A friend and I recently took a little road trip from Illinois to Atlanta to deliver a custom bike he’d been working on. It was an excellent trip. We met some good people, ate the best sushi we’d ever had and even got to bring back a BMW airhead for our next project, but that wasn’t all.
We planned a diversion on the long trip back. North Carolina, specifically Robbinsville, even more specifically to rent some bikes and torch the Dragon’s Tail. We originally tried loading our own bikes on the trailer to haul down to ATL, but as the third bike rolled onto the shitty old Uhaul trailer we nearly bottomed-out, the picture of a blown tire and three bikes sprinkled across the highway instantly bloomed in our heads and we decided to rent.
The Dragon’s Tail is an 11 mile stretch of road with an incredible 318 turns. It’s something I’ve heard about frequently, mostly from Harley riders who bragged about taking their baggers on it, which essentially made me think it was not a cool place to be. Now you have to understand that I grew up in Wisconsin and have spent all of my riding years in Illinois...two places with some very bland and poorly cared-for roads. I’ve done some cruising along Highway 1 and up to this point that was my pinnacle of motorcycle riding.
We arrived at the rental place at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning with our fingers crossed that the rain in the forecast would hold off long enough for us to ride. We went through all the rental garbage and hopped on the bikes. I chose a 08 Suzuki SV650, a bike I knew could get up and down and something I would be comfortable on coming from a Bandit 1200. My friend picked a 05 Suzuki DRZ400 in all black with street tires, a little dual sport that he thought would keep him comfortable and upright throughout the day.
We took off from Robbinsville heading north on US-129 towards Tapoco and towards the Tail, this was a gorgeous stretch of road and a great warm-up for what was ahead, long swooping roads with towering tree filled cliffs that lead past and eventually up towards Cheoah Dam. We stopped for a quick photo and were both feeling real good about our decision to make this ride a part of the road trip. We finally hit the Dragon’s Tail and the technical riding began.
You start finding yourself in tight rising hairpin turns and it’s not until the fifth or sixth one that you realize you’ve started. It is a relentless experience, mostly because we were pushing ourselves and taking advantage of the road. We could have relaxed, sat up and taken the road at our leisure but where’s the fun in that?
Swoop left, swoop right trying to hit the apex, punch it, hammer-on the brakes and repeat a couple hundred times. I’ve never felt so connected to a bike, I’ve never been so focused on the road. There was a distinct moment where I forgot I was on a motorcycle, my feet and hands were working the pedals and levers feverishly but they started to disappear into some beautiful harmony that I wasn’t controlling, nothing mattered except what was ahead of me and everything else just fell into place. I didn’t care about speed, I cared about feel. When’s the next turn, what’s my line and what’s beyond the turn. This is especially difficult because there’s a surprising lack of signage throughout the road. The longest straight on this 11 mile stretch was about 100 yards but it feels like a driveway when you’re punching the shit out of a rental bike. It was pure and it was exceptional.
We eventually came down through the other side and things started to straighten out along the Little Tennessee River. This was the perfect mix of cruising and beautiful views we needed to help cool down and take some of the adrenaline off.
We eventually got onto 360 South back down and again the road didn’t disappoint. Open grass pastures with small farms flew by as the straightaways opened up and let us stretch the gears a bit, the sun came out and it felt like I was in a different country. As we neared 165 East back towards Robbinsville and headed back into the mountains the fog started to build.
Fog turned into rain, which we realized was terrifying when you’re riding down a mountain with sharp 20mph turns. We took our time, got soaked and we eventually made our way back to the rental place. It took us about 4 hours to take the loop and if it weren’t for the rain we would have gone back to the Tail for another go.
All in all it was an awesome day, we got to experience the road, the mountains, the weather and get on some new bikes. I’d recommend going during the week as we didn’t come across many bikes or cars along the way. You owe it to yourself to get to NC and take this ride. I can’t stress how much fun I had, it was a great experience and I will find myself back there again, but now that I’m home all I have to do is get used to the boring pot-hole filled roads of Illinois again.