier, Dear, I’ll take care of that”.

    3. And that dude reading your sticker… What a priceless reaction. That bit of video alone is worth a million. LOL!!!

    • Thanks, Ryan. I like the pic, too. I’m not sure about the pro thing, but I didn’t have any trouble on my rides.

      Your comments about “Left Foot Lenny” had Mike and I both cracking up.

      I’m glad you thought Sticker Dude was funny, too. I’d love to know what he was thinking. I did say hello, but still had my earplugs in, and am not sure if he replied or not. Doesn’t look or sound like it in the original video.

  2. Ha, I love this post! I share the opinion of the Adv guy. We avoid it like the plague unless it is an off season mid-week day. You are fortunate you were able to ride it mostly unbothered by said flatlanders and other hazards! But the pics are fun, and you are styling in it!

    I do love the hellbender, especially the section you rode. Not too far away is the Cherohala Skyway, which runs about 50 miles from Robbinsville, NC west to Tellico Plains, TN. Tight turns, sweeping turns, elevation changes from below 3000 to 6000 feet and views to die for. Probably my favorite road…but there are so many. If you ride 28 south from west of Bryson city to Franklin. NC, that might become your favorite. Let know if you come back to Western NC, eastern TN because you are in our backyard!!!

    • Lynne, I had planned on riding the Cherohala Skyway, but it got pretty hot, so I decided to head north sooner rather than later. Mike and I rode it in 2007. It IS a nice road. I’ll be back. And I’ll let you know. I know Fall gets pretty busy in those parts, but that would sure be a great time to ride.

      • Yes, fall is lovely around here. We have even ridden the Cherohala in November, December and January, and only once gotten into any snow ON the road. 😀 We really like the roads around here in the off season. So nice to be out there mostly alone, and we have periods where the weather is so great we just have to get out and ride. Actually, we never put our bikes up in the winter, it’s just a matter of how long between rides. Definitely would love to show you around if you get down here!

        • I just might take you up on that offer one day. We don’t store our bikes over Winter either, although Hubby does attach them to battery tenders. Our chances to ride are less frequent here in the north, but they do pop up occasionally.

  3. Look alike the guy reading your sticker just shook his head. Probably wondering what the heck you were doing out of the kitchen.

    All I wanted to say about Ry’s coined Left Foot Lenny is “turn your head, turn your head, turn your head” One of the greatest sources of frustration while Brad is teaching a Team Oregon class is getting good old boys to turn their heads.

    I have heard from others that The Dragon is overhyped so I have no desire to ride it. I am sure there are more deserted curvy roads with less traffic out there, some in our own backyard. But at least you can say you did it and got a super cool photo. (almost dragging a toe aren’t you?)

    • I knewa what you meant, B. 🙂

      Looking where you are going really does make a difference. That’s one of the disadvantages of having the GoPro mounted on my helmet. I’m not sure people really appreciate the curviness of the roads because my looking through turns sort of smooths them out. I thought about mounting the camera on my bike for the run through the Dragon, but couldn’t come up with any options that made sense. I’ll have to come up with something while still at home. For the next trip.

      Yes, there are a lot of better roads. But The Dragon is an icon. If you do get to the area, you really should give it a go.

      I think it was shortly after that shot when I actually did drag my toes. It startled me, LOL. I usually keep my left foot on top of the peg, as opposed to tucked under the shifter, for that very reason. But the peg was beneath the arch of my foot. After that, I put the ball of my foot on the peg to avoid future toe-dragging.

  4. Someday, perhaps, maybe I’ll ride this road, no rush per this article as I do tend to like open road with no people much better.

    That guy didn’t seem amused at your sticker. On a Ural everyone passes me, girls, kids, grandpa in a monster RV towing a car behind it….name it and likely has passed me.

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