The Dragon – Legendary Motorcycle Ride
The Tail of the Dragon, also known as simply “The Dragon” (or by a name that seems to be fading away over the years – Deal’s Gap (see the other names the road goes by)) is the most famous motorcycle road in the world. Having typed that, there isn’t a fool proof method for me to prove that but I can tell you that it is regularly the #1 rated route on MotorcycleRoads.com (you can always see an updated listing of the best motorcycle roads in the USA). Despite the mega-size fame that it enjoys, it is not a long route by any means but actually a peculiarly short route at only 11-miles. But, never is the Dragon’s road length to be mention without including the number of curves as has been immortalized by its obligatory catchphrase – “318 curves in 11 miles!” But despite the motorcycle ride length’s ‘small stature,’ the route draws countless numbers of riders AND drivers of all types of vehicles to include sports cars, Slingshots, Can-Am Spyders, etc., etc. The Dragon has been featured on MotorcycleRoads.com for many years and has accumulated a 100s of reviews which include rider comments and advice (note: they are ordered by the comments riders find to be most helpful so you won’t have to sift through hundreds to find the best), photos and videos. The Dragon always competes well with its main competitors being: The Three Sisters in Texas, The Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia & North Carolina, and Beartooth Pass on the Wyoming & Montana border.
What do you call the most famous motorcycle road in the world?
Over the years I have heard so many different names for this road, I wanted to come up with a way of determining if there is one that is simply more common/popular than the others. As I say in the intro paragraph, the route goes by many many names: The Tail of the Dragon, The Dragon, Deals Gap, The Dragon’s Tail. This is not to mention that the route officially has none of those names per the Federal or State/Local governments. But, even that is a confusing topic as it is designated by the Federal Government as US Hwy 129. However, it is designated by the state of Tennessee as Route 115. And, yet you will find that it also is a section of the Alcoa Highway. Setting aside the government references to this name, I determined that a fair and objective measure of what the route is called by most people could be resolved by turning to the all powerful and mighty Google. So what I did was perform searches on each one of the names and recorded the results (When you do a search on Google, it displays the number of websites/pages it has registered for that search phrase). So to do this, I searched on each of the names (i.e., Tail of the Dragon, Deals Gap, The Dragon, and The Dragon's Tail) and specifically added to each of the searches the phrase "motorcycle road" ... so for example, to see the search results for Tail of the Dragon I searched I entered “The Tail of the Dragon motorcycle road” and documented the results. The reason for adding this extra search phrase was to attempt to weed out false results. For example, when I run a search simply on the phrase: “Tail of the Dragon” I get 204 MILLION RESULTS (as opposed to the search on "Tail of the Dragon motorcycle ride" that produces only 1,990,000 ... only 1% of the larger results)! This includes results for websites that cover information on mythological dragon’s there tails and even things like the tails of Komodo Dragons!). So after searching on all the names of this famous motorcycle road floating around out there, here are the results:
Enter The Dragon!
So after answering the question as to what is the most common name for the most popular motorcycle road in the world, I want to make sure you understand just a little bit about how the road got the name and explain a little about the confusion around the name. I say a little, because I simply only know a little about this (so if you are someone who has some good knowledge of this, please contact me by clicking on the Feedback button at the top of the site and sending me a message…I’ll update the article as more info comes in). But what I do know is that originally, the route went by the simpler name Deals Gap. The term “Gap,” by the way, is a term used to mark a low area between two high mountain peaks and many roads that pass through mountainous areas will designate a point along the path where the road reaches its highest altitude typically as it passes over a “gap” (or “pass”) in between higher surrounding mountain peaks (the Cumberland Gap comes to mind as a famous/key-historical “gap” in the USA). This route began attracted riders simply on word of mouth (keep in mind, this is long before the Internet was around to make information like this much more easily accessible) and somewhere along the line the notion that the route followed the path of the spikes on the tail of a dragon began to become a common sentiment and therefore – The “Tail of the Dragon” started to take hold. Over the years as the word of this route started to spread, the association with this route’s curvy path to a dragon’s tail has become more lost, and the Dragon aspect of the name has shown more staying power and so the name has been shortened and – “The Dragon” has, by far, become the most dominant title applied to this world famous motorcycle road as reflected in the chart above.
The Dragon Motorcycle Ride’s Location
The Tail of the Dragon is located in southeastern Tennessee and technically starts at the Tennessee, North Carolina border on US 129. Note: It is a common misnomer that part of it is in North Carolina but as I said, it actually starts on the Tennessee side of the NC/TN border and goes north into TN. For the longest time on this website, I had it listed as comprising of road in both states but have cleaned that fact up recently. (Keep in mind however, that since its southern endpoint is on the border that many motorcycle riders get to it from North Carolina and by the fact that motorcycle riders riding south inevitably end up in North Carolina as they complete the route, it does have the feel that it is in both states). If you are starting the route at that southern most point (TN/NC border) you’ll technically be at a place marked as Deal’s Gap on most maps. Traveling from there North, along those precious 11-miles, and blissful 318 curves, you’ll be in the midst of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Cherokee National Forest. The scenery in the local area is truly beautiful but truth be told, the scenery along the actual Tail of the Dragon drive will be muted as the route is nestled in thick forest with minimal opportunities for expansive views of the local area’s mountains. But that really doesn’t matter as riders who have ridden the Dragon will tell you, you simply will have to keep your eyes on the road, its curves, and other traffic as it is too technical to take chances gazing at the scenery because you might end up becoming one of the Dragon’s statistics if you do so.
The Dragon Motorcycle Ride – Slayer of Many Motorcycle Riders
On that point, the Dragon motorcycle ride slays it’s share of riders each year! On the topic of safety, motorcycle riders need to understand that there are a handful of deaths EACH YEAR and even some websites that keep track of the Tail of the Dragon annual deaths and provide info on location and vehicle, etc., so plan to stay off those lists by focusing on your driving! The state of Tennessee has over the years tried to make changes/improvements aimed at improving safety, including banning large vehicles from traveling on the road (those longer than 30-feet) and even added berms designed to reduce the chances of bikers who go off the side of a cliff/hill in event of an accident. And, signage and paved pull-outs have been added to both advise and encourage drivers to drive safely and allow for safer ways for traffic to pull over off the road, if when needed. As you can imagine, if a motorcycle ride sees multiple deaths per year, then it must see a lot of lesser severe accidents that do not show up in fatality statistics. In fact, there so many motorcycle accidents over the years that a “Tree of Shame” has taken shape as a place where pieces of motorcycles adorn the tree and area around it as a testament to all the “unsuccessful rides” … you’ll see many photos or riders in front of this tree with mostly smiling faces simply wanting to capture a selfie in front of the tree … occasionally you’ll see a few non-smiling faced photos of riders who pose before the tree shortly after personally adding to its “decorations.” As far as road conditions go, the road is well kept up (probably because the state and local towns realize what a money machine it is in bringing in so many riders from across the country and world) yet according to TailOfTheDragon.com, the last time the route has been paved was 2002. That site also dispels a rumor that the civic authorities plan to install speed bumps! (again, they confirm that there is no such plan to do so!).
The Dragon Motorcycle Road in Tennessee – also a big draw for sports car enthusiasts!
The route is so remote and impractical for commercial traffic that local traffic will be minimal however, with the motorcycle ride’s rise in fame and notoriety, it generally draws motorcycle and other performance vehicles such as sports cars and the new hybrid vehicles such as Slingshots and Can-Am Spyders. These vehicles that take on the road can result in crowded driving conditions on some weekends, and holiday periods throughout the summer as riders/drives come in from all parts of the country and world. Large semi trucks are technically banned from using the route but that doesn’t means some won’t take the route anyway which results in a significate hazard for riders as these big trucks simply can’t navigate many of the tighter turns and use only their lane so be aware that is a possibility, albeit a remote one. A great attribute about the motorcycle road is that you will have to contend with minimal “buzz-killing” road intersections and driveways. Due to its rural setting, the road also can be a spot for local wildlife to cross and riders have seen some pretty big animals along their drives such as bear, dear, wild boar, and all your to be expected yet smaller animals such as raccoons and squirrels.
The Dragon Motorcycle Ride Attracts Many for its Beauty
The ride is positioned in the Smoky Mountain Region of Southeastern Tennessee. You'll be near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park as well as driving through a very beautiful river valley including the Calderwood Dam and the Calderwood Lake that the dam created. The area's beauty not only attracts motorcycle riders but also pulls in an acasional movie set as some movies have used local area scenery for the settings in movies and TV shows. For example, the old (yet great film if you haven’t seen it) Harrison Ford film – The Fugitive, 1993, had a couple of key scenes were filmed in this area (the awesome scene where Harrison Ford’s character is cornered by a US Marshal (played by another great actor, Tommy Lee Jones) and jumps down the front of dam to escape, and the train wreck scene in the movie). Again, the TailOfTheDragon.com website does a great job of covering a lot of facts and trivia about the road and so if you’re, interested, suggest you give that site a visit.
Tail of the Dragon Is Near Other Great Motorcycle Roads Too!
Another MAJOR BONUS of riding the Dragon is that you are in the midst of simply some of the best motorcycle rides in the world. The map above shows you just how many motorcycle roads are in the area and many of them are state leading routes as depicted with the colors and explained in the color key. For example, a perennial favorite (and rapidly growing in motorcycle rider popularity) and just to the south of the Tail of the Dragon is the nearby Cherohala Skyway which is a route that shares equal portions of Tennessee and North Carolina pavement as it starts in the west in Tellico Plains, TN and heads east Robbinsville, NC. Truth be told, and I don’t want to rain on the Tail of the Dragon’s parade here, but if you go through many of the rider comments on the Cherohala Skyway, you’ll see that many compare the route to the Dragon and many prefer the Skyway (a portion of that opinion I’m sure is related to the fact when something is so famous that there are always folks who will gravitate to finding fault and looking for reasons to praise an alternative/competitor). And another rider favorite motorcycle road in the area is the awesome Hellbender 28; is always one of the most popular roads in North Carolina and is conveniently located just a few miles from the southern end of the Tail of the Dragon’s starting point. And, I need to also mention that there is another very popular motorcycle ride in the area and this one is to the north of the northern most point of the Tail of the Dragon and in Tennessee called – the Foothills Parkway. And that’s the beauty of the Dragon … it is not only an incredible motorcycle ride but also it is in the middle of some of the best riding country on the planet so a trip to Deals Gap will present you with tons of other great motorcycle riding opportunities in the wonderful Appalachian mountain area.
The Famous Tail Of The Dragon Is Spawning Other Dragon Pieces Around the Country
The Dragon in fact has gained so much fame and notoriety that there are many routes popping up all around the country that attempt to compare themselves or in some way affiliate themselves with the Tail of the Dragon. Some have gone so far to have official state governments endorse their names and help promote their location to riders around the world. The ones gaining the most traction are a three “other Dragon” named motorcycle routes found in Virginia and West Virginia: the Claw, Back, and Head of the Dragon. The motorcycle rides are described briefly below as well as links to the routes official websites.
-The Claw of the Dragon is found in the southwestern corner of Virginia and technically a collection of 5 loops. The largest loop is called the outerloop and covers a massive 237-miles of beautiful roads! Additionally, this road , as the other three "pieces of the dragon," has an official Claw of the Dragon website.
-The Head of the Dragon is found just a bit to the north, this time in the southwestern corner of West Virginia and this route travels through an area absolutely peppered with Appalachian foothills for a wonderful 91-mile loop. The site also has an official Head of the Dragon website where you can learn about the route and the annual Head of the Dragon ride each year in September.
-The Back of the Dragon to the south and over the boder into the southwestern corner of Virginia actually is surrounded by the Claw of the Dragon described above. This route is not a loop like the two above but takes riders on an awsome 32-mile ride among three prominent mountain peaks and purpotedly offers 438-curves and takes riders up to elevations of 3,500 feet above sea level and is described and photographed very will at the official Back of the Dragon website.
Helpful Video Guides to the Dragon
The first video below provides a nice quick video taken while riding the Dragon along with some commentary about why the rider enjoys the ride so much.
The second video is more of a list of helpful tips and safety warnings for those who are going to ride the Dragon.