Motorcycles and Gravel on the Road – Relax

If you clench your teeth and death-grip the bars at the sight of gravel in the road, you’re asking for trouble.

Yesterday, Jackie and I took a winter motorcycle ride to the Blue Ridge Parkway via NC 215. I’ve been riding NC 215 about every 2 weeks through the winter to monitor the road condition. Since it was paved with a ‘tar and chip” coating this fall, the surface of this outstanding climb through the national forest has been strewn with loose gravel. (See Map of this section)


The loose surface of NC 215 can make you a better rider if you relax.

It’s certainly not as much fun to ride this classic motorcycle ride in this condition, but it shouldn’t be an exercise in terror either. One of the worst things you can do when riding a road like this on a motorcycle is to tense up, fight it, and over-react to slips.

Face up to it – on a loose surface, the bike is going to slip a bit now and then. Expect it. Accept it. You can’t prevent it. You just need to manage it smoothly as it happens and allow the bike to do what it needs to do. Almost every instinctive reaction we have makes the situation worse – hitting the brakes, cutting the throttle, and aggressive or stiff inputs at the bars only reduce traction further. Relax. Use the lightest touch you can and maintain your throttle so there are no abrupt weight changes on the tires.

Motorcycles function very well in loose conditions if you let them move about as they need to do to maintain stability. The wheels will come back into alignment when they find traction and the bike will self correct. Anyone who’s ridden a dirt bike knows the wheels are moving all over the place, the harder you fight it, the less control you have. You just keep it guided in the general direction and let what happens happen as you go.

It’s a delicate situation when a tire slips. You need smooth and gentle input on the controls but if you are all tensed up, you can’t react quickly and smoothly. If you panic, you’ll apply your controls too harshly or change them too quickly and buy a ticket to crash-land. Chop the throttle and you get an express ticket to trouble. Practice being relaxed and accepting whatever is happening.  Respond softly, gently, and maintain your throttle application through turns.


Practice getting a little out of your comfort zone when conditions change. The skills you learn may save your butt on the pavement when you least expect it.

As you gain more riding experience, you’ll learn many techniques to help you manage traction better while riding your motorcycle. None of them will be effective if you don’t relax and perform them smoothly.

The next time you find yourself on a road with a loose surface, remember to relax and accept it. Recognize what it has to teach you –

  • You’ll learn how to gauge the limits of your traction and how to react when you exceed them.
  • Because you’re more familiar with riding at the edge of traction, you’ll have a better feel for knowing when you’re getting close to the limit.
  • You may not intend to ride at the limit of your traction on a nice clean road, but when the unexpected happens and a wheel slips on a slick spot, the reactions you’ve learned will be old habits.

NC 215 will improve with time. Rumors are it may get more paving in the spring, but I wouldn’t count on it. The next time you find yourself riding a road with a loose surface, appreciate the opportunity to hone your skills and learn how to deal with things when they get a little out of your comfort zone.

photo-bikes on gravel

Occasional rides on gravel are a learning experience. Just take it easy and avoid a crash course. You'll gain skills that will help you react better and be more comfortable when things get loose.

Tip – Where are your elbows? If your elbows are above your wrists, you’re not relaxed.

Read what other riders have to say about NC 215


Wayne Busch

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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 –

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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