Great Motorcycle Ride Rivals the Tail of the Dragon

You hear a lot of folks say “I know of roads better than the Tail of the Dragon, but I, like you, am often doubtful of such claims.

The Dragon at Deals Gap is pretty much the benchmark motorcycle ride to measure and compare to. There are darned good reasons the Tail of the Dragon is legendary. But what about those other roads?

Photo - Start of ride on south end

This abandoned gas station/store on Banner Elk Highway (SR 194) alerts you to the start of the ride. The road is just beyond it.

Here’s one I really enjoy, Beech Mountain / Flat Springs Road. I won’t claim it’s better than the Dragon, but it ranks right up there.

The pavement is not as good in places. There are connecting roads and driveways so you’ve got to ride alert, watch for gravel and sand at those connections and in tight turns. There are no motorcycle resorts at either end. Still, Beech Mountain Road is an excellent, challenging , and fun ride.

Photo - view from road

View of what I think is Roan Mountain. It's not the rare views that make Beech Mountain / Flat Springs Roads good, it's the ride.

This great motorcycle ride is labeled as Beech Mountain Road on the south side of Beech Mountain, then becomes Flat Springs Road once you start descending the north side of the mountain.

Grades are steeper than the Dragon but generally mild. It’s a bit longer. Best of all it’s a road I use to bypass traffic and avoid going through large towns and the city of Boone.

I use it often when I’m headed up to Tennessee and Virginia to ride The Snake and the great roads nearby, and it’s also in the neighborhood of Roan Mountain and the Murder Mountain Ride. It’s a good one to know about and add to your list of great back roads.

Image - Map shows location of Beech Mountain Road

Beech Mountain / Flat Springs Road help you avoid all the traffic to the east.

So how does it stack up?

I was going through my video files one day and found two that were nearly identical. Same camera angle. Same bike. A complete ride through both roads. So I matched them up side by side to see how the roads compare in a contest. The outcome was surprising!

 

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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. It’s time you looked into advanced rider training to ride more confidently and safely, it will change your mountain riding experience. It worked so well for me I became an instructor! Total Rider Tech

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Fall leaves – Photos from The Snake Motorcycle Ride

With such a beautiful day I was itching for an excuse to get out of the office, onto my motorcycle, and enjoy it when an email came in from David at the Shady Valley Country Store at The Snake Motorcycle Ride in Tennessee. He needed to be restocked on maps, and I was curious about a recommended road in the area – Denton Valley Road. Thats all it took.

Photo - Fall leaves on the Snake - US 421

The were some nice spots of fall color on US 421 a.k.a. "The Snake" yesterday. I was delivering a load of maps to the Shady Valley Country Store.

The big question was “How to get there?” Normally I’d take the Blue Ridge Parkway north to Linville, then jump on the back roads to skirt around the traffic in Boone. Knowing the Blue Ridge Parkway would be heavy with leaf peeping traffic, I considered going east to take the most common routes, but I also knew US 321 would be clogged with traffic and I’d get held up going through Boone. That left a western approach, so I went to Asheville, then up I-26 to US 19E from which I could jump on the back roads once I neared Elk Park. Looking back, I should have just followed the back roads all the way. I got held up in the construction on US 19E and could probably have made the trip in the same amount of time and had a lot more fun. Time was an issue as it was after noon before I left the house.

Photo - Fall leaves on The Snake - US 421

I snapped this photo just before I started down Denton Valley Road from US 421. The sun hit just right, the colors are real, not enhanced. I tried to tone them down, but decided to go with what the camera captured.

It was nearing 4 PM when I concluded my business at the Shady Valley Country Store and continued west on US 421 enjoying the twists and curves of The Snake to reach Denton Valley Road. It was a decent ride, though I hadn’t researched it well enough and ended up spending the next hour and a half exploring it and the roads which connect to it to determine the best and most natural routes. I rolled into Bristol, Virginia, around 6 to refuel and resigned to taking the Interstates back home as it was the most efficient course. It’s not the first time I’ve made that trip in the dark, and unprepared to be out so late I once again suffered the chills of going through the high pass on I-26 at Buckner Gap at night – it ‘s always cold there.

I pulled into the driveway at 8PM, shivering but happy after a decent 350 miles and a collection of new roads to add to America Rides Maps collection.

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Wayne Busch
Wayne Busch – Cartographer
– 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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The Most Challenging Motorcycle Ride Found? A day with the map guy.

I am either;

  1. Getting too old and out of shape
  2. Coming down with the flu
  3. Rode harder than I have in a long time

It’s probably a combination of the first point and the last. I awoke last night sore from the chest down due to throwing my bike around all day in my never ending quest to discover the best motorcycle rides in the Smoky Mountains. It was not planned to be such a day but it turned out to be quite an adventure.

I set out around 8AM for Shady Valley, Tennessee, home of “the Snake” motorcycle ride to make a delivery of motorcycle maps to the Shady Valley Country Store. Plan was to ride up, enjoy the Snake, make the delivery, then check out half a dozen roads nearby in hopes to add some to my motorcycle pocket maps. I knew one would just be a connector route. I didn’t have high hopes for many of the others, though a couple held promise.

It was beautiful and cool up on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the morning. Skies were clear and bright. Even the half hour on Interstate 40 to Asheville was pleasant. There’s little traffic before 10AM once you leave the highway and I pretty much had the road to myself. I watched hopefully for bears north of the city, then enjoyed the run up the wonderful new sections of pavement to pass Mt. Mitchell. Looks like they’ve pretty much wrapped that job up. Saw one grouse, a few hawks, but no bruins.

Photo - on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Clear, cool, breezy morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Altapass.

I stopped to tweet my first photo at an overlook where I could count on cell phone reception. Though hurricane Earl was approaching the coast, here in the mountains no impact was expected. Even so it was noticeably breezy.

I hit one brief delay for tree work, and another for guardrail replacement. I surprised a flock of turkeys as I came near Little Switzerland. Passing Linville, I left the Blue Ridge Parkway at Roseborugh Road, one of those handy unmarked crossroads that descends through a series of tight turns to NC 105 at Grandfather Mountain. NC 105 took me north through the congestion of Banner Elk. Broadstone Road led me west of Boone to Valle Crucis. NC 194 led to US 421 which I followed through Mountain City and into Tennessee to reach Shady Valley.

A brief pit stop turned into a decent delay as I took time to chat with several riders, mostly locals, and return phone calls when the intermittent cell reception cooperated. I figured it would take a couple hours to see the roads I wanted, then I’d zip back home as I came.

Photo - Shady Valley Country Store

The sun was still shining at the Shady Valley Country Store though the winds were getting gusty. Things would change as the afternoon wore on.

The first few roads proved less than expected. They were a decent ride for a cruiser maybe, though it was not type of rural scenery that makes a road interesting. I explored another after a couple bikes passed in the opposite direction to find it intersected the fourth road at an unknown point. Still nothing special. I turned to backtrack on the fourth road so I would be sure to ride it end to end and was thrilled to find the short leg wonderful. Nice sweeping turns through pretty countryside. Hopeful, I spun about at the intersection with 197 and headed back. The remainder disappointed. Too much straight and only mildly interesting. It was worth adding to the map but not recommending highly. The natural flow dictated I bypass the next on the list meaning another backtrack to explore the better alternative.

The last of the most promising roads was accessed from US 321 near Watauga Lake. It was tight, it was twisty, but it didn’t appeal. It was then that serendipity  struck. Rather than continue on my planned path, instinct told me to detour onto another road. I followed it through turn after turn after turn and it went on and on and on. All the while I expected it would peter out  into a goat trail but it just kept going without letting up. Mile after mile on narrow, sometimes poor, blacktop it climbed through the mountains finally dumping me out at Banner Elk Highway. I pulled into an abandoned gas station to take my notes and decide how to describe it.

I kept asking myself, “But was it fun?” There was no doubt it was challenging, very challenging. It kept you on the edge the whole time. It never let up. I ride the Dragon routinely and this road is much more difficult and sustained. I’d come up on some traffic and had to simply ride behind it, no room to pass, so I didn’t feel I could give it an accurate evaluation. Nor was I sure what lay at the other end. Only choice was to ride it back and see where it came out.

As I turned about my heart sank. A school bus turned onto the road ahead of me. While it looked empty, this would still be an exercise in pain as it could only crawl through the narrow serpentine climb ahead. What a relief when it pulled off within a few hundred feet. It wasn’t long before I had my answer. This road WAS fun.

Unimpeded I rode it enthusiastically back as I’d come. A few miles in I remember thinking, “If you get out of second gear on this road, look down – you’re riding a moped”. I reached the point where I’d first turned on to it and continued past. The road name changed, but its character did not. I continued mile after mile carving through the exquisitely tight turns, dodging gravel patches, potholes, and debris now falling on the road from the increasing wind. I was so happy when US 321 appeared at the margin of the screen on the GPS. I’d found a new way to link a couple major roads. Awesome.

That ride was worth the trip. I stopped and entered the notes in my Blackberry. From there I turned onto US 321 to head on to check out the last couple roads. The weather was deteriorating. Skies dark, winds gusting, it didn’t bother me a bit. Shortly, I came up on another biker who suddenly veered off on another road back in the area where I’d just been riding. I circled back out of curiosity to see what business this cruiser guy had in such a rugged area. The road he chose was a superb cruiser road and I caught up to him just as he pulled into his yard at the junction with the first great road. Bonus! Instinct paid off again.

I returned to US 321 via the cruiser road to make time. It was getting late and the weather would soon add more to the challenge of these tight roads. After a short ride on US 321, I started down the last of them which turned out to be a disappointment. A few miles in I spied a road connecting to it I felt needed exploring and eventually found a better approach though I did waste a good bit of time on dead ends and gravel lanes. Plan was to take this road a few miles, then turn onto another to make my way back towards Mountain City. As I approached the turn, instinct took over again and I purposefully rode past it.

The GPS showed the road I was on getting tighter and twistier and it was climbing higher into the mountains. Thats usually a pretty good indication it’s going to deteriorate to nothing once it nears the top and the road grew narrower and more challenging as it went on. I considered just giving up on it, but something made me go on. The smell of fresh rain on a dry road filled the air and I started hitting dark patches of pavement. I was really questioning myself when I emerged  atop a pass with a rugged valley stretched below and signs warning of a steep descent and switchbacks appeared. It would have been beautiful in nicer weather, but the dark and angry clouds only hastened my urgency to continue on, dreading the thought of having to retrace my steps.

I’ve ridden a lot of miles in the mountains yet never seen switchbacks as tight as these. I plunged down through the valley wondering where I’d end up, hoping I’d find some landmark to steer me back to something familiar. When the road ended, I looked at the sign ahead to see I was on the road I’d meant to explore next. Another great ride found, and I was ready to wrap things up after this last road.

It was longer then I thought and I reached US 421 south of Mountain City. It was now 5 PM. Rain was coming down in sheets. I turned south towards Boone. The Friday evening traffic before the holiday weekend crawled and stalled in the rain. I dreaded the idea of going into Boone and  veered off on 194 to bypass it. More traffic. I stopped near Banner Elk to top off the tank and called home to let my wife know I wouldn’t be there for dinner. We discussed the weather, the traffic, and decided I’d prefer the exposure to the elements on the Blue Ridge Parkway over the hazards of this crazy traffic. It was the right choice. The rain let up once I got up high.

I coursed through the mountains in the twilight relatively unimpeded. It got cold but I made good time. Reaching Asheville, I merged into the traffic jam that clogged Interstate 40 all the way home. Arriving in my driveway as darkness fell, I’d had a successful day. I’d discovered some great roads. I had reason to go back with hopes of more. I had money in my pocket. Sometimes, a cartographers life is to be envied. I wish I had more photos, but I got swept up in the riding. Maybe next time.

wayne@americaridesmaps.com

America Rides Maps – from north Georgia to north Virginia, the best motorcycle rides

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

 

– 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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Motorcycle Friendly – Shady Valley Country Store and My Video of The Snake

Photo - The Tower at the Shady Valley Country Store

If you miss the tower at the Shady Valley Country Store you've been riding way too long. Time to stop for a rest.

I passed through Shady Valley, Tennessee on my motorcycle earlier this week and finally took the time to stop in at the The Shady Valley Country Store , see the place, and meet Kimberly and David Dail.

Photo- Shady Valley Country Store

Just look for all the motorcycles at the Shady Valley Country Store. Everyone stops here, it's the best place for miles and miles.

Don’t worry about having difficulty finding the Shady Valley Country Store while you’re out motorcycle touring. If you miss the tower in the parking lot at the crossroads of US 421, TN 133, and TN 91, your probably fixin’ to die in some horrible accident, you’ve been out in the sun too long.

Photo - Snake Burger

Three bites wide and thick as your thumb, a Snake Burger will satisfy. It was really good.

Come inside the spacious building, find a table, and get Kimberly or Dave to fix you up with something to cool your brain. While you’re at it, try a Snake Burger. They’re huge, they’re good, or you might want to try a heaping fried bologna sandwich instead. David’s not stingy when it comes to portions, you get your monies worth.

Photo - Inside view of the Shady Valley Country Store

Plenty of room, lots of tables, good food, a great place to either cool off or warm up inside the Shady Valley Country Store.

I filled the tank with Snake Venom at the pump outside, then headed back to finish my motorcycle ride home. I shot a little video of the section of US 421 between Mountain City and The Shady Valley Country Store to give you a taste of the kind of motorcycle riding you’ll experience on The Snake. There are some better videos at the store as well as T-shirts and other Snake charms to help you remember your visit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SPaoEexDxcU

While I was there I got an education on The Snake and learned it encompasses more roads than I’d thought. I’m amending the maps now and new versions will be available at The Shady Valley Country Store. There’s some great motorcycle riding found here and The Shady Valley Country Store sits at the crossroads of it. Add it to your list of places to visit and ride on your motorcycle vacation. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, exit at Boone and follow US 421 north.

Photo - Kimberly and David Dial at the Shady Valley Country Store

Kimberly and David are friendly and will insure you get what you need. Come see them.

The Shady Valley Country Storehttp://www.shadyvalleycountrystore.com

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Wayne Busch

Wayne Busch - Cartographer

 

– 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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Motorcycle Friendly – The Shady Valley Country Store at The Snake

There’s a reason my wife rarely tags along with me while I’m out working from my motorcycle – I only stop for two things, one is fuel. The other can be remedied at any clump of shrubbery. Rarely do I ever stop to eat, drink, or grab photos. It’s all about covering the miles. Those creature comforts can wait until I retire for the evening when darkness makes any further progress futile. I think that’s about to change and one of the first places I’m going to visit is the Shady Valley Country Store the home of “The Snake”.

Photo - Shady Valley Country store

Shady Valley Country Store serves thousands of motorcycles weekly who come to ride "The Snake" and surrounding roads.

Located at the junction of NC 133, NC 91 and US 421 (a.k.a. “The Snake”), the Shady Valley Country Store is at the hub of some of the best motorcycle rides found in the Smoky Mountains where North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee meet. Serving thousands of motorcycles every week, it provides a convenient fuel stop with regular as well as premium “Snake Venom” for your thirsty motorcycle. I’m told the 1/2 lb. black angus burgers, the thick bologna sandwiches and great chili dogs will keep you going full speed as well.

Backbone Rock on TN/NC 133

Backbone Rock on TN/NC 133 not far from the Shady Valley Country Store

I’ve blasted past the Shady Valley Country Store enough times. Next time I’m up there I’m stopping in to check it out, maybe get me a T-shirt or some other Snake memorabilia. Expect to get a first hand report ASAP.

The Shady Valley Country Store

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