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Common Tread

TeamZilla rides the Tail of the Dragon!

Oct 21, 2013

Have you ridden the Tail of the Dragon? Located in Deals Gap, N.C., this unique stretch of highway 129 covers 318 turns in just 11 miles! Considered to be the twistiest road in the United States and quickly acclaimed as the #1 motorcycle destination on the East Coast, the Tail of the Dragon offers challenge, surprise, and sometimes demise to those who attempt to tame her.

TeamZilla had the opportunity in late August of 2013 to ride the beast and report back with hands-on experience weathered by the seat of their pants, turn after turn. Watch them carve the Dragon in the video below or sift through their advise on how to tackle Deals Gap in the Q&A below.

What was your favorite part?

Chris:

"Everything? Seriously, the whole thing was memorable. Gravity cavity sticks in my mind especially, but the best part is that the whole thing is awesome from beginning to end."

Joel:

"The thrill of the chase. It’s kinda like going to the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, or the Eiffel Tower: relatively speaking, experiencing them is a dream for all, a goal for many, but an achievement by few. After taking it all in, the sense of accomplishment was very rewarding."

What was your least favorite part?

Chris:

"If you do a full run (there and back again) on the Dragon, it can get tiring. It takes a lot of mental focus required to stay in the zone for that long! The construction zone in the middle was a bit of a bummer, but the 2-3 minute break waiting to go through was a great opportunity to breathe."

Joel:

"My least favorite part was the first run through. I was right in taking it slow for the first run, so this wasn’t a regret, but I found myself frequently in front of other riders who knew the road and were capable of going much faster. I let this build a little anxiety until I could find the next turnoff and let them by. I don’t like being the guy potentially ruining someone else’s ride. Word to the wise: don’t be anxious like me! Go at your own pace, enjoy the ride, and let others enjoy theirs when you can safely let them pass."

How were the cops?

Chris:

"The cops were there for your protection and that was about it. At least from my experience, they didn't try and kill your fun unless you crashed or were otherwise riding without common sense. Do be careful at the North TN end as the cops like to tag you leaving the Dragon -- fight the urge to wind out the gears when you hit the open road at the bottom."

Joel:

In our limited experience at the Dragon, I found them there more to protect and serve rather than being bullies. Each time we went through there was one sitting outside a curve (where you would normally expect Killboy or 129Slayer to be camping) just waving you on making sure you were being safe, that you were aware of their presence, and, more importantly, that you knew they were aware of your presence and were watching closely..."

How was traffic?

Chris:

"On the weekdays that we went, it wasn't actually that bad. I would recommend Mon-Thurs before noon as the best time. Trucks over 30 feet aren't permitted currently due to a small construction zone in the middle. Occasionally you had a large pick-up truck pulling a trailer, but that was rare."

Joel:

"At times it was much less crowded than I would have expected but I would chalk that up to the times and days we were there. As far as the flow goes, I found there was an overabundance of folks (on 2 and 4 wheels alike) who take the double-yellow line as a suggestion rather than a regulation. I have misjudged turns several times in my life, so I’m pointing a finger at myself, too, but there is nothing more disconcerting than coming up on a turn only to find opposing traffic coming out of the turn or hitting the apex in your lane."

How were the other riders you encountered?

Chris:

"There will always be slower riders and you might be one of them! However, most everybody is courteous and uses the provided pull-offs to work that stuff out."

Joel:

"Most of our interaction with other riders was at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort on the NC side. Everybody there was very amicable and loved to talk. I think the common bond of being two-wheeled Dragon slayers transcended what would otherwise be cliquish rider cultures... I had the awesome opportunity to talk with a few of our customers as well. That was really cool to have in-person conversations rather than just hearing voices through the phone!"

What was the Deals Gap Motorcycle resort experience like on the North Carolina side?

Chris:

"The restaraunt actually has great food and great service -- a nice surprise! Its fun to browse through the T-shirts, the photographs of those who have crashed and check out all the memoribilia showcased there. We left our mark in a few places in the form of ZLA stickers. Don't forget to do a walkaround of the Tree of Shame!"

Joel:

"It definitely had its charm but otherwise was what you would expect: a motel, a diner, a gift-shop, and a gas station. It reminded me of Sting Ray’s on RT13 just north of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, a beach vacation travel stop tradition for me and my family, so it evoked fond childhood memories. Oh yeah, we ZLA’d it, too. Don’t forget to check out the giant dragon made out of repurposed car and motorcycle parts; it’s magnificent!"

What else is there to see in the area?

Chris:

"Lots! Cherolhala Skyway is a must see, the rest of Route 129 is gorgeous, as is the entirety of 28. Fontana lake has a variety of dams and overlooks and you can always pull off to go swimming if you like. I had an opportunity to catch the Blueridge parkway in its entirety on the way home to Philadelphia. It took two days without doing much sightseeing."

Joel:

"Absolutely. Along with the Dragon, we also hit Route 28 and the Cherohala Skyway. They provide a sublime combination of scenery and fun roads. While you’re in the area, you’re only a hop, skip, and jump away from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, and, of course, the Blue Ridge Parkway.”

What advice would you give to someone looking to ride the Tail of the Dragon for the first time?

Chris:

"Take it slow and learn the road. Don't let other riders push you to go faster than you are comfortable. Always fear the Dragon, a bit of healthy respect is a good thing -- the moment you lose that is the moment you start making mistakes. Also NEVER CROSS THE DOUBLE YELLOW! Can't stress that enough, there is no room for this on the Dragon, every corner is blind and no straight away provides enough room for clean passes."

Joel:

"Be observant but don’t let yourself become anxious by other riders. Go at your own pace and don’t ride outside your skill level or comfort zone; the Dragon is on a mountainside and it’s a long way down. Have we mentioned anything about crossing the Double Yellow yet?"

Would you do it again?

Chris:

"Absolutely! I still haven't found the limits of my Honda VFR and would love to go exploring some more in the surrounding area."

Joel:

"In a heartbeat. We barely scratched the surface of all there is to do down there and, just like CK said, there’s so much more to explore."

Article Photo Gallery
View the Tail of The Dragon photos!