Safety on the Dragon

In my five short years here at the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, I think I've just about seen it all: three and four-wheeled motorcycles, dogs on bikes, custom bikes, naked runs, group runs, etc. I've also been privy to just about every wreck imaginable. Car on car, bike on car, bike on bike, bike on animal, just a bike, rinse and repeat. I've seen bikes hanging from trees, hanging off the mountain, in water, and jammed under guard rails. I've even seen just about every type of wind animal including pigs, deer, bear, turkey by the dozens, bobcats, panthers, wolves, and coyotes.

Not to sound bulletproof, but I really do think I've seen just about all that can come out of the dangerous curves of the mountains, and more specifically US 129. The Dragon is her name, not the Dragon's Tail, or the Trail, or the name of a local e-commerce website with the word Tail in front of it. The road's name is simply the Dragon, or for seasoned riders, Deals Gap.

The Gap has been a motorcycle mecca for some time, though many knew nothing about it until the interweb gave it more notoriety in the early part of 2002 and on. Between websites and chat forums, the allure of one of the most challenging roads made it the place to be, and the crowds kept coming. Each rider went home with an opinion—most had good times—and they shared their thoughts and feelings with as many as they could, further spreading the gospel known as the Dragon. The Dragon has become an integral part of a summer vacation, a great stop on a road trip, and to most riders a place to congregate with like-minded people.

Since the dramatic increase in traffic, many of the experienced Gap riders have tried hard to get the word out to as many visitors as they could regarding etiquette in the mountains. More often than not, I've seen riders get together to talk about their last pass and what can be improved upon or changed. Almost 99 percent of the time, the input is taken well, but there's always that one person who's not interested in anything but three feet around him or her. Either way, the conversation usually falls under one of two categories: Ride your own ride, and stay in your own lane. I've always liked the thought of adding the term "personal discretion" in there, but haven't quite figured out how to pass that nugget on just yet.

Riding your own ride is pretty simple and it holds true for anywhere and anytime. All you really need to know is the destination and you are set. Riding your own ride means you're not trying to keep up with someone else's pace if it's above your abilities, a common problem in the testosterone-laden sport bike world. Another scenario in this category is the faster rider coming up behind you, and the pushee feels the need to wick it up just a bit to try to get away or stay ahead. In reality, a rider under control and with no egocentric issues will be more than happy to let the faster rider pass when he feels comfortable. Not everyone is at the same skill level, and up in the mountains there is little room to correct, so riding at your own pace and giving everyone equal space is one of the best ways to stay out of trouble. At the store, we've seen both sides of the coin and the smart ones are still able to improve their skills at a reasonable progression within their abilities instead of trying to learn while keeping up to other riders.

The second rule is another tough one, but it's one that everyone should be diligent with, and that is stay in your lane. This is one that gets many folks on the Dragon, and the most important rule to try to adhere to. Yep, it might be faster to straighten out some of the turns but is it safe? And more importantly, aren't you up there to ride curves? I will be the first to admit that I've shaved a couple of turns here and there, and every time I've done it, I would wonder. There have been so many bad head-ons that I can't count them anymore. Just recently, there was a rider heading east over Foothills, and came across someone trying to move a snake from the road. The bike swerved into the oncoming lane to miss the snake charmer and out of nowhere a minivan came around the corner and took the bike out. It was all over in a split second and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Rider and passenger are okay, but the rider needed two surgeries to get on the mend. The end result can be serious and it affects others, too, not just the rider.

Of course there are other factors like time of day and how much traffic is in the mountains. Picking a time slot to ride is getting tougher still with all the increased traffic, but there are many slots still good for spirited sport biking on all these twisty roads without putting you or others at danger. If you do find yourself in heavier traffic, one of the best things to remember is that you can always ride the next pass, or the following day. To put pressure on yourself and subsequently the others around you could be a recipe for disaster. Whatever you decide to do, remember above all this is supposed to be fun and it quickly changes if you damage yourself, your bike, or someone else.

There are no trophies up here at the store, so don't come looking for one. Be safe, folks.

Ben Steinberg hails from Canada and is an experienced racer, with many years racing everything from two-strokes to superbikes and even F-1 sidecars. Currently, Ben is employed as the general manager of the Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort, just over the state line in North Carolina.