March 2013

Motorcycle Ride Review: Surviving All 318 Turns of the Tail of the Dragon on a Motorcycle

Tail of the Dragon in November

Tucked into the rolling hills near Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits an 11-mile stretch of road known to many as the Tail of the Dragon. It’s legendary for its ability to test motorsport enthusiasts’ skill, whether they ride motorcycles or drive sports cars, thanks to 318 tight, winding turns in rapid succession. There was even a novel written in 2012 about this thing.

The point is, it’s not a challenge to take lightly. Many riders and drivers have met misfortune on this road either because of mistakes or just plain bad luck, and the road isn’t a track. If you wipe out it can take an ambulance 20 minutes just to get to you, and there’s no cell phone reception to call them anyway. And that’s assuming you don’t slide off the hill into the brush where they can’t find you at all.

Challenge Accepted

So, Tail of the Dragon is famous, it’s dangerous, and bestows bragging rights on those who make it through. Obviously it had been on my bucket list for a while. So when the opportunity to ride Tail of the Dragon presented itself last fall, I was in.

The cool early November day was warmed by a bright sun that quickly burned off the area’s signature smoky fog. At 10 a.m. I arrived in Maryville, Tennessee, to pick up a black and chrome Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic from Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson and was on the road by 11 a.m. They like their Harley’s in Tennessee, and the expansive store was a clear sign. It had a rustic country theme with a restaurant in back and a concert venue in the parking lot!