“Travelling by car is like watching a movie, riding a motorcycle is like being in a movie.”
— Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
There are wonderful destinations within a half-day’s drive in Western North Carolina and many paths to get there. As an avid rider, I believe that the optimum way to arrive is aboard a motorcycle.
Robert Louis Stevenson’s agile mind created fiction full of adventure, just right for movies. Surely he must have ridden a motorcycle, because he wrote, “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” To focus on the journey’s end is missing the point entirely. Traveling by two wheels, you don’t just observe the beauty of the mountains, you drive within it. You are exposed to the outdoors in ways not possible while sealed within a car.[mepr-rule id=”2467″ ifallowed=”hide”]
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Your nose detects freshly mown grass, pungent honeysuckle blossoms and the balsam-infused, cool of a mountaintop. Motorcyclists also see more. Looking up, hawks are found riding thermals, a turn of the head is rewarded with the sight of rushing water shielded by a stand of rhododendron. At every mountain turn, the views are different, sometimes valley, sometimes wooded, and long-range vistas are everywhere.
If you’ve become an occasional rider who takes the bike for an annual one hour outing up the Blue Ridge Parkway and back, you really are missing out on something special. Riders from all over the world come to the Appalachian range to get their fill of the unrefined beauty while piloting the bounty of twisty mountain roads.
The continuous tight curves of some two lanes—such as 209 between Trust and Hot Springs—can sicken automotive passengers in a heartbeat, turning the first trip into their last.
The same route, traveled by motorcycle, is akin to flying in two dimensions. No longer a four-wheeler fighting the road, on a bike you and machine effortlessly bend into the corners—it’s lyrical.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is extremely scenic, and the corners numerous, but, on weekends, it becomes tedious with traffic. A satellite view of The Southern Appalachian mountains reveals a different and dense web of sinuous asphalt ribbons—this is where you want to ride.
You’re up for it, but how do you decide on a route? Sure, you can just launch into the country turning whichever way you choose, but that gets old after a dozen U-turns on dead end roads.
There are a few resources available. GPS and smartphones are great tools once you’re lost, but they can’t help you select the optimum two wheel roads. The “Motorcycle Adventures” series of books by Hawk Hagebak are a good start, as are DeLorme’s Gazetteer guides, which show every road, including gravel, within any state.
There are also motorcycle specific maps which depict routes containing an abundance of corners on good surfaces, views and most of all, low traffic. MadMaps.com publishes back road motoring maps for every portion of the United States. BlueRidgeDrives.com, sponsored by McDowell County, depicts back road rides north of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Perhaps the most useful printed guides for motorcycling in the Appalachians are created by a Waynesville, North Carolina company, America Rides Maps. Superior motorcycle roads on ARM maps are color coded for ease of route planning, and in addition, include the locations of bathrooms, gas stations and camping areas.
If you need an excuse to go riding, make one up:
Meet friends for breakfast on Mt. Pisgah, or some town an hour away;
Take an Ashe County tour of Barn Quilts; those quilt block paintings on the side of barns (www.ashecountyarts.org);
Ride as many peaks above 3,000 feet as you can in a day;
Visit NC, TN, VA, and KY in one day;
Make up a diner tour or a homemade pie tour with an ice cream diversion;
Pack your camping gear and bed down somewhere new for a night.
Traveling two lane roads, don’t expect five star restaurants. Many of the small mountain towns are centered around a tiny grocery story, filling station and post office, all located in the same building. Culinary choices may appear slim, but the road less traveled does have its rewards, if your tastes are flexible. On a recent trip through Mountain City, Tennessee we discovered a diner located on the bottom floor of an old house, two blocks off the main road. Great food, great people and they had espresso, almost nonexistent in the hills of Eastern Tennessee.
After piloting the curvaceous 261 out of Baskerville, North Carolina, which summits Roan Mountain, we were hungry. A sign on 19E pointed us to Smoky Mountain Bakers, located behind a white farmhouse, where a brick, wood-burning oven pumps out the best pizza we’ve eaten in years. Enjoy the gooey slices on handcrafted dough while on the deck surrounded by the mountains.
If you’re inspired to travel our twisty treasures, we have to ask: how are your cornering skills? 37%* of motorcycles fatalities are single vehicle, and the result of poor cornering technique.
If you like your present looks, we suggest you keep them in tact by owning:
D.O.T. approved helmet;
Motorcycle-specific pants and jacket with armor at the: knees, hips, elbows, shoulders and back;
Full-fingered leather motorcycle gloves;
Boots: over the ankle, preferable higher with armor at the shins and ankle.
Having gear is great, but only works if you wear it. Insurance statistics show that most crashes occur within 5 miles of home, so don’t be tempted to leave the armor in the garage when just running to the store. ATGATT: all the gear, all the time.
Before venturing out, remember to check the bike; the acronym TCLOCS helps:
Tires and wheels: no dents in wheels, no cracks in tires, air pressure to within +/- 1 psi of bike manufacturer’s specification;
Controls: levers, switches, cables and throttle;
Lights: headlights, turn signals, and horn should work;
Oil and fluids: check for levels and leaks
Chassis: suspension and drive: chain, belt, and driveshaft;
Stands: side or center stand, does it retract fully?
Once on the road, remember that 90% of motorcycling is from the neck up. Eyes scan the traffic, looking well down the road to spy any challenges, this allows you to react in time.
Good cornering technique requires continuous eye work, riders need to keep their gaze as far down the path of travel as possible, observing changing road conditions nearby, switching back to the long range focus as quickly as possible. The bike will always go where you’re looking. Fixate on the side of the road long enough, and that’s where you’ll end up. Your focus should always be as far down your projected path as conditions will allow.
While your eyes are doing their job, the rest of your body should be at work as well. If you’ve taken any Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) courses, you’re familiar with the phrase, ‘Slow-Look-Press-Roll’.
Slow: adjust your pace to appropriate corner entry speed.
Look: focus your eyes as far into the corner as possible.
Press: push your inside handgrip into the corner— right to go right, left to go left.
Roll: roll on enough throttle to stabilize the bike, hold what you’ve got, then accelerate to resume your straight-line speed when you have the corner made.
Remember to keep your hands and arms loose—rigid bodies do not react smoothly to the rapidly changing road conditions. When you feel tense, grip the tank with your legs instead, take a breath, and relax your hands. While practicing cornering, it’s best to concentrate on one thing at a time to avoid overloading yourself, which makes your body tense, the antithesis of smooth cornering.
For one leg of a trip, pay strict attention to your eye work, striving to look far into the corners and way down the road. When your eyes feel dialed-in, concentrate on your hands. Are they tense? Are you pressing into the corner with the inside grip? If your bike feels unsteady mid corner, there’s a good chance one hand is fighting the other. Strive to use pressure from only the inside hand while cornering. If you feel tense: breathe, squeeze the tank with your knees, and wiggle your fingers.
Motorcycling rewards riders who strive to be lifelong learners. Absorb as much as you can by taking any of the different types and levels of motorcycle classes available. Rider education reinforces the applicable muscle memory in a controlled setting, keeping your reflexes sharp. You always learn something new.
Ready to go? Check your gear and your bike, then head out on the amazing backroads of the Appalachian Mountains secure that your training will help keep you safe to ride again.
Accelerating out of a tight corner, the barrier between man and machine evaporates. Two wheels dance through the rhythmic curves, made particularly special when there is so much beauty to enjoy. The curtains are opening onto a brilliantly sunny day… let the movie begin.[/mepr-rule]