Jim and I headed out on Monday morning to ride the Tail of the Dragon, a stretch of U.S. 129 which is the most infamous of all the twisty roads in this area. 318 curves in 11 miles and talk around Ironhorse of numerous accidents and fatalities had us feeling just a little bit intimidated by this stretch of road.
We started out heading up route 28 to get to the Dragon. 28 is known as the Moonshiner 28 or the Hellbender and was a good warm up, getting us comfortable with our bikes on the tight turns, hills and dips.
We stopped at Deal’s Gap which is at the southern end of the Dragon. There is a motel, restaurant, gas and a couple of gift shops where you can get all kinds of Dragon related merchandise like T-shirts, pins, patches and decals. One shop has some cool metal sculptures of the Dragon where many stop to take pictures.
We were there early, around 10:30 and it was pretty slow with only a few other bikes in the parking lot. That was a good sign that we would have the road mostly to ourselves without running into slower traffic or being pushed from behind by more aggressive riders.
This is also home to the Tree of Shame. The tradition is that anyone who gets bit by the Dragon and has a wreck leaves a piece of their bike behind tacked to the tree. It’s a sobering reminder of what can happen on the road. Some parts and pieces have become memorials to the many fatalities that have occurred on the Tail of the Dragon.
We browsed the shop and got our pictures in front of the Dragon before heading north on U.S 129.
The serious twisties start about a mile or so up the hill and don’t quit for the full eleven miles. The cool part about the road is that the curves are all banked like a race track which helps you maintain traction and really lean into the curves. After a bit of practice, it’s easy to get into a rhythm, slowing or braking for a curve and then powering through it before setting up for the next one. It was fun!
About half way in, the overcast skies finally let loose with some pretty steady rain. We pulled off, put our rain gear on and waited for the worst of it to pass. We headed out again with the added challenge of the wet road. It forced us to slow down a bit and ride more cautiously which probably wasn’t a bad thing for our first ride on the Dragon.
We stopped near the end and agreed that all the hype was a bit overblown. We had seen roads like this in New England though maybe not to this degree with the concentration of steady curves over such a long distance.
The banking in the turns was new to us but a welcome change that made the ride easier and more fun. It’s just important to ride within your own ability and respect the challenge of a more technical ride. The problem, as with most riding, is worrying about what the other guy might do. The main problem on this road is probably dealing with aggressive riders or daredevils who push their limits or do stupid things and end up crossing the center line into your lane or recklessly passing slower riders.
Jim and I stopped at the U.S. 129 Dragon Harley dealership at the far end to decide where to go next. It was a pretty easy decision to head right back over and ride the Dragon again. The road had dried and we knew what to expect so it was even more fun heading back over to where we had started.
We were surprised to see the parking lots at Deals Gap filled up with bikes when we got there.
We were really lucky to experience the road with as little traffic as we did. We had lunch and spent the rest of the day riding around on some less famous but just as impressive roads as the Tail of the Dragon.