The Tail of the Dragon, US-129: Triumph Dragon Raid 2016


At some point this year I vowed “come hell or high water”, I was riding a different motorcycle to this year’s Dragon Raid. As such, with Rosie taking up residence on the porch, riding  a sportier chassis across “The Tail” was certainly on the top of the “to-do” list. I made several trips across the Deal’s gap legend last year on the Speedmaster, but somehow only managed to get one (down and back) trip across the mythical creature at this year’s Raid. Fortunately, I got my money’s worth, despite the traffic, it was still a good run (for a “cruiser”). After reviewing the video, I think I’ve captured all the key elements of the stereotypical ride across the Dragon; I successfully got stuck behind a car, was passed by a supermoto with no restraint, got held up behind a bagger, and was passed by a liter bike (or three). For a random Tuesday, I was especially surprised by the traffic on the Dragon as it approached lunch time.motoadvr_dealsgap The conventional wisdom at the Dragon Raid is typically that you can get a safe trip across the notorious roadway during the week; considering that the hot heads (and a few straight-line riders) make the weekend trip the Gap to “test their skills”. I would go as far as to say that this random Tuesday was actually busier than the Friday afternoon the wife and I traversed it in 2014. I have to assume it was the unseasonably warm weather, who knows; all I know is that parking at the Deal’s Gap Motorcycle Lodge came at a serious premium.



Obviously, I already covered the details about this fabled 11 mile stretch of US-129 last year, but for those that are unfamiliar with the fire-breathing creature in southeast Tennessee, here’s a few blurbs about “taming the Dragon” from yours truly:


  • Any competent rider can successfully ride the Dragon; that said, the conditions are typically more dangerous than the road itself; and by conditions I mean other riders. I recommend adjusting your lines further to the right side of the roadway (great tip from a buddy), that way you’re less likely to come face to face with another vehicle in your lane; be it a bagger crossing the center line, a liter bike using the entire roadway, or a semi setting up an impromptu roadblock, just be prepared.
  • You’re not the fastest rider on The Dragon (this is true for at least 95% of us), so step it down just a bit, watch your mirrors, and be polite when possible. There are thirty-some pull-offs on The Dragon, use them when available.
  • That said, don’t be a jerk. US-129 is a public road, not a racetrack; a spirited ride is one thing, but Tennessee is a long way from the Isle of Man TT. Look, I’m the last guy to come down on people about excessive speed, that said at some point speeds approaching “The Ton” have cascading effects on the other vehicles on the road. I’d like to say otherwise, but I’ve passed my fair share of lone sport bikes “resting” in the wood line, I’m confident speed didn’t play a role…
  • Be in the right gear. That means use the shifter AND cover your arse. The Dragon can be technical, especially for new riders, along with anyone that feels easily pressured from traffic and faster riders, needing another gear mid-apex is a bad plan. I do know some folks that ride the whole stretch in 2nd or even 3rd, but there are a couple 15 MPH curves, that system may not work for your bike. At the same time, despite your impressive riding prowess, you never know when there’s noob on a trike or a Goldwing that’s borrowing your lane around the next curve, scrubbing asphalt out of your elbows is unpleasant.
  • Tires and brakes are paramount down that way, not only on the Dragon; make sure your tires are within spec (tread life and inflation), and your brakes are well within serviceability. If you live in farm country (like I do), you find a whole new appreciation for advanced breaking techniques in and around “The Gap”; that’s a bad time to search for a new tire and replace brake pads. This is also a bad place to learn and practice those braking techniques, trail braking can backfire on the inexperienced.
  • Even more wisdom can be found at




Despite my bantering about safety, Deal’s Gap is unquestionably a “Must Ride”, especially for riders on the east coast. Please feel free to share comments about close calls and other lesson’s learned below!

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The Road to Oskar Blues Brewery: Triumph Dragon Raid 2016

DCIM114GOPRODuring these year’s Dragon Raid, it goes without saying I rode many of the same routes that I covered last year. That said, while the roads didn’t change a whole lot, the way they feel under a new motorcycle certainly does. Right out of the gate this year my buddy Jon wanted to ride down to Oskar Blues Brewery near Brevard, North Carolina. I really enjoyed the ride and the brewery last year, so I eagerly got my gear together to come along.


Last year on the way out to Oskar Blues I found myself a bit white-knuckled on a few of the downhill sections of NC-281 and NC-215. This year was a completely different story. While I don’t think there’s a considerable difference (if any) in the single disc front brakes on the Scrambler vs. the Speedmaster, with the pegs directly below me and the overall geometry change, the bike felt astronomically more composed on the downhill. A buddy of mine that picked up a Bonneville New Church last year called it “Confidence Inspiring”; he’s dead on.


At any rate, with a slightly later than usual start (we wanted to be there in time for a late lunch, I may or may not have skipped off to ride the Hellbender while I waited…), we headed over to NC-281, a should jaunt across US-64, then back up NC-215 toward the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP). We got spit on for a short bit as we got settled on the BRP, then down US-276 into Brevard. I revisited many of these roads during the Raid, so I’ll cover more of that later.



Ultimately we arrived just before the food truck started serving, so I grabbed a stool and found a pint of tasty suds. motoadvr_chubwagonFolks that talk to me on a regular basis will attest to the fact that I feel that IPAs are a fad at the moment, much to my irritation. Yes, I know IPAs have been around forever, I’m just saying they’re disproportionally popular against the field of beers available.motoadvr_chubwagonmenu That said, I remembered that I liked the G’Knight Red IPA, so I decided I’d have a short pour while I waited for some all-American street food (I wasn’t disappointed; is this the start of a trend?). When the time came, true to form, I ordered the hot dog, with an side of “Big ‘Ole Fries”. Naturally it was a bit dark upstairs, so no photo for the foodies (sorry), but it was a good dog …maybe not $5 good, but the “atmosphere” made it worth it.

No sooner than I received my food order than the skies opened up. It was sunny and 70 when we left the Iron Horse, so against my better judgement, I wore the mesh gear, and didn’t pack any rain gear. We managed to wait out most of the steady rain and left Oskar Blues in a really light mist that dissipated shortly after departure. We made it all the way to NC-28 near the Lodge before any more rain drops formed. Pulling onto Gunter Gap Road, with less than a mile to go, it started coming down in buckets. I told myself earlier this year that after last year’s Raid, there was no sense in bringing mesh gear. Soaked to the bone, that was the last bit of my mesh kit I donned at this year’s Raid.

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Triumph Speedmaster Long Term Review: Final Thoughts After 45,000 Miles

After three years and over 45,500 miles, Lola moved on to a new owner last week. MotoADVR_TriumphSpeedmasterLolaIt’s unfortunate that I had to let the Speedmaster go, but there’s simply no room for two, and I wanted to fund the Scrambler project. Needless to say she and I collected a lot of memories over the past three years, and certainly gave me a lot of experience, much of which is documented here. While I’ve already done one Long-term review, to pay her in kind, I feel it’s only fitting that I throw down some final thoughts on the Speedmaster as a whole.

Let me start off by saying that I will put the Speedmaster up against any 900 cc cruiser in its class. Honestly, I simply feel like you get more bike for what you pay where the Triumph is concerned versus the Sportster and its Asian clones. motoadvr_speedmasterleftfrontLet me also go on to say that I feel that the Harley Davidson 883 Sportster is the primary competitor to the Speedmaster. Now, I will give Yamaha a lot of credit with the new Star Bolt, that’s a legit bike, and I will hold it a close second to the Sporty, but in the end the Speedmaster still has more gas and equal (if not better) performance against the Bolt. The Sportster on the other hand has boat load of street credit to compete with. Harley Davidson is obviously the cruiser brand of choice for the vast majority of Americans, and (at least on paper) there are some distinct advantages to buying a Sportster. For one, maintenance (in theory) should be simpler with pushrods and rockers versus the Speedmaster with dual overhead cams. motoadvr_speedmastercockpitIn addition, the aftermarket parts available for American made bikes is ridiculous; if you want to farkle your Sporty, it’s merely a click away. The Sportster (as with the Bolt) is also belt drive, which makes that maintenance even easier if you’re just an urban cruiser. That said, professional moto-journalists agree, the Speedmaster offers better all-day comfort out of the box, and still holds its own on the stat sheet. In the long run, I also believe the Speedmaster fits a wider breadth of motorcycle consumer (that want more than to just own a Harley) than other leading competitors in the 900 class. Aside from the seating position, the five gallon gas tank will get you upwards of 200 miles to a tank if you ride conservatively.motoadvr_speedmastertankbadge I will also add that all of the parts on the Triumph America are interchangeable with the Speedmaster, so if you want windshield, bags, and a plush pillion seat, that’s easy to come by. I also want to throw in, aside from my comments about the 900 cc class, the Speedmaster unabashedly keeps up with big bore cruisers as well. In three years, at no point did I ever feel like I needed a little more “power” to hang with my buddies on their “Big boy bikes”; moreover, on at least one occasion, I was told I was “walking away from the group”.


Despite my obvious bias toward the Speedmaster, Lola was not without faults. Plainly, the rear shocks suck.motoadvr_speedmasterrightrear I tolerated the stock rear suspenders primarily out of “cheapness”, and then eventually because I was expecting a new bike on the horizon. If you’re in the market for a new Speedmaster, save a little cash in the bank, and go ahead and spend $300 on an aftermarket set of rear shocks (Hagon and Progressive solutions are readily available). I personally find that the rear shocks stand out immediately considering the ease of bottoming out thanks to a pothole, but it’s worth mentioning that the front springs could stand to be upgraded as well. Again, I myself did not make the investment, and the casual rider need not fear the stock setup, but for folks that prefer a more “spirited” ride, it’s worth spending $100 on a set of progressive springs for the front forks, and (I’m told) it’s an easy swap in the garage. Chain maintenance can also be a bit annoying. I would recommend that anyone who plans on “upgrading” the exhaust pick up shorty Triumph Off-Road pipes (TORs) or British Customs Cocktail Shakers (if you really want loud) just for the ease of chain maintenance; the long stock exhaust gets in the way. I will also say that a center stand is available (although it’s bloody ugly), or you may want to invest in a paddock stand, just to make things easier. motoadvr_speedmasterrightfrontI already covered the concerns about wind protection in the long term review, but I will reiterate, $130 on a Dart Flyscreen will completely change the way you view cruising on the highway. In fact, for under $1,000, you can easily throw some highway bars, bags, and a flyscreen at the Speedmaster and turn it into a budget touring bike. That said, some guys complain about the higher engine revs on the freeway. I’m going to say that the engine revs to 8k, so cruising at 4500 isn’t a big deal, but if you do find that annoying, you can upgrade to a 19 tooth front cog when you replace the chain (but lose some torquey character). For folks laying down more than 12,000 mile annually, the valve clearance check and adjustment can be a bear. Fortunately, the 865 engine is shim over bucket, and uses a drive gear for the cam gears, which makes it easier (no fussing with cam chain), but it’s obviously more work than pushrods. In the end, chain and valve maintenance is the price you pay for better performance.

motoadvr_speedmasterenginecompartmentIn spite of its shortcomings, the Speedmaster was still a great ride. As I’ve mentioned before, the choice to move on was because I wanted mid controls, the option of (realistically) riding dirt, and ultimately a bike that I didn’t feel guilty for getting filthy and possibly neglecting (like riding in the salt and snow). Feet forward became a real issue for me; yes, you can upgrade the seat and suspension, but with forward controls, all your weight is essentially on your butt, and therefore your spine absorbs the shock load. If money were no object, and I actually had a garage to fill, Lola would be parked next to Rosie right now. motoadvr_speedmasterlowfrontI love the 865 air cooled twin; while not quite a stone ax like a 650 single, the Speedmaster engine offers the performance of DOHC, simplicity of air-cooled, and character in spades, especially with the 270 crank (which sounds great with aftermarket exhaust). The air-cooled Triumph twin simply begs to be flogged and is (typically) bullet-proof reliable. Despite the ease of putting a peg down (as with most cruisers), the Speedmaster still loves the twisties, and I was often surprised at how nimble it felt after riding a lot of other cruisers.



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2016 Triumph Dragon Raid: Round Trip to Deal’s Gap

Normally I’d say that the trip down and trip back to the Dragon Raid are distinct events, however this year’s commute to and from the Raid was one of the most challenging motorcycle trips I’ve taken.DCIM114GOPRO Obviously this was no excursion to Alaska or the Mohave Desert; however it seems reasonable to say that I encountered several of the top “what if’s” that folks should plan for on a motorcycle vacation. Obviously I’ve made this trip before, however this time it was on a bike I was less familiar with, and with a different group of riders. The Scrambler in its current form offered a bit less long distance comfort than its Speedmaster brethren; also, unbeknownst to me, the obviously small headlight of the Scrambler was impressively less effective than that of the Speedmaster, as I discovered at (nearly) the worst time.


Aside from having a freshly melted hole in my Firstgear pants (damn those high pipes… but I still love them), I was dressed for the weather, and despite the colder morning air, we were making good time down to the river for the first stop.motoadvr_ky36roadside US-68 doesn’t possess a significant amount of curves until the last few miles toward Ripley (OH), so I admit I was actually getting chilly and a bit bored on the first leg. Fortunately, once across the river, and after a beverage, we were finally getting into the hills of Kentucky where the landscape better suits my taste. Headed down KY-36 (just like last year), not three miles south of I-64 one of the gentlemen who was tagging along, unintentionally left the roadway. Fortunately, he was uninjured, however his entire clutch lever snapped clean off the bars during the ordeal. There we were, on the roadside in rural Kentucky, with no spare parts, waiting on a tow truck… for three hours…


While I do pride myself on having a decent tool kit, this lesson certainly taught me a few things:

  • Always remember that most (Non-Harley) motorcycle shops are closed on Sunday.
  • I need to add a good set of needle-nose vice grips to the tool kit (even though they wouldn’t have helped in this case).
  • Having a contingency for a truck and/or trailer less than 150 miles from home is priceless.
  • I packed a surprisingly small amount of food and water for this day trip.
  • Maybe a spare clutch lever isn’t out of the question?
  • Eating Subway with good friends on the roadside of rural America is actually really awesome.


Back on the road, only two hours behind after eating  (literally) on the roadside (that saved an hour), we finally got into the fun stuff as we approached Red River Gorge.DCIM114GOPRO Having been there the week prior, I was glad I knew the general road conditions considering very recent events. That said, once inside the gorge it was actually “yours truly” that was on deck for a mishap. Crossing the bridge over the Red River on KY-77 we began passing a string of cars headed the other direction. As I approached a blind, low speed, left hander, I was suddenly confronted with an out of control car that was barreling around the corner and literally screeching into my lane. Practicing some emergency braking maneuvers I narrowly escaped a collision; one of my riding mates said that had there been saddle bags involved, it would have been a different story.


We stopped for gas just through the gorge, and after my blood pressure descended to a reasonable level, we were finally on to what I expected to be the quietest leg of the journey. Naturally just as I assumed we were going to make up time in the rural southern sections of KY-11, we inadvertently found ourselves stuck behind a parade of motorcycles being held up by a trike. This occurrence actually foreshadowed similar events later in the week.



From KY-11 is was onto US-25E where things picked up some as the roadway opened to four lanes. From 25E we were on to I-40 through the gorge, and then on to the Appalachian Highway (US-74) just as the sun was setting. As I mentioned, the headlight on the Speedmaster was a little lacking, the Scrambler’s lamp is absolutely helpless. After 50 minutes of searching to find the lanes in the dark through the hills of North Carolina, we finally arrived unscathed at the Iron Horse.



While the return trip was not nearly as eventful as the trip down, we received a healthy dowsing from Mother Nature for good measure.DCIM116GOPRO On an overcast morning we started back north on the same route, only to be met with rain showers near Tazewell (TN) on US-25E. For about four hours we pushed through the deluge until just south of Red River Gorge where the roadway finally began to dry out. After making up time on dry roadways, there were a few more pop up showers waiting for us between the river and Dayton. Finally, just as I reached the south Dayton suburbs, the last bit of light faded in the sky and I finished the last twenty miles or so in the dark.


Despite having treated my Firstgear kit with Nikwax prior to the trip, enough “frog stranglers” wrestled their way through gaps to the point where I was sufficiently wetter than I expected. I’m not sure if it was the seating position change on the Scrambler, or if I’ve finally started to wear out the waterproof properties of the gear, needless to say as I’m writing this now, I’m looking into getting this corrected.

In the end, it was still a fantastic trip, but the long commutes were definitely a good lesson in proper planning, the right gear, a healthy tool kit, and it always pays off to get an early start.

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Triumph Dragon Raid 2016: Preview

Back to back motorcycle trips certainly hasn’t helped my writing. It has (hopefully) provided me with some new photos and video, and probably a few decent stories.

This year’s Dragon Raid started out on the wrong foot, with me melting a penny sized hole in my all-season riding pants on the “high-pipe” of the Scrambler at the very first gas station. From there, aside from having a really good time, it was a series of unplanned events, including an acquaintance “leaving the roadway” near a curve, riding home in the dark (repeatedly), an unscheduled tire change, and the search for gasoline. Ultimately, this year’s big motorcycle “vacation” felt more like one long episode, versus distinct rides and destinations, so bear with me while I cut video, edit photos, and try to organize this “adventure” into some sort of coherent tirade… I mean story.

Triumph Dragon Raid 2016: Round Trip to Deal’s Gap

2015 Triumph Dragon Raid


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Destination Red River Gorge: Moto-Camping and New Roads

Ferris said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Those words are ringing quite true at the moment. The new bike has been awesome, but between changing jobs and general “life” I’ve been neglecting the blog. Hopefully I can make it up to y’all with some photos and video of one of my favorite places.

motoadvr_scramblerpackedEarly this spring my cousin actually bought a Scrambler I’d been watching on Craigslist all winter. That actually worked out for me, as I got a chance to ride one and find out if it would be the bike for me (we know how that worked out). At any rate, from that moment he’d been asking me to join him on a moto-camping weekend at some savory motorcycle riding destination. Per my previous comments, schedules were not jiving for the longest time, but for Labor Day we did land a short weekend trip down to Red River Gorge.


Per my usual protocol, we picked up KY-36 into Frenchburg and on to KY-77 into the Gorge. 77 is one of my favorites, and a must-ride from KY-460 down through Nada Tunnel to KY-11. From 77 we set up camp at a campground in Slade and then set out to see some of the local destinations. Being Labor Day weekend, Natural Bridge was absolutely nuts, so we skipped across to KY-715 and on to Sky Bridge. If I hadn’t mentioned it before, Natural Bridge is also a “must-do” but I still feel that Sky Bridge is the better motorcycle destination, and it’ll save you $13 bucks since you won’t need to take the skylift to the views (you could hike, but over a mile up a mountain in armored gear, well sucks…). 715 was also a zoo as it’s the main thoroughfare through the gorge, but ample twisties and cool mountain air under the canopy made it worthwhile.



The next morning my cousin and I set out to ride some new roads a bit south of the gorge (hoping to avoid the traffic).

KY-1639, KY-1057, & KY-213

Headed west out of Slade we took a less-traveled southerly route toward KY-52 by picking up KY-1639. 1639 winds through foot hills like many other state routes near the gorge; another “barely” two-lane road sweeps by farms through the valley as you link up with KY-1057 headed up the mountain. KY-1057 was more of the same with more elevation changes and then more scenic views as you merge onto KY-213.






From KY-213 we picked up KY-52 headed east into Beattyville. KY-52 is very well maintained, and nearly free of gravel washouts and debris that plagues a lot of the blind curves on many of the backroads. 52 allows for a more spirited pace, yet be mindful of the steep downhill grade as you approach Beattyville, especially considering that a decreasing radius turn may be around the very next bend.





After a short break in Beattyville, we continued down KY-52 for a short jaunt in search of KY-2016. I had actually ridden KY-52 last October, so 2016 turned out to be a real surprise. 2016 is a 13 mile stretch from St. Helens to Rogers, Kentucky. 2016 is reminiscent of KY-77 in many ways; sweeping, unmarked, curves along local farms, and loaded with blind turns. That said, KY-2016 appears to be less populated with travelers and is almost narrow enough to considered one-and-a-half lane. While I didn’t have to stop for a Deer like KY-213, there was a flock of wild turkeys scurrying across the road.





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Destination State Route 763: Twisty Roads in Southwest Ohio


At this point of the year I’m gearing up for my big trip to Deal’s Gap for the annual Triumph Rally, but there are a few decent roads to be found here at home. Once you’ve spent time riding in places like West Virginia, Tennessee, and virtually everywhere in Appalachia, it’s tough to find roads that compare in terms of technical riding conditions and view considering all the flat farmland. Last year I had big plans to get down OH-763 on my way to see my Grandma in Kentucky. As usual, “Road Closed” signs be damned, I went on by, only to find a local bridge to be out completely. Bike pointed (excessively) downhill, my dad and I turned back. Fortunately, despite some technical difficulties this summer, I did finally make it down to the river to check out this local riding destination. Last weekend I put together a full day’s ride from Waynesville (Ohio) to Augusta (Kentucky), but the highlight was definitely 763.



Ohio Route 763 runs through Brown County between OH-41 in Aberdeen to OH-125 near Decatur. Across the roughly 13 mile stretch you’ll find series of tight, unmarked, curves in rapid succession, including several elevation changes. Throughout the string, you’ll find good open sweepers along farms through the valleys, often followed by another uphill technical section under the tree canopy. First timers should definitely be on the lookout for gravel “washout” from rural driveways and embankments, along with the constant threat of unmarked, low speed curves. There is not a great deal of traffic along the roadway (at least for the 3 visits I’ve made this July and August), but riders should be cognizant of the threat of slow moving vehicles arriving on several of the secondary road intersections.


There are undoubtedly better roads in Ohio, but in the last 4 years, I’ve yet to find a more technical section of roadway south of I-70 and west of Chillicothe.

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