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. 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 tailofthedragon.com
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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