Git Yer Sticker

 

US129, Deals Gap,Tail of the Dragon.Three hundred and eighteen curves in eleven miles. Every motorcyclist and sports car enthusiast knows the name, both here in the States and abroad. If you don’t, you’re not getting out enough, or not reading enough. It has been marketed in every motorcycle and sports car magazine ad nauseam since the early 2000’s. It is a huge tourist dollar generator for the section of western North Carolina and east Tennessee in which the tarmac resides. And depending on the day of the week, your mountain riding skill, and the skill level of other users, it has the potential to ruin your day.

It has been a tradition of mine to run the Gap with every new motorbike I purchase, a rite of passage for the bike, if you will. And so, a perfect weekend unfolded for my Honda NC700XD to run with the big dogs and skinny up those chicken strips a bit, and have her proudly wear the sticker shown above. Every motorcyclist and sports car driver who has “tamed” The Dragon recognizes that symbol and what it stands for.

Don’ be this guy. The dragon tail will bite you if you’re not on your “A” game

On a beautiful July Friday morning I jumped on the NC and headed to the Blue Ridge Parkway and Ironhorse Motorcycle Resort in Stecoah, North Carolina. Situated right off Highway 28, a fantastic moto road in and of itself, Ironhorse is my favorite “upscale” moto campground. No primitive camping here.

Scenes from the Blue Ridge Parkway

Ironhorse Motorcycle Resort. If you want to camp in style, this is the place.

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Saturday morning was beautiful. I awoke early to get a head start towards Deals Gap. Weekend traffic on The Dragon can be daunting, with most riders and drivers making US129 their personal racetrack. But if you get their early enough, usually anytime before 10 AM, traffic is less, and the squids haven’t recovered from the night before. I ate breakfast, and with a double espresso for that AM caffeine bbbooooosssstttt, I had wheels rolling north on Hwy 28 by eight-thirty.

Hwy 28, also known as The Hellbender, is a fantastic motorcycle road that T-intersects at US129 where The Dragon begins. A Hellbender is a salamander found only in Appalachia, and grows to over two and-a-half feet long. When it swims, it twists and squirms through the water, just like this ribbon of tarmac does on land.

My one photo stop on Hwy 28 is the Fontana Dam, from the bottom. Fontana Lake was formed when the dam was built, submerging the homes and town of the folks that populated the valley.

Fontana Dam

Arriving at the Gap and the start of The Dragon about 9:45 AM, I noticed that there was a surprising low volume of motorbikes and sports cars in the parking lot, and no one waiting to start their run. I might have some of this road to myself! Without hesitation, I made a right turn onto US129 North and the start of The Dragon.

The scenery on this road is beautiful, but you don’t dare take your eyes off the road. There is one scenic pullout on this eleven mile stretch, and I stopped to take a photo of the Fontana Dam and Fontana Lake, this time, from above.

Fontana Dam & Lake

It has been 12 years since I ran The Dragon, and that was two up with Roo on our Honda ST1300. A fantastic photo (taken by Killboy; more on that later) hanging in our living room shows us leaned over carving a right hand curve with a Shelby Cobra right behind us. Awesome!

This day, I was flying solo on my NC. What a blast! Every vehicle imaginable was out there: bikes, trikes, sports cars, sedans. I even saw a Cadillac coming in the opposite direction around a curve at speed with his engine howling! Amazing!

Polaris Slingshots are getting more popular, and were out in force this day

Out and back, that 22 miles went quick. But it was getting close to 11:30, and everyone and their mother was coming out to play. Time to head into the parking lot, get my sticker, and people watch.

When I finished my run, The Dragon Store parking lot was filling up

Pretty much everyone obeyed this sign, at least while I was there

Killboy is the premier photo taking company on The Dragon. They set up in multiple places along the 11 mile stretch, on both sides of the road, and take photos of every vehicle that passes, in both directions. They are then uploaded onto their website where you can log on and purchase your photo(s). And yes I did. They now have their own store located right across the street from The Dragon store.

Killboy

Dragon Yard Art at Killboy

Dragon Yard Art at The Dragon Store (photo op)

The Tree of Shame (Stupidity)

The Tree of Shame (official name) is where bits of bikes come to rest after the rider crashes on The Dragon. Contrary to what the name describes, many riders where this as a badge of honor, as if not having the skill set to control your motorcycle in curvy mountain terrain is something to be proud of. I’ll stick with Tree of Stupidity and leave it at that.

After motorbike and sports car shopping for a while it was time to play on some of the other mountain roads in this mecca of motorcycling. Roo and I have ridden many roads that are more technical than The Dragon, but none have been marketed so heavily and so successfully as US129. A must do if you are in the area, multiple runs if you can, but do get here early!

The Era of the Downsize

Isn’t that beautiful? Took that shot on a recent motocamp in Suches, Georgia. Nothing to do with downsizing though.

The era of the downsize. For me especially, but, the moto world in general is showing us lots of smaller motorbikes coming on the market, even here in the “bigger is better” and “no replacement for displacement” USA.

Many of you know that last year I retired The BeaST, my 2003 Honda ST1300. She served me extremely well with 150,000 miles on the odo and never a hiccup in all our travels. A bit long in the tooth, and seemingly getting more portly every year (the ST, not me), it was time to go smaller and lighter. And so I did. Dropping close to 50% engine displacement and over 200 Lbs. in weight. I never looked back.

My 2016 Honda NC700XD

This year, I did it again. I’m on a minimalist kick. When Roo and I would camp, we used a great 3 person tent: Eureka Scenic Pass 3. Dual doors and vestibules, easy setup, and able to stow all our gear inside with plenty of room for us. Packing on The BeaST was no problem.

Now that I camp solo, I questioned the need of such a large dwelling for one person. Plus, I now have a much smaller motorbike. Being on this minimalist kick, I pack the NC700 with only a drybag and tank bag. The tent is strapped on the drybag which sits on the pillion. Not a problem at all, except, it just doesn’t look right. It’s a large tent. It makes the bike look smaller. It made my brains aesthetic sensibilities turn cartwheels.

And so the thought of downsizing my tent was placed in my head. Well, Memorial Day weekend came about, and being horrible weather for riding the bike, I thought I would stop by REI Outfitters and see what goodies they had going for their Memorial Day Sale. I didn’t need anything. I didn’t even really want anything. Hah! As soon as I walked in the door, there staring at me was the open door of the REI Passage 1 tent. I crawled inside. Mistake or Fate? Perfect. Minimalist. I envisioned plenty of room (later I would be surprised by just how much room this tent has). I crawled out and looked at the price; $139.00 regular price on sale for 30% off. A quality tent for $79.00 out the door. Hell, I’d buy it even if I never used it for that price! Packing size? Small. Looks great on the NC700 too!

REI Passage 1 Tent

Gear storage is fantastic. This tent has more room than appears at first glance. It really should be named Passage 1 Plus! Setup is a breeze. Take the tent poles out of their storage sack, hold the poles (four, connected) at their junction point, give a little shake, and the folded poles unfold and fit together by themselves. It’s magic! Fit the poles to the tent, hook the tent to the poles, fit the rain fly, and bang, bam, boom, five minutes and your tent is up and running. No joke.

Inside I fit my helmet, riding suit, clothing, and assorted sundries. The tent has storage  compartments for small stuff. In the vestibule on one side I keep my boots and the tent stuff sack. On the other side is placed the now empty drybag and tank bag. Voila! Even with my riding gear in the tent with me, I never feel like I am being pushed out the door. So, if you are in the market (or, like me, not) for a quality one person tent, check out the Passage 1. I think you will be pleasantly pleased.

Some camp photos from Two Wheels of Suches in Suches, Georgia

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If you find yourself riding in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia, this is the place to be.

 

 

A Vintage Bikes & Brunch in North Carolina

I don’t know who came up with it first, the car guys or the biker dudes. All I know is we heard of the car guys Cars & Coffee gatherings first, then, just recently, we came across the bikers Bikes & Breakfast get togethers. We don’t have any Bikes & Breakfast gatherings locally, so Roo and I decided to come up with our own private version in conjunction with this years Meltdown Vintage Motorcycle Show. We have dubbed it Bikes & Brunch.

We anticipate this show all year long. It’s such a grass roots, low key, run what ya brung, family oriented affair that makes you so happy to be there, not just for the bikes, but for the atmosphere as well. Young, middle aged, old timers, dogs, kids, riders, non-riders, they’re all here and loving it! And, of course, the most beautiful vintage motorcycles on display. This is no trailer queen Concours event. As mentioned earlier, these are run what ya brung machines.

The Meltdown starts at noon, in Hendersonville, North Carolina. Roo and I left home with enough time to have our Brunch, arriving at Pop’s Diner in Hendersonville around 11:00 AM. Vintage bikes were everywhere, making their way to the Meltdown venue at Appalachian Brewery, just two blocks away. It was awesome seeing and hearing these beautiful and historic machines on the road.

Yes, we drove our four wheeled sport bike (we had our reason).

After parking the Miata, we strolled down Vintage Motorcycle Alley, three blocks of nothing but vintage bikes lining both sides of the street and overflowing into the parking lots. Heaven! Enjoy the pictorial!

An enthusiastic crowd admires moto history

 

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We all know how much dogs enjoy motorcycles.

This just looks stinkin’ fast……

Leave it to Ford to bring a car (and a possum) to a bike show

Bring on the badges

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What a great vintage show. Even looking at the modern bikes that people rode in was fantastic. A live oldies band (complete with band members pompadour’s) was playing in the courtyard of Appalachian Brewery, along with food trucks serving up all kinds of delicious munchies. No sooner did we leave, we were already anticipating next years show! If you are in the Western North Carolina area the third weekend in April, check it out. If you love vintage moto’s, you won’t be disappointed.

Staying Safe in the Mountains of North Georgia & Western North Carolina

 

Is that The Stig** next to my motorbike?

ATGATT (All The Gear All The Time) , situational awareness, conspicuity, skill level. No, this is not a soap box diatribe on motorcycle safety, although I completely espouse the aforementioned safety attributes. Rather, this post is a recap and mini-review of a most excellent street oriented motorcycle safety weekend tour put on by a company called Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training.

Those of you not residing in the USA may not have heard of Stayin’ Safe, those here in the States probably have. Started in the late ’80’s or early ’90’s (?) by Larry Grodsky, a witty and sarcastic (I love it!) moto safety guru and author, the program is a on street, real world, real speed, training course to help motorcyclists become more proficient, and thus safer, dealing with riding environments we encounter every time we straddle a saddle. Upon Larry’s untimely death, Eric Trow, lead instructor at the time, took over the company and expanded it to what it is today.

Friday

My gear is packed in my tank bag and drybag, I’m ready and chomping at the bit to get on the road, put miles on my tires, and fully immerse myself in the Stayin’ Safe Training Tour. It’s been a hell of a long winter. My ride today is about 130 miles to the town of Cornelia, Georgia. The tour actually starts just six miles from Cornelia in Clarkesville, a beautiful small North Georgia town that Roo and I visit often. The Super 8 hotel I am staying in is ……………..well, it’s a Super 8, what more is there to say.

Saturday

It’s six AM as my alarm goes off. I jump out of bed anticipating the rigorous riding schedule that Ryan, our instructor for this tour, has on tap for us. I pack up my gear, eat a small breakfast and caffeine up. It’s going to be a long, tough day riding the twisty roads of the North Georgia and Western North Carolina mountains. My Honda NC700XD parallel twin has been warming up and is ready to go. Six miles away is Java Joe’s coffee shop in Clarkesville, where our group will meet up and begin our training tour. It’s 43 degrees at 7:30 AM, but I’m so excited I don’t even feel the cold.

The Group

Surprisingly, everyone in the group starts rolling into Java Joe’s parking lot at the same time. We have five total in this group; four participants and one instructor. Stayin’ Safe Tours are intentionally kept small. Everyone in the group was a “seasoned” rider. At 22 years of riding experience, I was the novice. All the others had started riding before they could walk, rode dirt bikes at Baja when they were five, have owned sixty bikes over the last 10 years, blah, blah, blah. You know the story..

L to R: Joe, Skip, Ryan our instructor was the “baby” at 36, Steve. That’s Skips Yamaha FZ09 they are gathered round.

We came from all over; Joe & Skip trailered their bikes down from New York, Ryan is from Dahlonega, GA., Steve from Atlanta, and myself from South Carolina. A diverse group with the common goal of learning to become better, safer motorcycle riders and have fun doing so. And, as I had hoped, we all got along really well and enjoyed each others company throughout the weekend.

What’s it like?

In a nutshell, Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training is motorcycle safety training in real time at real speeds on everyday roads. Riders receive instruction and feedback via one-way radio from the instructor. Training is broken up into lessons that are “taught” at roadside stops throughout the two day tour, each lesson building on the other. As the tour goes on, every rider gets to lead the group while the instructor gives instruction, tips and positive feedback to the rider in the lead.
A roadside lesson stop

As we warm up in Java Joe’s, eating breakfast (number two for me), and drinking Java, introductions are made, forms are filled out, tour packets are passed around, and Ryan lays out the plan for the next two days. “Be prepared to work, be more prepared to have fun!” he says.

By 9:30 we are on the bikes and heading to a community college parking lot for some slow speed drills and warming up of tires (and bodies). Then it’s off to the mountainous terrain of North Georgia we go. I haven’t ridden in the mountains since last year, so I knew I was going to be a tired puppy tonight.

Ryan started us out easy for the morning session, on nice sweepers as we climbed upward, with Ryan in the lead on his BMW GS1200, followed by Steve on his Indian Springfield, myself on my Honda NC700XD, Skip on his Yamaha FZ09, and Joe bringing up the rear on his Triumph Speed Triple. By lunch time, we had crossed the state line into North Carolina. Lunch was a welcome respite. Information processing and putting that information into practice on mountain roads was beginning to take it’s toll.

Ah! Lunch! Everyone say beagle! (Can’t say beagle without smiling)

Our lunch stop is a very popular moto destination!

 

Look at that smile! This pup was having a field day! Treats from everyone!

After lunch, it’s back on the bikes for the afternoon session. Ryan kept it easy for a little while, letting lunch digest a bit until blood flow gets back to the brain. He coaches us to get our “motorcycle minds” in gear, as we start working on the skills to negotiate the much more technical mountain roads in North Carolina.

Lessons in the afternoon session focus on being aware of potential hazard areas and how to spot them when they are hidden and finding the proper line for optimum sight distance in the many blind curves of these North Carolina mountains.

I am very familiar with the roads here, as this is part of my moto playground on any weekend day. But, Ryan took us down some roads that I never knew existed, or be able to find by myself, except perhaps,from making a wrong turn. And these roads were sick! One and one-half lane roads with no center line and no shoulders makes you stick to an optimum line for maximum sight distance, or you could become a hood ornament. Trial by fire!

By early evening we arrive at our destination for the night, The Oak Park Inn in Waynesville, North Carolina. We’re all tired from a long, just shy of 200 mile day, negotiating mountainous terrain. Park the bikes, clean up, we all pop a beer and hang for a while talking about the day before walking to the Sweet Onion restaurant for a most excellent dinner, compliments of Stayin’ Safe.

Oak Park Inn 

Sunday

Sunday was an early start. Where’s the coffee? Two hard boiled eggs and a Hammer Nutrition bar, then I’m off to Ryan’s room to meet the other guys for a 7:30 AM rider’s meeting and video review of yesterdays lessons. We all had questions and suggestions and ideas about the topics we were discussing. Ryan guided us with questions and scenarios as to why our strategies may or may not be best in a given situation. Like riding, it was a dynamic exchange, ever changing with no hard and fast rules.

After the riders meeting, we suited up, bid farewell to the Oak Park Inn, and headed to a vacant parking lot for some smooth braking practice, and learning how to “push the bike down” as Ryan put it, to execute tight, slow speed turns. It’s counter intuitive, and a bit scary, but once you get the hang of it, it’s really lots of fun and effective!

Back on the road, we headed to Clydes restaurant in downtown Waynesville, for brunch, again, compliments of Stayin’ Safe. Clouds were rolling in, as rain was forecast for this afternoon. The afternoon session was similar to yesterday, albeit shorter, putting into practice what we had learned, but on even more technical roads. By 3 PM we were done. Everyone received a certificate of completion, a patch, decal and pin. E-mails and phone numbers were exchanged as we all said our goodbyes and headed home or to hotels.

Clouds were heavy as I headed south. Looking up at Cold Mountain I could see the summit was enveloped in cloud. As I climbed to the Blue Ridge Parkway, visibility decreased to about 10 feet. I did stay ahead of, and sometimes behind, the rain, but it was very wet and misty going through the clouds. Up and over the top, about one quarter mile down the other side, I burst through the cloud cover. From then on it was clear sailing into South Carolina, practicing the new techniques I learned all the way home.

Thoughts

This is a very well designed on-street safety course that I encourage everyone to take, regardless of how many years riding experience one has. You will be surprised at what you will learn, and what you may have forgotten. This is a thinking riders course, using dynamic mental strategies to safely ride a motorcycle in what can be described as a ever changing hostile environment. It can definitely make your moto riding safer, build your own self confidence, and increase the fun factor to your motorcycle riding.

For more info: Stayin’ Safe Advanced Rider Training:

** The Stig. BBC TV series Top Gear, The Stig is their track car tester and race driver. Nobody knows who he really is (except the producers).