Harley Davidson V-Rod Forum banner

1 - 20 of 34 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,809 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
The next time you happen to be on the Dragon with your Vrod in North Carolina here is the history of the road to make it a little more special:

A Dragon's Tale: Asphalt Surfing on America's Wildest Road

Picture the scene. Skip and Betty are on tour in the family four-door. Skip's driving, Betty's navigating, and the kids are playing their Game Boys in the back. Meandering south out of Knoxville, Tennessee, Betty suggests following the Little Tennessee River along US 129 for a visit to the Joyce Kilmer National Forest. Skip agrees, and he makes the turn.


Twenty minutes later, the kids are screaming, Betty is popping an extra Xanax, and Skip's driving gloves are soaked in sweat. Inside the car the noise is deafening, and, as he fights to keep the car on the twisting mountain road, motorcycles flash past in both directions. Howling by the slow-moving car at triple-digit speeds, the sport bikes are little more than a blur, physically shaking the car before disappearing into impossibly tight corners. Blasting inches from the family wagon in the other direction, huge, hairy bikers thunder past with open pipes blaring, occasionally straying into Skip's lane, causing him to swerve onto the narrow grass verge.

No, it's not the biker-related movie sequel to Deliverance, it is a normal Saturday on the 11-mile stretch of US 129 that straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. The Tail of the Dragon. Fast becoming the most famous piece of motorcycling real estate in the U S of A, with 318 turns in its 11 miles, every year motorcycle riders come from all over the world to try their hand at taming the beast.

So how does a quiet stretch of rural road tucked away in a remote corner of America gain so much attention worldwide? To fully get the picture, I spent some time with Ron and Nancy Johnson, who run an informative web site that promotes the road (www.tailofthedragon.com). Responsible for giving the road its name, they were also instrumental in identifying and naming the corners.

As something of a historian, Ron has done his homework, and he tells me the road was originally a buffalo track that the Cherokee Indians used for centuries. European settlers put an end to the harmony in the early 1700s, when hunters and trappers moved into the area. And, by the 1800s, this path had become a crude road. Some of the original route still exists as a winding, 8-mile gravel road, up and over the mountains, to
the nearby settlement of Cades Cove.

Blood began to flow on the Dragon, as the white settlers clashed with the native Cherokee. Resulting in one of America's darkest historical events, the Trail of Tears relocation of the Cherokee people to Oklahoma. During this time, the Dragon was used as an escape route for Native Americans hoping to evade capture. The bloodshed continued during the Civil War, as local gangs ambushed any Northern patrols unfortunate
enough to venture into this remote area.

By the early 1930s, a paved road had been introduced and named US 129. The Dragon was born. For the next five decades, the road served the local people and a small handful of tourists, who stumbled across it, usually by mistake. And, if it weren't for a gentleman by the name of Doug Snavely, it might have remained that way. Arriving in this area in
1992 looking for motorcycle adventure, Snavely found more than he bargained for. First, he took a job at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort at the beginning of the Dragon in North Carolina. Then he set about promoting the road to motorcyclists. Starting with a monthly newsletter, 'The Deals Gap Hot Lap,' Snavely went on to attract national attention
in the American motorcycle press. This started a trickle, which today has become a flood, as tens of thousands of motorcyclists pour into the area annually.

Quickly becoming a modern legend, Snavely held the unofficial record on the Dragon of 12 minutes for many years on his highly modified Honda Gold Wing. Affectionately known as Cyborg, it was said to contain parts from 19 different bikes. Snavely is no longer at the Dragon, and local lore has it that a couple of ex road-race nutters, Casper and Jedi, now hold the record at 9 minutes and 45 seconds.

Many colorful characters still frequent the Dragon though, and 'Black Widow Bonnie' is one of the current cast. Rising to local stardom as the fastest and most dangerous woman rider in these parts. Her claim to fame being seducing bikers with her abundance of feminine charm before taking and wrecking their bikes. She was last seen disappearing into the sunset on some poor sucker's R1.

'The Doc,' as he is known locally, was the first person to get banned from the Dragon by the Local County Judge.

With a grocery list of offenses he wasn't allowed anywhere near the place for a full year. 'Bear Claw' gets the walk-away award. After years of terrorizing Dragon newbies on his trusty old BMW, he committed the cardinal sin of crossing the yellow line and meeting a car head-on. Ron and Nancy told me they heard the resulting crash from over a mile away, and arrived to find his bike completely destroyed with Bear Claw scratching around in one piece. He now performs his ritual of terror on four wheels in an old Suzuki Samurai.

With the place being overrun with weekend warriors, from Friday to Sunday during the summer season, local riders usually meet mid-week a few hours before sundown. The road is almost devoid of traffic at this time and the whole 11 miles can usually be ridden without interruption. At one of these impromptu rides, I spent some time chatting with local bike mechanic Ken Wheeler, who owns the only motorcycle shop for miles
around. Ken's dragon slayer of choice is a modified Suzuki TL1000S. Featuring a lightly tweaked motor, he swears the bikes handling demons have been exorcised with his carefully tuned ?-hlins suspension and Pirelli Diablo tires. Running a personal best time of 10-1/2 minutes he is also one of the Dragon's fast guys. Needless to say, Ken's shop stays very busy, and in his own words, 'I only get a day off when it rains.' He does a booming business in tires, levers, foot pegs and such. Some days, he doesn't even turn the welder off as he attempts to get crashed bikes back on the road.

With the shop located a few miles from the Deal's Gap resort, Ken watches the sport bikes go hammering by on Fridays, knowing a bunch of them are going down on Saturday. Interestingly enough, it is not often the solo riders that have accidents. It is usually someone from a group who is riding over his head to keep up with his buddies.

This carnage is not just limited to squids on sport bikes though, as apparently the Dragon regularly bites a good number of touring and cruising bikes as well. 'They tend to stand it up in the corners and run wide,' says Ken, as he rarely finds skid marks. Some survive with minor scratches and bruises, but the meat wagon does some serious mileage
during season, with a good number of the unlucky contestants taking a helicopter ride.

According to Ken, it doesn't have to end up this way. Quickly, and safely taming the Dragon for many years, he tells me is it vital 'to pay attention, get in a rhythm, and ride at your own pace.'

There are a number of decreasing radius turns and other delights to catch out the unwary, with one of these being known as 'Gravity cavity.' A highly technical section, it sucks people in and spits them out, usually on the wrong side of the road. The lucky ones hit the bank, the unlucky the front of an oncoming vehicle.

With other delights such as the Whip, the Pearly Gates, and Wheelie Hell, the Dragon keeps you on edge the whole ride. Providing a monument for these unfortunate moments, the Deal's Gap Resort has the now famous 'Tree of Shame.' Basically a large tree, it is
decorated with an assortment of smashed and broken motorcycle parts that have been removed from the Dragon. Many of these are autographed by the bike owners, seeking a few minutes of infamy after their 'asphalt surfing' experience.

The resort also provides accommodation, fuel and refreshments, and is the place to hang out and bench race in between runs. On my last visit, the place was overrun with two-strokes. Kawasaki 750 triples here, an Aprilia RS 250 there, and a bright yellow RD 400 thrown in to keep it interesting. Screaming up and down, with a haze of blue smoke in close pursuit, they spent the whole weekend unnerving the cruiser crowd with some wild overtaking and some serious noise.

The place also gets its fair share of car clubs, and it is quite the sight the weekend the Ferraris are in town. More regularly, Mazda Miatas and Minis are out in force, and watch out if you think you are a hot shot. These things can get down the Dragon a whole lot quicker than most motorcycles.

During my visit, I stopped mid way through the Dragon to talk with Killboy, the local photographer responsible for most of the images you see here. Photographing from his lawn chair, he is nursing a broken collarbone and a bunch of assorted injuries from a recent incident.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,809 Posts
Discussion Starter #2
Hired to do some filming for a motard documentary, someone in front of him hit the brakes mid-corner and the Dragon scored again.
Movies about the Dragon are not an uncommon these days, as the roads popularity grows, and at times Hollyweird has used the area. The most famous of these flicks being the 1993 movie, The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford. Do you remember the scene where Harrison Ford jumps off the dam? Well that is the Cheoah Dam, which is in plain view as you head to the Dragon on the North Carolina side.

Killboy spends most weekends photographing everyone who rides by. If you see him there, you can later go on-line and buy your photograph, just like a track day: Only in America. Having shot more than 90,000 images last year, Killboy's seen it all on the Dragon, and I asked him about the day's police activity. It had been quiet, but it is not always so.

Periodically, the Tennessee Highway Patrol sets up elaborate stings, and dishes out some hefty fines. End up with your autograph on a piece of THP paper, and you are looking at $650 fine and a year's vacation from riding. Plus, you have to appear in court. Great for the visitor who lives 2,000 miles away in Oregon.

What these fine upstanding gentlemen do is, they hide in the woods with video cameras filming all the bikes that go by. Then, groups of riders are pulled over and escorted to the bottom of the mountain on the Tennessee side. The luckless victims are photographed, so they can be identified on the video, and tickets are issued. They are then free to go, but not via the Dragon as they are now banned from this particular piece of road. So exercise some caution, and talk with local riders before you get in attack mode. This is still 'good ol boy' country.

For the vast majority of visitors, however, the Dragon simply provides a fun and challenging place to ride. There are dangers, but pick your time, make sure you know your abilities, and you will be rewarded with the motorcycle ride of your life. If you are visiting on a peak-season Saturday, make it a day to observe, enjoy the show, and save the serious riding for another day. With no side turns, no traffic lights, and the smoothest, stickiest ribbon of twisting tarmac to be found, the Dragon is without doubt the wildest ride in America.
 

·
Non-erator
Joined
·
9,795 Posts
Nice write up... thanks for posting it.
 

·
Part-time mod
Joined
·
10,859 Posts
Nice write up indeed! Makes me want to go again!

(shameless plug: )

Now you can experience the Dragon for yourself with us at the Fall Dragon Rally, 26-28 Oct! Click the link in my signature block for more details...
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,809 Posts
Discussion Starter #6
I did not think anyone was going to read this because it was so long...thanks guys!!

Nightmare with school in session it is impossible for me to make...I wish though!!!
 

·
Wore Out Woodworker
Joined
·
1,620 Posts
Very nice write up.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,809 Posts
Discussion Starter #12
Thanks again guys, being a History teacher I love to find out information like this
 

·
V's and Z's
Joined
·
4,093 Posts
What gauge cluster and forks are these?...

 

·
VRSCD's Rule!
Joined
·
4,160 Posts
Nice read! Thanks!

img_9001_original.jpg
 

·
Banned
Joined
·
12,582 Posts
MegaZ said:
What gauge cluster and forks are these?...

Look's like an R to me:popcorn
 

·
Premium Member
Joined
·
10,801 Posts
Right on Kaz - it is an "R" - doing what they do. Nice!
 

·
DuPage County
Joined
·
419 Posts
Posting Elapsed Times for the Dragon is just ****ing stupid.

The street is not a ****ing racetrack. Weekend boy racers (or goofballs on Goldwings) treating this section like its a special stage on the Mille Miglia is what is getting everybody killed. Shit, there are racetracks EVERYWHERE that have bike days, track days, etc. for just this purpose. Probably most of them are a lot closer to you than Deals Gap.

If you like nature, and curves, and are comfortable staying in your own lane, by all means go there. But if you are looking to better your 11:34 time from last year, stay the **** home. You'll probably just get hit by a truck struggling through a curve -- and of course all the bikers will blame the truck and cry "no trucks on the dragon!!!".
 
1 - 20 of 34 Posts
Top