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600 Miles Tearing Up Some Perfectly Good Tires

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BMWRT.com note: I've been gratified that recently this Ride Tales forum has been receiving lots of hits. I feel like it's a good measure of our maturing interests. It's necessary to talk about tires and shocks and intercoms and mechanical fixes, but it's only so much chatter if it doesn't lead to riding, either together or alone.


I hope you'll take the time to tell us about your rides. I really enjoy riding and then remembering the events to tell you folks about mine. There are a bunch of faithful writers in this section, and I for one want to thank all of you.




[There are lots of picture below, so if those are more interesting to you, just skip down!]


I left home at 6:15a Saturday. Slabbed it 85 miles SE on I-24. I was going to leave later than that, but I made the mistake of pulling up the weather and saw some storms that were going to chase me, headed in the same direction, so I hurredly packed the rest of my stuff and headed out.


I love motorcycle departures of any kind, but I especially love early morning ones. There's so little traffic, the air is fresh and deep, cleansing breathes restore your peace of mind. I love the feel of a nicely loaded bike, too. It feels planted and serious. It's almost a "handling memory." When things start like this, fun is ahead.


I also love the way the bike runs. A cold engine means a rich Motronic, which seems a bit smoother and responsive. Maybe the latter is just my imagination.


I wanted to make it all the way to Sewanee, but my hurried departure hadn't left time for a fill-up before. So, I stopped about 40 miles before the destination, grabbed a granola bar, and headed back down the road. About 1 hour SE of Nashville things start to get pretty, too. You are crossing several mountain ranges. Some of you may have heard of the Monteagle pass, one of the steepest in the US. Lots of turnouts for trucks who've lost their brakes and such.


I pulled off at the Sewanee exit because I'd seen a shot on a trip in January with K2R through the backroads. I had "marked" it on the GPS. I took the exit, though, and I was immediately surprised to see a blue RT just like mine, pulling out of the Awful House! I waived, thinking it might be Larry Rudolph (LJR on the site). Sure enough! We had planned on meeting at Deal's Gap, 300 miles later, but we happened to meet here. We shook hands, and he was gracious enough to sit while I ate (since he'd already eaten). We decided to ride together down into Alabama to see if I could get that shot.


Believe me, it wasn't much of a sacrifice. The roads were spectacular, though you couldn't relax much with the gravel and humungous deer that darted across my path about 25 yards ahead.


We got to the place I was looking for (waypoints in GPS are great), but there were fences and no trespassing signs everywhere. So we saddled up and headed back up the same way, and then curved around 41 through Monteagle, Tracy City, and parts NE.


The sun didn't come out until 9:00a, but it was still a nice day. I like riding with people, and Larry was a good companion. He rode well, understood appropriate following distances, and neither of us were in a hurry. We took a beautiful route, taking pretty much all two-lane back roads for 240 miles from where we met. Through Kimball, Powell's Crossroads, Daus, Dunlap, Lewis Chapel, Soddy Daisy, Bakewell, Sale Creek, Dayton, Old Washington, Athens, and Englewood. Don't you love the names of Tennessee towns? I hadn't taken this route, and I was having fun.


We did get lost--or I should say I got lost, since I was leading--just past Englewood. It turns out they'd taken some road signs down during construction, but knowing that didn't help! After several u-turns, I finally pulled to the side of the road to ask directions from two guys on the shoulder. Something was strange right away. I pulled up, and neither of them turned around. They heard the bike, finally, and quickly exchanged money for drugs . It was totally obvious. Then they turned toward me and freaked out! I imagine the dark colored RT with Motolights and PIAAs blazing, and me dressed in a black Savannah and a dark shield on the helmet spelled "busted." The relief was palpable when all I did was ask directions!


So we found 39, finally, and what a road it was. If you ever get a chance to ride it, have fun. It extends from 411 to Tellico Plains, where the Cherohala Parkway begins at it's west end. There are few "curve speed suggestion" signs, so you've got to be a little cautious. The key is to watch the treelines, powerlines, and river for clues about how sharp the curves are. It was exquisite.


Finally we hit Tellico plains, filled up, and hopped on the Cherohala Parkway. This is less famous than the BRP (Blue Ridge Parkway) or Deal's Gap, but it's my favorite of the three. It's the kind of road that the RT is designed for. Fast sweepers with an occassional suspension test, opening and tightening radius curves. Climbing and descending. Ohhhh. I just hope you get a chance to ride it some day. Larry and I stopped at a pullout and met up with three Canadian riders. We chatted a bit and swapped photo duty of each other. Nice folks. Here's Larry on the left and me on the right. Click on each of the smaller pictures for a larger one.




From there we headed across 165 and 143 to Robbinsville, and then backtracked NW up 129, which is a great road to ride. The surface is not good, almost as if the finish layer hasn't been put on it yet, but it follows a river in a deep ravine, with green mountains on both sides. Not a car to be seen, and plenty of room to see where the curves are headed.




At the end it dumps you into Deal's Gap (picture above, with our two BMWs in the foreground). Most of you have heard of this place, probably. It's also called Tail of the Dragon, and has 318 curves in 11 miles. It's legendary in these parts, and rightly so, though it is oversold. It's this fairly isolated road that spans the NC/TN state line, just south of the Smokies. On any given weekend you can find four groups, and on a beautiful day you'll see 200-250 bikes there. The smallest group is usually BMW riders. Maybe 2 out of 100. The next largest group is Ducks and Guzzis and such. Maybe 4 out of 100. Then sportbikes, usually trailered in Friday night, and then "raced" on Saturday, comprising maybe 25 out of 100. Then Goldwings and Wing Trikes. Maybe 30 out of 100. Then weekend warriors on Harleys, the largest group. Many people come two-up, and then ride the Dragon without their passenger. Although many women riders come solo.


What makes "The Gap" good riding fodder? First off, there are a lot of bikes to see and riders to talk with. Kind of like Highland House on wheels. In fact, you can sit and watch for hours. Crazy guys on sportbikes doing wheelies uphill for 250 yards at the start of the course. The same guys doing stoppies on the way down again. The second reason is because of the curves. Of course there are many great curvy roads all over the world, but not many with this concentration of them. Third, these curves hit you at various elevations, making it even more interesting. Fourth, there are few guard rails to decapitate the errant rider. Fifth, cars are rare. Sixth, the road camber is usually friendly. Six, if you've driven all that way, you talk yourself into the fact that it's good. Here's a typical corner scenario.




I make it a point to ride it whenever I'm in the area. It's very challenging, especially on the RT. My choice would be a lighter bike with a shorter wheel base, but I don't have one, so that's that. My goal, as long as I can stay safe while doing it, is to pass a few bikes each time and not get passed by any. So far so good. It's great fun to pull into Deal's Gap on a BMW with luggage strapped to the back and wearing textiles (vs. leathers, what all real riders wear) and get totally ignored...until you start riding.


The atmosphere is a little cancerous, and you have to exercise some maturity to not get sucked in. Most people yield to adrenaline and suffer for it. Saturday, the day we were there, yielded 5 accidents! An R-1 (see below) that took a corner too wide and scrapped the bark off a tree, a guy on a Wing who lost his concentration and broke his arm (Larry and I came on that one right after it happened), a guy on a Harley who went off the road but was unhurt, someone who broke a femur on a GSX 600, and finally an older fellow who dumped his bike right in front of everyone. The day before, two Wisconsin fellows were airlifted out.




There is one particular curve on the Cherohala Parkway that has had 29 wipeouts just in April. People are equating speed with good riding, but speed is only one factor. I feel badly for these folks because they are missing the real joy of riding--staying on the road, honing instincts, learning limits, and riding for themselves, not others.


Of course the proprietors of Deal's Gap play on this bravado in the name of commerce, which strikes me as a little irresponsible. Far more people get hurt at Deal's Gap than any single track. It's just not made for this kind of running. To illustrate, here's the "Tree of Shame" right outside the room I rented, where people proudly nail parts of their bike. In a gruesome way, it's like a crucifixion of common sense, left on the tree to die.




The same religious overtones befall the daily wrecks. I call them "Altars to Appease the Motorcycle Gods." Here's one where the guy broke his femur. You can see the remaining pieces and mark on the tree to memorialize the bravery, as the rider tried to tell himself.




The campground itself is nice. I ended up knowing about 10 people, including Tom Lees and Janel, his wife, on this RT, next to their tent. We had a wonderful campfire that night and told tall tales with other riders I invited over. One was an 1100RS guy from Raleigh. Another was pretty famous Wing rider (more later), who has riden 81,000 miles in the last 15 months.




Regardless of the nitrous atmosphere of the place, there is great beauty. Here's one view peaking through the trees below.




I took that picture on my way out. Larry and I went our separate ways, he driving back to Evansville and I to Nashville. He had put a new tire on the back just before the trip, and I promised to help him break it in, which we did with gusto! Larry, it was fun to see your riding get better and better as we went along. You are a good rider. I think your work operating heavy equipment has a lot to do with that, practicing how small inputs affect the whole as a group.


I did pull away a few times to decarbonize the bike, so to speak, and one time Larry made an itneresting comment, which I thought about and grew to appreciate. He didn't say "you are fast" but "you are smooth." That's something I would like to be.


Two other things before I sign off. First, on the way home, it rained a bit. I was tooling along 30 just before Dayton, and clipped the center line. I think it was a new one, and not paint, either, but the plastic stuff they put down in strips. Of course it was wet, and I clipped it with both tires at once. And the bike immediately, in the time it takes you to blink, started to slide out from under me. I didn't touch the brakes, but I did turn the wheel just a bit to compensate for the rear sliding more than the front. It hooked up just as fast as I lost it, and no harm done. But it felt as slick as ice. I could blame it on a dozen things, but what it came down to was 100% rider error. I didn't ride that curve well and it almost grabbed me. A good reminder for the necessity of full concentration. I'd riden thousands of curves hard that weekend, but all it takes is one.


Second, I hit a massive hail storm just 3 miles from home. As the GPS wound down to home, I was watching the dark skies get darker, just hoping I'd make it. All of a sudden this huge "rock" hit my Shoei shield. I thought a car had kicked a rock up, but it turned out to be hail (the kind of hail that comes before the rain). There were about 20 cars between me and a gas station, all slowing down for a stop light. I slid narrowly between the rightmost lane and the sidewalk, and darted under the gas station overhang. Take a look at this hail. It melted a bit before I could get the picture, but you can see the circumference almost matched the size of a quarter.




I'm not sure what I would have done out on the road, unprotected. Look carefully and you can see the vertical streaks, representing the hail.




Over and out, folks. Don't forget to tell us about your rides.

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Kathy R

Wow, David, those pictures put me there! Thanks for sharing that ride and taking the time to stop to get the pictures. I never see roads like that around here.


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Great story David.

I hope to enjoy that part of the country someday.

Except for the hail part, That didn't look like any fun.

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Great post David! I really enjoyed reading it.




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Terrific write-up David! Well done. You covered some marvelous roads. That one pic on US 129, of the lake, is the same dam (I think) that was used in the filming of the motion picture "The Fugitive", where he jumped. Lots of lakes and dams and heavily forested mountains along 129. It is truly magnificent country around there. I too like the Cherahola Skyway better though for riding.


Wonderful tale. Thank you for sharing.

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Folks, you don't realize what sort of weather David rode through. The county just southeast of Nashville was on the national news due to tornados. The weather here was pretty rough over the weekend. I managed to dodge the raindrops doing some riding this weekend, but the black clouds were everywhere. The wind was blowing pretty stiffly all day too. I wish I could have made the ride, but I'm glad I didn't got caught in a hail storm or worse!

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Bill Poche

What a story and set of pics! Based on you're writing style and photographic abilities, no-one could ever argue with Larry that you aren't "smooth."


Was the laying of the hail stones on the ice machine for a photo op planned or just a cool coincidence?



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Recourses: Sounds like a great trip, loved the photos. One day I'd like to make the Gap. Thanks for the feedback about the atmosphere. I'll file that away for when I am able to make the trip. I'll file it under, "Ride your own ride or get life flighted out.shocked.gif

Edited by murrayg

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I drool at night reflecting upon the Cherohala.... and it's been a year since I played on that road. Was just thinking about how the LT would be a load of fun there too!!


Thanks for the memories!!



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Now that I read your other thread...


Will you be sending my $20 in cash or money order. No checks or plastic! smile.gif


That's too funny..."It won't rain"....then tornados, hail, people life flighted to the hospital, national news coverage...the works. David, forget about that career in meteorology! smile.gifsmile.gif

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Excellent write up Master David .

my post (if there was anything to add to that tale), would be titled

'pup rides with Big Dog'.

it was certainly a pleasure to meet and ride with you. I definitely learned a little more about what these bikes will do.

guys. I knew right away that David was a lot faster than I, but he was very easy going about it and didn't make me feel like he was waiting on me. I've never really had a chance to ride with someone who I could learn from so i've just been slowly getting used to the bike and learning as I go.

This weekend was a joy to meet some real nice people and see some real smooooth riding. I'd like to ride behind Tom for about 100 miles if he could crank it down enough to keep in sight. probably wouldn't be any fun for him but you could sure learn alot.

I found some pretty roads on the way home and only got rained on for about five minutes, I stopped under a gas station canopy and the local sherrif pulled up and told me about the tornado warnings. Saw some big storms but managed to miss them.By the time I got home I had 1014 miles for the weekend ,How could it get any better than that?

David's right, use this board to meet people and go for rides together is what it's all about.

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John Ranalletta

Just returned from a roundtripper from Indy to Orlando. I forgot how nice I-24 is from Nashville to Chatt. This trip was in a cage. Averaging 70 mph and making the trip in 14 hours qualifies for stick time, I think.


Hopefully, the next will be on the RT. Thanks for the report.

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Actually I-24 is usually pretty heavily traveled. You should try the new state 840 that runs from I-40 around Nashville to I-65 (with plans to make it a full loop). You might see 2 cars, and I've never seen a cop out there. I was running 110 indicated out there yesterday on the nice new smoothly paved blacktop. It's like gliding on rails.

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Thanks for the increibly communicated impressions, David.


And thanks for further opening up to people that regions. I consider its the finest riding region in the US. Regardless of one's style of riding, most of the roads will accommodate it and return a superb experience. And, dozens upon dozens seem made for just what you want to do.


How I have been most effected by it is that while I really, really love to ride, carving corners precisely hour after hour, I found far to many "picnic spots" to nap in to turn that opportunity into a reality.


Thanks for reviving those fond memories, David.

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In reply to:

...I also love the way the bike runs. A cold engine means a rich Motronic, which seems a bit smoother and responsive. Maybe the latter is just my imagination...

My exact same feeling.. so it's not your imagination, nor mine...


Excellent writeup - a pleasure to read. I'm out of here for a ride...

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