Deals Gap, near the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a motorcyclist's dream.
Story by Ron Johnson
Only one piece of asphalt has a reputation as the best motorcycling road in the United States — the 11-mile stretch at Deals Gap known as the Tail of the Dragon. Why? How about 318 curves with no two alike, no intersecting roads, clean pavement, no development and very little traffic (other than the two-wheeled kind).
Summer weekends bring thousands of riders to the Dragon as it becomes a cycling enthusiast’s museum-in-motion, with a variety of machines ranging from one-of-a-kind classics to the latest creations of custom builders like Jamie James.
The 10S headset from Sena Technologies allows you to keep your hands on the handlebar while navigating the many curves of Deals Gap.
Identified on maps as Deals (no apostrophe) Gap, this mountain passage, originally a buffalo trail, was paved and designated as US 129 in 1934. Known only to local hunters and bootleggers for decades, it was home to scenes from the 1958 movie Thunder Road and the 1972 cult classic Two Lane Blacktop, but nationwide attention didn’t begin until 1992 when a major bike magazine article brought its greatness to light.
Recent popularity of the Tail of the Dragon has raised the term “cycle friendly” to new heights on both sides of the mountain. Many motorcycle resorts have been born and more are planned, and existing businesses now cater to this new breed of tourist. You can even order a photo of yourself in action on the Dragon from Killboy.com.
Deals Gap is home to a growing number of motorcycle resorts and other cycle-friendly businesses.
When it comes to great roads in the area, the Dragon is only the beginning. The Cherohala Skyway, with its mile-high mountain vistas, offers 50 miles of challenging, sweeping curves, and state Route 28 near Fontana Dam has been designated the Hellbender. Unbeatable dualsport riding on forest service roads is available everywhere. Vintage cycle lovers can’t miss the Wheels Through Time Museum in nearby Maggie Valley, North Carolina, home to more than 250 rare antique American motorcycles. And there’s so much more …
Sound too good to be true? It’s actually better than words can describe. Come ride it and see for yourself.
Smoky Mountain Breakdown: From Knoxville, Tennessee — 42 miles south on US 129. From Asheville, North Carolina — 97 miles west.
Where: The Tail of the Dragon is located on the North Carolina/Tennessee state line on US 129 along the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
When: US 129 is open year-round, but winter weather can make it impassable for a day or two at a time. The best riding is April through October.
Why: Best motorcycle road in America, always a parade to watch and plenty of motorcycle-friendly businesses.
Best-kept secrets: First 6 miles of state Route 28 heading south from US 19/74. Almost as good as the Dragon, but watch for pavement heaves.
Scenic routes: Anywhere you ride in any direction for hundreds of miles.
Avoid: Weekends if you don’t like crowds, but avoid weekdays if you want to see the show.
More information: TailoftheDragon.com provides maps, weather, accommodation information, road information, photos and more.
Other websites of interest: SmokyMountains.org, GrahamCountyTravel.com, Killboy.com, and WheelsThroughTime.com