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Riding the Tail of the Dragon... Woohoo

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Riding the Tail of the Dragon... Woohoo

Old 09-09-09, 06:06 PM
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Riding the Tail of the Dragon... Woohoo

Our latest trip to Tennessee included a 95 mile / 7,000' out and back over the Foothill Parkway and US129 into North Carolina, aka. The Tail of the Dragon. As often happens, anyone who travels along 'The Dragon" will have their photos taken by 3 - 5 different photographers who make a living selling photos to visitors.

While most of the photos showed how out of shape we were... trailing way behind the two far more fit tandem teams who shared our day-long journey or, worse yet, with strange looking mid-waist bulges peer out under our lycra-clad bodies, there were two that were pretty cool. The one I didn't include is actually one in a series of photos where we were caught behind a 60ish lost black sheep / HD pirate who dropped $25k on a brand new Softtail, another $1k on his brand new leathers, $5 on a plastic yamika and about 5 minutes on "how to steer a motorcycle". No kidding, we waved this guy by on a climb and within 15 minutes we were going through the downhill twisties and son-of-a-gun if we didn't end up stuck on his rear wheel. The temptation to pass was quite high but I restrained myself.

Anyway, here's the other photo taken on our way back West on US129 setting up for a series of esses as we passed by "the dirt corner".

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Old 09-09-09, 06:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Goldrush View Post
I've driven "Tail of the Dragon" and it looked like a real challenging climb. The scary part for me would be going down. Looks like you did it with only rim brakes. I'd be stopping more than once to cool the rims.
I wouldn't classify it as having any really steep or challenging climbs, at least nothing much above 10% if memory serves. There are some long 7% - 8% grades and maybe a switchback or two that sneak up to 12% at their apex IF you drop all the way into the apex.

I'll see if I captured the elevation on my Garmin 705 and, more importantly, I'll see if I can figure out how to extract it from the Garmin. However, from memory, you climb a lot more headed towards North Carolina from Tennessee than you do on the way back and there are essentially three, perhaps four climbing sections... five if you drop down to Deal's Gap just past the North Carolina state line, and that's actually the steepest section of the entire "Tail of the Dragon"... perhaps 12% through a few sections there.

The twistie descents are why we go there and I found most of them to be VERY tandem friendly... so long as you feel comfortable taking corners at fairly aggressive speeds and lean angles, which is also true of riding the Dragon on a motorcycle. In fact, bicycles tend to be able to take a lot of the downhill, twistie sections at far greater speeds than most cars and all but the better sport bike riders given our low-mass and short wheelbases: even a tandem @ 6' is a relatively short wheelbase when it's only carrying 300 lbs. In fact, I've attached a pair of photos, a series of 6 shots as well as a larger portrait of the aforementioned HD rider who we found ourselves stuck behind for about a 1/2 mile....

As for my brakes, nothing I can recall from riding the Dragon rises to the point where a supplemental drag brake or a disc vs. rear rim brake would be required for a seasoned tandem team familiar with riding in the mountains. But, then again, we're about 310 lbs including the bike's weight and I don't touch the brakes much on twistie descents except.... (a) when I'm setting up my approach to a corner, (b) when it's REALLY steep and we'd end up carrying too much speed to be prudent (i.e., well in excess of posted limits) or (c) at those times when I've found the limits of Debbie's comfort zone and she says "slow down".
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Old 09-09-09, 06:15 PM
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Old 09-10-09, 01:23 AM
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I agree, we only put the third brake on (a rear disc) when tackling Alpine descents that are 1000+ metres in height difference (3000+ ft) or we're doing some fully-loaded touring. There's nothing on this ride that would necessitate extra braking heat capacity given this tandem team's weight and skills. When I took the rear disc brake off recently before going on a trip where we wouldn't need it, I weighed all of the parts needed for it, and it came to about 800 grams / close to 2 lbs (Avid BB7 brake, 203mm rotor, mount, cable, housing, cable stops, and the extra brake lever that mounts to the stoker's bars). That realization has made me a lot less keen to re-install the disc brake until we do another ride or tour where it looks like we'll really need it. It's getting towards the end of pass-climbing season, so it may not go back on until next summer.

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Old 09-10-09, 07:00 AM
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It is a cool pic and thanks for sharing!
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Old 09-10-09, 07:17 AM
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I know it is like questioning God to say this but -- your comments on the Harley guy and what he spent and his lack of ability --- were about like stating that about someone on a Calfee that had yet to become a seasoned rider. If they have the $$ it is irrelevant how they spend it or if their ability merits that type cash outlay.

My thoughts are: At least he is out there and home on the sofa and at least he was riding within his ability- the dragon has a number of decreasing radius turns that have brought several motorcyclist to meet their Maker

I have ridden the Dragon on both my Harley and FZ6 and you might very well catch me on the Harley because with 750# of machinery and the crazies that go to darn fast --- I go slow on that road with the big bike.

That said .... Cool Pics! in some Awesome Twisties

Peace Out...
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Old 09-10-09, 07:51 AM
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Originally Posted by bikeguy View Post
your comments on the Harley guy and what he spent and his lack of ability --- were about like stating that about someone on a Calfee that had yet to become a seasoned rider.
... you must be mistaking me for Rudy / zonatandem, the warm & fuzzy, always pleasant ambassador of tandem cycling.

He would never think of saying or posting anything like this about a newbie to cycling who bought a high-end exotic tandem as their first bike and took that to the Tail of the Dragon, me on the other hand..... I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking it even if I didn't say it.

My problem is, I don't have much of an inner voice and for better or worse I tend to speak my mind. Doesn't mean I'm always right... which may well be true of the HD rider we encountered. But as someone who's been riding motorcycles nearly as long as I've been a serious cyclist, his skills as demonstrated were incredibly weak. IMHO, his at least some of his money and time should have been spent on MSF courses or HD's equivalent coupled with gaining some proficiency in cornering on local roads BEFORE heading off to THE DRAGON with the dealer plates still on the new bike.

Seriously, anyone with enough money can go out and buy a fast car, shiny motorcycle, or lightweight bicycle and that's their perogative. But in any of those scenarios my gripes' not with how or what they spent their money ON, it's what they didn't do before jumping into the deep end of the pool with that equipment before acquiring the skills needed to do it safely.
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Old 09-10-09, 08:04 AM
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out of shape and 7,000' seem to contradict each other. I guess it's just depends upon one's perception of fitness. That being said LOVE THE PICTURES. My stoker doesn't even like to ride in the car on those roads much less consider using the tandem.
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Old 09-10-09, 08:47 AM
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Since we're a bit off topic anyway, I always wondered about the motorcycles in the TDF. It's always mentioned the speeds and how dangerous it is in some of the descents for the riders. However, the motorcycles are going just as fast with a cameraman hanging off the back. Is it easier for a motorcycle to take those turns?
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Old 09-10-09, 08:48 AM
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TandemGeek,
What day of the week did you ride? Time of day?

We have a group of 10-15 from my race team, that are going down the T.O.T.D. next month. We're leaving from Tellico Plains on 360, cutting across 411 to 72, then down 129 and back over the Cherohala Skyway. 125 miles and approx. 9000' of climbing. We do mini-camps out of Tellico all the time and are very familliar with the Skyway, but we've never rode the Dragon. Some are worried about traffic. I've contacted locals and they say we'll be fine. I may let local athorities know we'll be in the area, maybe they'll be more visable that day for us.

thanks
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Old 09-10-09, 09:13 AM
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Looks like y'all had fun at the dragon, sorry we missed it. It would have been fun trying to negotiate those turns while pulling our trailer.
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Old 09-10-09, 09:44 AM
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Very impressive TandemGeek!

RUBs riding $25k HDs without notable riding skills were ubiquitous for awhile (especially after OCC and West Coast Choppers went on air). But obviously this guy wanted to be able say to all his pals that he did the Tail of the Dragon on his Hog....




.
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Old 09-10-09, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by rmac View Post
I always wondered about the motorcycles in the TDF. It's always mentioned the speeds and how dangerous it is in some of the descents for the riders. However, the motorcycles are going just as fast with a cameraman hanging off the back. Is it easier for a motorcycle to take those turns?
From all accounts, they seem do fine on the mostly straight and rolling sections and even at moderate speeds on city streets except at the 90* turns where they must shoot ahead or fall back and find a gap that allows them to make their turn, after which they squirt back to the group they were following or simply drop back to catch the next photo op. In many cases, they'll shoot out ahead of the peloton to get themselves pre-positioned along the route so that they can pick-up the riders after technical sections or mid-way through epic descents. However, if watch the helo shots closely you'll see the moto's (at least the smart and experienced ones) drop back as they approach the switchback corners on those epic descents. In fact, you'll occasionally catch a shot or head of an report from 'race radio' of a moto running off the road at a corner, low siding deep in an apex.

Originally Posted by Shayne View Post
What day of the week did you ride? Time of day?
This time around, it was on a Monday and we probably reached the gap around 10:30am and were off shortly after 1:00pm, having taken a nice break at Deals Gap. Traffic was fairly light with a few cruisers, touring bikes and sport bikes, perhaps a dozen cars and only two of the Ricky-Racer types using the Dragon as their personal race track while we were on our way back out. One of them felt that it was important to 'buzz' us at WOT which was really special. That was the only other irritant for our trip.

We've also ridden it on a Thursday between 8:30am and 11:00am or so and, again, very light traffic. In fact, I don't believe the Photogs were even out when we did that ride and traffic was incredibly light.

As most folks on M/C forums will note, just stay the heck away after mid-day on Friday, weekends and holidays.

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Old 09-10-09, 11:15 AM
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Originally Posted by tandemracer View Post
Looks like y'all had fun at the dragon, sorry we missed it. It would have been fun trying to negotiate those turns while pulling our trailer.
Yeah, Debbie and I were wishing you were along for the ride and pulling the trailer with Audrey in it just so we would have had fighting chance of having another team with which to ride the Dragon...
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Old 09-10-09, 11:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Stray8 View Post
Very impressive TandemGeek!.
I think the only thing impressive was we never fell over once despite the lack of significant forward momentum going over and then -- more importantly -- going back over the Foothill Parkway. But, we sincerely appreciate the sentiment.

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Old 09-10-09, 11:41 AM
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Looks like you had a great time.

It is nice to hear of great rides from all over the country.

Just be careful sharing the road with motorcycles. A very good friend of mine was training in our local mountains and, as he put it, had a meeting with a Harley at the center line. He did not get out of the hospital for weeks. The guy on the Harley was uninjured.
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Old 09-10-09, 01:29 PM
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Very cool photo. Who took it? The spokes aren't even blurred. Are you sure you were moving? Maybe an unseen right-side kickstand?
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Old 09-10-09, 01:58 PM
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Originally Posted by bikeguy View Post
I know it is like questioning God to say this but -- your comments on the Harley guy and what he spent and his lack of ability --- were about like stating that about someone on a Calfee that had yet to become a seasoned rider. If they have the $$ it is irrelevant how they spend it or if their ability merits that type cash outlay.

My thoughts are: At least he is out there and home on the sofa and at least he was riding within his ability- the dragon has a number of decreasing radius turns that have brought several motorcyclist to meet their Maker

I have ridden the Dragon on both my Harley and FZ6 and you might very well catch me on the Harley because with 750# of machinery and the crazies that go to darn fast --- I go slow on that road with the big bike.

That said .... Cool Pics! in some Awesome Twisties

Peace Out...

The Harley guy was probably on the way to pick out a new sofa. :=)
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Old 09-10-09, 02:06 PM
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Originally Posted by oldacura View Post
Very cool photo. Who took it? The spokes aren't even blurred. Are you sure you were moving? Maybe an unseen right-side kickstand?
US129Photos.com, one of four or five different outfits that park themselves along the turn-outs on the Tail of the Dragon to take photos that they sell via the Web. I think we were probably doing about 25 mph at that point as we were chasing a pair of sport bikes through the twisties that passed just in front of us and out of the camera's lens. The photogs out there are very skilled at their craft and know how to frame and use the right shutter speed and aperature to catch moving vehicles in a series of shots that will yield a few nice or interesting enough for the subject to buy.

The others I know of are:

Killboy, who started the whole thing.
Zee Foto
Moonshine Photo
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Old 09-10-09, 04:53 PM
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Yo TG:
Funny! Kay also thinks of me as 'warm and fuzzy'.
My motorcycling experience is limited to doing 120 mph as a passenger coming into the straightaway after descending from Lookout Mountain in CO. Had no control as I was a hitchhiker at the time and only 20-years-old; it was fun! Also have been punched in the kidney by a motorcyclist, eons ago, in Michigan while on my PX-10. Had been adjusting my saddle and had wrench in jersey pocket; chased to the next traffic light and was going to throw wrench in his front wheel . . . he made the light, I didn't.
Have descended Kitt Peak in AZ (elev. 7,000+ ft, 7% and 11 miles of twists) on the single bike and passing a tourist in a Jeep Wagoneer that kept hitting the brakes. Friend and I thought is was safer to pass him than to suffer. Driver was quite bug-eyed when we got next to him.
Also had a car trying to pass us in the White Mountains of northern Arizona as we were descending at 50+ mph . . . seems it took forever!
Love the smiley-face!
Pedal on TWOgether!
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Old 09-10-09, 05:59 PM
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Hey Geek
If you are ever up in New England for some mountains, let me know, and I will chase you again like in PA and get some shots too! :-) I don't think Karen would be up that kind of decent. Will take a lot of coaxing. Especially after seeing someone crash this year after racing Krank the Kank. (BTW there were 2 tandems on that if your interested.)

Paul
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Old 09-10-09, 06:59 PM
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Originally Posted by zonatandem View Post
Funny! Kay also thinks of me as 'warm and fuzzy'.
That's because you ARE warm & fuzzy... analog in nature and always seeing the good in people and the bright side of life. Me, I tend to be a bit cold and prickly...

Originally Posted by zonatandem View Post
My motorcycling experience is limited to doing 120 mph as a passenger coming into the straightaway after descending from Lookout Mountain in CO.
Mine is on-going; in the first attached photo the 'single' that serves as my year-round daily driver on the left and on the right our somewhat larger and more recently added R1150RT 'tandem' that affords Debbie a far more comfy seat and riding position vs. the CBR1100XX that was put-down in December.... Photo #2: What can I say, I like bikes.

Back on topic, it's far more enjoyable and rewarding to ride the Dragon on a tandem than it is a motorcycle. As already noted, just about anyone with a few bucks can borrow or buy a motorcycle and 'ride' the Dragon. Doing it on a bicycle or tandem takes a little more effort and gumption but the payoff is AWSOME.
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Old 09-10-09, 07:09 PM
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Originally Posted by pablopsd View Post
If you are ever up in New England for some mountains, let me know, and I will chase you again like in PA and get some shots too!
It's on our bucket list. I have family in the Bennington, VT area who we're way past due to visit with. We'll let y'all know... I'm kinda thinking about doing a hybrid trip that way next year, where we'll drive to PA to visit my folks with the tandem in the truck and the RT in the trailer so that we can spend a couple days riding the big bike up to Vermont for a visit, then back to PA for some cycling and then the 12hr drive back home. Not sure when we'll make a tandem trip to the NE, but as I said, it's on our bucket list.
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Old 09-10-09, 07:23 PM
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Originally Posted by TandemGeek View Post
The twistie descents are why we go there and I found most of them to be VERY tandem friendly... so long as you feel comfortable taking corners at fairly aggressive speeds and lean angles, which is also true of riding the Dragon on a motorcycle.
My concern in limiting my speed is not so much the turn itself but what's around that turn especially if we haven't done that route before. In Bike Virginia this year a single rider hit a deer and then the tandem that was following her swerve to avoid her and sideswiped a truck.
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Old 09-10-09, 07:57 PM
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Originally Posted by rmac View Post
My concern in limiting my speed is not so much the turn itself but what's around that turn especially if we haven't done that route before. In Bike Virginia this year a single rider hit a deer and then the tandem that was following her swerve to avoid her and sideswiped a truck.
I don't disagree that you can end up in a heap load of trouble if you're on an unfamiliar road with unknown conditions, blind corners and other unk-unk hazards. Moreover, everyone simply needs to ride within their abilities and temper speed, etc. with road, traffic and weather conditions.

While the Dragon has several blind turns, most of the 'twisties' afford riders and motorists a long look at what's coming. Moreover, those very hazardous blind turns, off-camber corners and places where multiple accidents have occurred are marked by the locals who paint the letters 'S L O' on the road well ahead of those nasty spot. If a rider doesn't take a full inventory of their skills and experience on challenging terrain, or is ignorant of what happens when the road gets wet... this is not an unusual occurrence at the Dragon:

Photo below....

When a semi is discovered on the Dragon by a local or LEO headed in the same direction they'll move ahead of the truck with flashers on to warn on-coming traffic to preclude a rude discovery around a blind corner....

Photos below....

But not always, so you need to be mindful and attentive to signals given by on-coming traffic and even the photogs sitting on blind corners who will attempt to alert riders to hidden hazards, often times even going the extra mile to sweep the road of debris or put up "oil on road" warnings after an accident.

Photo below....

So, yes... there's a lot more to 'going fast' than simply pointing the bike down the road and letting 'er rip, especially when you're responsible for the safety and well-being of your stoker... and doubly-so because if you and your beloved go down hard on your tandem, who's going to nurse you BOTH back to health???
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