Tail of the Dragon, Head, Back, and Claw

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The Famous Tail of the Dragon (AKA The Dragon’s Tail)

If you ride a motorcycle and have not heard of the Tail of the Dragon or Dragon’s Tail, the first thing you need to do is hang your head in shame, then you need to take your motorcycle keys and give them to a friend until you read this article and atone for your insulting lack of basic motorcycle road knowledge!!!  And, of course you know I’m kidding but really, if you haven’t heard of the Tail of the Dragon or just don't know much about it, this is your chance to catch up and learn about what is most likely the world’s most famous motorcycle ride.

Tail of the Dragon – twisty motorcycle ride in Tennesee

The Dragon Motorcycle Road in Tennessee

This road has become an iconic fixture among motorcycle riders in America and for many riders in the world as it has been enshrined by a catchphrase for decades that describes very simply, and succinctly why so many riders have come to love the Tail of the Dragon.  That catchphrase is  “318 Curves in 11-Miles” … that’s all that need to be said for many motorcycle riders!!!  And, it is that little moniker that has helped this ride capture riders’ attention and draw them to the relatively short stretch of road in Southeastern Tennessee for decades and giving the 11-mile motorcycle ride essentially a cult like following.  The route however has had a few “messaging glitches” over the years as its names seem to continually evolve and morph over time.   What I mean by this is locally the route is marked as TN State Route 115, and it also belongs to a much longer stretch of road that is referred to as Alcoa Highway, and yet it also is official designated US Hwy 129.  These are all the official government names that technically (at least portions of them) are referring to a stretch of road that motorcycle riders have nicknamed - The Tail of the Dragon.  But even that nickname is not “settled-science” as years ago the route was often informally referred to by the name of its southern most point which is called Deals Gap.  Somewhere along the line, riders started referring to it, because of the road’s crazy curves that some riders started to remark that the road’s path resembled the spikey tail of mythical dragons ... and so it started to become known as The Tail of the Dragon or The Dragon’s Tail.  And yet, the name, in some circles still has further evolved where it is simply referred to as The Dragon.  So whether you call the road TN Route 115, The Alcoa Highway, US Hwy 129, Deals Gap, The Tail of the Dragon, The Dragon’s Tail, or simply The Dragon, one thing is for sure – this is simply the most famous motorcycle ride in the world!  The route is describe beautifully on MotorcycleRoads.com and its description page is loaded with great rider comments and ratings, with photos, and videos offering you other riders’ thoughts on this epic American motorcycle ride.  And don’t sell this road short (let’s just stick with calling it the Tail of the Dragon for the rest of this article) as it is also insanely popular with other driving communities such as sports car drivers and other forms of sport vehicles such as Polaris Slingshots and Can-Am Spyders.

Note: Although the MotorcycleRoads.com rankings are always changing & being updated, the Tail of the Dragon is typically the #1 rated motorcycle ride in the USA.  An updated listing of the USA's Best Motorcycle Rides is always maintained on MotorcycleRoads.com where you can see the hotest motorcycle roads and rides in the USA, Canada, and in a number of countries around the world.  


photo of a curve along the Dragon's Tail motorcycle ride in Tennessee

Tail of the Dragon Motorcycle Ride Has Minions Sprouting Up Around the Country

As a testament to oversized influence of this one, measly little 11-mile motorcycle road, in a little traveled remote section of Southeastern Tennessee, this beast of a motorcycle road, it seems has grown and begun to propagate as it has begun spawning some offsprings all around the country in locations such as nearby Georgia, Alabama, Virginia, and West Virginia but also as in places as far away as Ohio, Arkansas, and Wisconsin. At the time of the of this article (Aug 2020) a quick search on MotorcycleRoads.com reveals there are 11 other motorcycle routes registered with the name “Dragon” in their titles.  Those routes are listed below.

 

  1. Georgia's Dragon - The Suches Loop
  2. Claw of the Dragon - Outer Loop
  3. Alabama's "Mini-Dragon" to 29 Dreams
  4. Fat Daddy's "little Tennessee dragon"
  5. "The Tennessee Baby Dragon" - Hwy 232
  6. TN 360 - Skyway to the Dragon
  7. The Arkansas Dragon - Hwy 123
  8. Head of the Dragon
  9. Ohio's Dragon's Tail
  10. The Ohio Cousin of the "Tail of the Dragon"
  11. Back of the Dragon
  12. Wisconsin's Route 33 - The Little Deals Gap of the Mid-west!

 

And, I suppose I should mention there is even a very distant cousin, or maybe I should say ‘diminutive mutant’ of a related motorcycle ride located in, of all places, Kansas City, called … are you ready for this? … The Tail of the Newt!)


tail of the dragon and back and head and claw

The World-Famous Tail of the Dragon Motorcycle Road … now has other Dragon pieces being revealed around the country

Not only has the Dragon’s influence spawned informally “Dragon” or “Tail” associated motorcycle routes around the country but also, a few have been formally established by local tourism committees and some by state governments as well.  In fact, there are three particularly formally established routes bearing names associating themselves with the original Tail of the Dragon route.  Two of these routes are found in Southwestern Virginia and one is found in Southwestern West Virginia.  They are briefly described below and each description includes a link to the motorcycle route’s official website describing the Dragon’s Tail associated motorcycle rides:

claw of the dragon motorcycle ride

Claw of the Dragon - Motorcycle Ride in Virginia

-The Claw of the Dragon is found in the southwestern corner of Virginia and technically a collection of Multiple riding loops.  The official Claw of the Dragon website describes the largest loop, called the Outer loop, as the 237-mile path that and encompasses five smaller, inner loops.  The five smaller, inner loops are 1) The Bland Loop at 94-miles, 2) The Wytheville Loop at 62-miles, 3) The Galax Loop at 60-miles, 4) The Marion Loop at 138-miles, and 5) The Bastian Loop at 82-miles.  The various loops cover approximately 350-miles of roads and going through seven different Virginia counties.  
 
 
Head of the dragon motorcycle ride

Head of the Dragon - Motorcycle Ride in West Virginia 

-The Head of the Dragon is a 91-mile loop traveling through the very Southwest corner of West Virginia traveling among the Appalachian mountains and is described as taking about 3 and a half hours to complete.  The local Council of the Southern Mountains hosts an annual Head of the Dragon ride each year in September.  The route’s official website has great information on the route, photos, videos and includes an extensive article that was published in Wing World magazine. 
 
 
back of the dragon motorcycle ride

Back of the Dragon - Motorcycle Ride in Virginia

-The Back of the Dragon is just located in the southwestern corner of Virginia and actually is looped by the Outer Loop of the Claw of the Dragon described above.  This route, like the Tail of the Dragon itself, is a non-loop, yet is approximately three-times the length of the tail of the dragon at 32-miles in total.  In those 32-miles are purpotedly 438-curves and the drive takes riders up to elevations of 3,500 feet above sea level … contrast that with the Tail of the Dragon that travels generally at an elevation of about 1,200-1,600 feet above sea level.  The route also has a first-class official website built to provide riders with more information.