How To Survive the "Tail of the Dragon" at Deals Gap
Welcome to my "How To Survive the Tail of the Dragon" page. Deal's Gap (a.k.a... the Tail of the Dragon) is arguably the finest motorcycle road in the US. It is located in the beautiful Smoky Mountains at the Tennessee / North Carolina Border, where US 129 intersects NC 28. For a map of the area, Click HERE The numbers speak for themselves... 318 turns in 11 miles and not a single curve is like the previous. Riding the Dragon is a lot of fun. Riding it fast is a challenge which brings warriors from all over the world to try their skills against it... including me. Crashes are common on EVERY given weekend (as the Tree of Shame bares witness, pic right) and more than a few have lost their lives while doing battle. First timers should be cautious..
IMHO.. Speeding on a motorcycle should be done only in an appropriate venue by experienced motorcyclists who know their own (and their bike's) limitations. The rider should ask himself.. "Would I be able to live with both the legal and physical consequences and ramifications should things go horribly wrong?" Think about it.. Is it worth it? To some of us the answer is.. Yes.. Absolutely. Remember your actions affect not only you, the rider but also your friends, family, ex-wives and their lawyers. And so it is written..
BTW... The wordage below is an accumulation of proven helpful tips contributed by a vast group of experienced and seasoned riders who have ridden the Dragon. Some are obvious... some not. My hope is that after perusing these tips, at the very least, you'll be a safer, more informed Dragon fighter. Please.. Feel free to print this list out and share with as many people as you wish...
Thanks to all my riding brethren for the insightful contributions..If you want to contribute something new, send your tip to firstname.lastname@example.org
Note for the simple minded: Jerry (a.k.a. Pirate) Finley, Pirates' Lair, Pirates' Lair staff members, and/or any of the contributing participants of this page do not "officially" endorse breaking any traffic or speed laws no matter how much fun that might be... Speeding is wrong and we do not endorse or promote any illegal activities.. except an occasional joint which we sincerely believe is good for the soul.. .
1. Always check your
tire pressure before a run on the Dragon. It will never be as important
3. Stay in YOUR lane. and there are a few good reasons... some
obvious.. some not. (1). Yes, you might shave a hair off your time by
"cross-laning", but keep this in mind... Riding the Dragon fast
takes 100% concentration. If you are drifting across lanes and there happens
to be another rider coming the opposite direction, as soon as he sees
you in HIS lane.. he may lose HIS concentration and perhaps go down or
take you down. His life is not worth your 1 second of shaved time. (2)
you may take out somebody else, and (3).. You could die.
7. If you are not feeling 100%.. both physically and mentally... sit this one out...The Dragon senses your weaknesses and will strike if you are vulnerable. Trust me or not.
8. Braking!!! Ideally.. you should not have to use your brakes at all if you keep your bike in the right gear with the engine spinning at the right speed. On a good day, I can ride the Dragon at full tilt and only hit my brakes 3-4 times in all 311 curves. Why? Because the bike is in the correct gear. This is a personal issue. Many track schools teach one way.. some teach others. If I have to brake, I try to have ALL done before dropping into a curve. My personal opinion for getting in and out of a curve as quickly and "efficiently" as possible is... shift weight/brake/downshift/steering input/open throttle. If corrections have to be made mid-corner.. I use either ONLY the rear or if I have too much speed.. BOTH.. never just the front in mid-curve or you have a good chance of lowsiding.
9. Rather than riding full out and trying to make better times (if that is your goal...) work on your technique at slower speeds. Hanging off, throttle control, corner exiting, etc.. Like martial arts.. once you master the technique.. the speed will come. THINK about what you are doing, analyze AFTER the ride, then practice.
10. Never ride at 10/10ths. There are too many variables. The Dragon is not a track and conditions change quickly. Shadows will strain your vision, gravel (while not common) appears after rains in some curves, furry little critters scramble out in front of the unsuspecting, a shady area may still be wet if early, and sometimes you'll find oil or antifreeze where a cage has either spewed or another rider has crashed.. Give yourself at least 1-2 second padding for emergencies or line corrections.
11. Many SUV's, pick-ups, etc have large mirrors that stick waaay out. If you are hugging the center line and hanging off.. your head may come into close contact with these mirrors..not a good thing unless you want to eat pudding and drool for the rest of your life. Try to stay centered or to the outside of your lane if possible.
12. Dont go blowing by the overlook....bikes and cars are always pulling in and out... and coppers too............Contributed by Patrick Jennings
13. Ride the Dragon on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, fewer bikes and fewer police. I first rode the dragon 10 years ago when it was still fairly unknown. Speed limit was 55 with nary a cop in sight. Now police jump out of the woods taking video and speed limit is down to 35. Contributed by Pete Osta / Raleigh,NC
14. Check your mirrors before you pull out for a pass/overtake, so you don't get zapped by a 23 year old on an R1. Contributed by Ozy / France
15. Avoid the painted lines when the pavement is wet. They are extremely slippery.
16. Do NOT sightsee!. The Dragon is to ride, not to watch the sights. On many runs I don't even see what is on the side of the road. I'm watching the roadway ahead.
17. The road crews usually work on the eroded shoulders after the summer peak is over. They have a way to use gravel in places that need it. Unfortunately, they pile the gravel on asphalt patches in the broken pavement spots on the inside radius of the turns. The first cage that comes along will scatter the gravel out to the center of the curve. Be extremely careful!! Be sure you can avoid the gravel or you'll take the ball bearing ride of your life! Contributed by Wade Davis / Ocala, Florida
18. FATALITIES: According to the official Dragon website...."Every death that we know of on the Dragon occurred while riders were NORTHBOUND !" Hmmmm Contributed by Drew Bland / Evansville, In
19. Braking Part II: Its not braking thats offing these riders, its the speed of modern day bikes & corner entry speed of inexperienced riders that have the cheap seats calling their names. If youre braking hard @ the Gap, youre riding it incorrectly. If you ride the Dragon (or track) well/correctly, youll be in the correct gear to allow engine braking to ensure your longevity as well as trail braking when necessary. On the K1200RS as an example, youll want to be @ 6-7K RPM in 2nd or 3rd gear, & hang off for best results. Contributed by Vic Saleeeme / Concord, Mass
20. Before any speed runs.. make one complete circuit from Deal's Gap to Tabcat Bridge and back at slow speeds to check out road conditions, traffic, location of Barney Fife, etc. Make note of gravel on the road, crowds at the overlook, wet spots and so on. Contributed by Dale Wolf Sarasota, FL
21. Pay attention to your mirrors. When a headlight comes up into your mirrors immediately act to help the faster rider get around. If you need to demonstrate to that faster rider behind you your comparative speed you can do so by helping her/him pass & then upping yours & keeping your headlight in her/his mirrors. That rider will definitely notice. That rider will definitely respect your obvious respect for the old, local rules. That rider may well down the road, assuming you've actually got the stuff to stick for a mile or so, wave you back thru so she/he can enjoy the company of another capable cognoscenti. Contributed by old geezer, Bart Lee
22. On the gap road those riders who attempt to impress a faster rider coming up behind by speeding up & trying to make the faster rider's pass more difficult & less safe, do, in fact, make an impression. It's analogous to cutting a huge fart at dinner table. Contributed by old geezer, Bart Lee
That's it, gang. Good luck and be safe. Remember ...try to project a positive image.....you are representing ALL motorcyclists to the non-riding mortals who move amongst us. Enjoy!