Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway

We’ve all probably seen those lists of the top 10 motorcycle rides in the USA – typically a rehash of the same roads again and again. As the leading expert on motorcycle riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway I make an effort to get out and see those other top 10 motorcycle rides to see how they stack up to the one I consider best. I’ve just returned from riding the last good section of the Pacific Coast Highway in California and here’s my biased opinions of how they compare.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – The stunning scenery is often enveloped in thick sea fog. Note the traffic mid-week mid-day. I’d imagine weekends are worse.

Over the years I’ve ridden all but one of the good sections of the Pacific Coast Highway. The fact that there are good and not-so-good sections on the long western ride is one major difference between the two roads - there are no “not-so-good” sections on the Blue Ridge Parkway. The scenery is stunning and beautiful as the coastal road traverses the high cliffs and rocky beaches along the western shore. The one remaining section I just finished riding is the Big Sur area in central California.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – this trip I rented a 600cc entry-level sport bike in Los Angeles and headed north. For this ride, a performance bike is wasted, it’s much better suited to a big cruiser.

Located between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Big Sur area is found just south of Carmel. Further south the seaside road is pretty built up with homes and businesses and sections of freeway and holds little appeal to me as a pleasant and scenic motorcycle ride. Same to the north as you get into the San Francisco area. While this area was nice, my top pick for the best section of the Pacific Coast Highway would be the section through Oregon, though this is a good one.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway -

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – The landscape is quite a contrast to the lush forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Where are the trees? Too dry and harsh.

Contrary to what you might expect, the Pacific Coast Highway is not entirely on the coast. It diverts inland in many places, away from the cold ocean waters into the rolling dry hills. To the north in Washington and Oregon, that sometimes takes you into the redwood forests, and a brief section did so near Big Sur. Mostly though, these inland diversions run you through the dry and rolling hills almost monotonous in appearance. You won’t find the lush green landscape of the eastern mountains covered with trees.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway -

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – There are plenty of places to stop alongside the road and savor the views. The sun poked through the clouds so rarely I never got a really clear photo.

While the terrain is almost desert dry, it’s more likely to be chilly than hot. The frigid waters of the Pacific cool the coastline even in the midst of July to where you’ll want some warm gear with you. The cold water also creates a thick sea fog which reaches far inland and usually doesn’t pull back to reveal the views until the afternoon. Riding early in the day is too often a disappointment when the thick fog hides the views you’ve come so far to see.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – Of course, I poked my wheels down several of the few side roads that lead in from the coast – Carmel Valley Road was one of my favorites for challenging curves a good views.

The greatest contrast between the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Pacific Coast Highway is the amount of traffic. While there are curvy and engaging sections of the road, you’ll rarely be able to enjoy carving through them as there is almost always a car, RV, or commercial traffic to slow you down just when you want to crank it up. While there can be times of traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the ride is constantly scenic, always 2 lane, and without interruption for it’s entire 469 mile length.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – Once done with the coast, I went back to some of my favorite California riding, the mountains and twisty canyons that run through them. Much hotter in the interior.

The Pacific Coast Highway should be on your bucket list of places to visit on your motorcycle tours. It deserves to be on the top 10 best motorcycle rides lists, principally for the scenery, but not the riding experience. There’s just too much traffic and diversions onto highway and through towns and cities. Honestly, I find riding the canyons and mountain passes in California much better riding on a motorcycle if you more enjoy an engaging and challenging road with little traffic impair your ride.

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides - Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway

Top 10 Motorcycle Rides – Pacific Coast Highway vs. Blue Ridge Parkway – Looking back towards Santa Barbara you can sometimes see the Channel Islands from one of my favorite rides CA33 – the Mariposa Highway. It’s a twisty climb from Ojai and a lot of fun on a motorcycle.

I had a good experience renting from Racy Rentals in Los Angeles – if you’d like to see about a rental bike go to http://www.racyrentals.com/

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wayne busch - Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Rider.com

Wayne Busch

– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here - AmericaRidesMaps.com

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Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. Isn’t it time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely? It can transform your mountain riding experience.  Total Rider Tech

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Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips
Courteous Passing  and Signal your intentions

I’m opening myself up for some criticism by posting this, but when motorcycle riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway and you need to pass, one safety tip I’ve found helpful is using better communication and courteous passing. While passing may be illegal, it’s a frequent occurrence. Here’s how I deal with it.

Why take the criticism? Because I see it so often – it’s a rare stretch of the 469 mile long Blue Ridge motorcycle ride that isn’t painted with a double yellow line. Passing zones are few and far between. Crossing the double yellow line is breaking the law, so consider that before you do it. If something goes wrong, you’re at fault, and any ticket you get is deserved.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips Courteous Passing  and Signal your intentions - Crossing the double yellow line is illegal. Legal passes are safe passes.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions – Crossing the double yellow line is illegal. Legal passes are safe passes.

Still, I can’t recall a recent motorcycle ride on the Blue Ridge Parkway where it didn’t happen. It’s a common situation as the comfortable travel speed for many car drivers is around 35 mph on this mostly 45 mph road. While most bikers are content to adapt to the lower speed and relax and enjoy the scenery, the situation can get frustrating when the curves get tighter.

Motorcycles and cars approach curves differently. Cars tend to get off the throttle and slow down when going through a turn. Motorcycles want to be on the gas to gain traction, ground clearance, and stabilize the bike in a turn. Applying the brakes when behind a car in a turn makes the motorcycle want to stand up when it should be leaning and it’s harder to steer and more unstable.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips - Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions - There are lots of overlooks through the most scenic sections. Use your signal lights to communicate to the driver ahead.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions – There are lots of overlooks through the most scenic sections. Use your signal lights to communicate to the driver ahead.

In a perfect world, you follow along to the next pull-out, the car slips in and lets you by. Give the driver that opportunity, it’s the best, safest, and legal option. A lot of times that happens. Sometimes it takes a couple overlooks before the driver recognizes the easy solution.

Just as often though, you’ll come up on a car which slows and starts waving you by to make an illegal pass. Here’s how I approach it –

  • If you don’t want to pass, drop back and give the car some space.
  • If you do want to pass, but it’s not safe here due to an approaching curve, limited visibility, or other traffic, be courteous and work with the driver. Drop back a little and signal your intent that you do want an opportunity to pass by using your turn signal.

Communicating to the driver by using your turn signal lets him know your intent and you can work together to make the pass as safe as possible.

The driver may wait for the next pull off, give him the opportunity to use it, as it’s safest for everyone and the legal way to do it.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips - Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions - Choose your passing spots carefully and wisely.

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Courteous Passing and Signal your intentions – Choose your passing spots carefully and wisely. This is hardly the place to even consider it. Wait patiently for those sections where you have a long view ahead and plenty of road before the next curve.

If you do choose to pass, do it politely and with some respect. Don’t blast by at warp speed with the pipes screaming. Stay in as high a gear as you can and make it a smooth and controlled quiet pass. Wait for a long enough section of road with clear visibility and enough margin for safety so you don’t convince the driver all bikers are dangerous and out of control or end up proving it as well. I usually give a wave of thanks to those who let me slip by, I appreciate their courtesy and respond in kind.

In summary;

  • Use passing zones when available
  • Crossing the double yellow line is illegal
  • Give the car a chance or two to exit into an overlook and let you by
  • Communicate with the driver by using your turn signals
  • Wait for a safe opportunity
  • Pass quietly and with respect
Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway - Safety Tips - illegal passing is not without risks and potential consequences!

Motorcycle Riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway – Safety Tips – Illegal passing is not without risks and potential consequences!

At some point on your Blue Ridge Parkway motorcycle ride you’re going to be presented with this dilemma – to pass or not to pass. There’s a darned good reason crossing the double yellow line is illegal, it’s dangerous! In a dangerous situation one of your best tools is good communication. Use those signal lights and show some thanks if you decide to take a ride on the wild side of the line. A lot of times, seeing your signal lights alerts the driver and results in a safe and legal passing event and a better Blue Ridge Parkway ride for everyone.

These tips work with bicycles as well, be kind and let’s all enjoy our ride!

See the Blue Ridge Parkway Park Service Safety Page

See the Blue Ridge Motorcycling Parkway Safety Tips Page

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch – Cartographer

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– Wayne Busch lives in Waynesville, NC, where he produces the most detailed and comprehensive and up-to-date motorcycle pocket maps of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains to help you get the most of your vacation experience. See them here - AmericaRidesMaps.com

Wayne is an advanced motorcycle instructor for Total Rider Tech teaching Lee Parks Total Control Advanced Rider Courses. Isn’t it time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely? It can transform your mountain riding experience.  Total Rider Tech

____________________________________________________________________

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