A Tale of the Tail

In the biking world there are a lot of “famous” roads. Every rider has his/her favorite rides, and there are countless “top” roads lists on the web. So riders usually never run out of new places to venture off to. One of the more famous, and forgive me, but I had thought perhaps a little bit too tourist-y, rides I’d heard of was the Tail of the Dragon…somewhere back east. I kept it filed away for one of those “someday” trips I hoped to take. That was probably 5-6 years ago, and someday had finally come. The Tail is a sort of right of passage among cruiser riders (and sports car drivers) and people ride from hundreds of miles away to get to this famous 11-mile stretch of curvy asphalt. More than 450,000 vehicles go over this road each year. Unfortunately, there are a lot of wrecks on this road and nearly every year someone loses their life on this road, but I’ve heard its usually speed related. All the information I’ve read gives me an enormous dose of respect for this road.
Bike Trip Dragon 059
The Tail of the Dragon is tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s not a road you stumble across; you have to mean to get here. Today I have a full-day project on my hands – to get to the road from Asheville, ride its incredible 318 curves in 11 miles, and then get back to Asheville before dusk when the wildlife comes out onto the road. So best to get an early start…after leaving Asheville in the morning I ride toward the southwestern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and then turn into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On the other side of the park I ride the Foothills Parkway and instead of opting for the Cherohala Skyway wind up at Highway 129 at the Tennessee end of the Tail of the Dragon.
End of the Tail of the Dragon
Where I drop onto the 129 from the Tennessee side there aren’t any signs marking this as the Tail of the Dragon, so at first I’m not sure I’m on it. There’s a warning sign for trucks to turn back (they cannot maneuver tightly enough to get through this section of Highway 129). And then there’s a sign suggesting tight curves for the next 11 miles, so I think this is it. A little further up there is a pullout where I stop to take a photo of the Chilhowee Lake below. The scene where Harrison Ford’s character jumps off a dam in the movie The Fugitive was filmed near here. Anyway…I double check my gear and pull ahead and onto the road. The curves start immediately and run non-stop (well how else can you pack 318 curves into 11 miles?) until the very end. Some of them are incredibly tight and most are cambered well. The fall colors on the road are stunning today. I can see lots of deep grooves carved into the road surface in some of the corners where people have scraped their vehicle/ride on the road. As I round a bend I see a couple of cars parked on the side of the road and then realize they are professional photographers. They take photos of the drivers/riders and sell them back to you from their websites if you would like a souvenir photo of yourself on the Tail. The photographers have their website addresses painted on the sides of their trucks/cars and I find that really distracting as I am really trying hard to concentrate. It’s left, then right, then left, then right, hairpin turns, slow turns, fast turns, uphill turns, downhill turns, right angles…non-stop fun!
There’s supposedly a lot of traffic here so I expect to have someone riding my back bumper since I’m riding it pretty slowly, but there’s no one behind me. I even pull over for a photo and no cars or bikes come from either direction. It’s unbelievable. And the road is the most fun road I have ever ridden! I’m partial to twisty roads in the Black Hills, but I have to say it…this road is incredible! About 8 miles in I’m just getting warmed up and I don’t want it to end. The weather is perfect, no wind. The sun is out and there aren’t any distracting shadows or dark spots on the road. The road is dry and there aren’t too many leaves on the surface to make it slippery. I couldn’t have asked for this run to have been any better.
Bike Trip Dragon 038
At the end of the Dragon is Deal’s Gap, a touristy-y stop for a souvenir if you want one – like an “I survived the Dragon” sticker or t-shirt. There’s a restaurant and motel on one side of the road and a bbq pit and souvenir shop across the road with some cool metal dragon art for pics. So we stop for a bite, a couple of stickers, and some photos of the metal and wooden dragons and our bikes after making the run. What a fantastic ride!
Deal's Gap

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  1. Great pics and ride report. I was there about the same time in 2011 on my Harley. I’d like to take another run at it with the Beemer. Maybe next year.

  2. Glad you had a good ride, but I hope you spent some time in the area and explored. 129 isn’t the best road, just the most well known.

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