Rain Ride: Tips for the Riding The Dragon in the Wet
Do you ever find yourself doing a pre-ride anti-rain dance? Due to work, I can only ride on the weekends, so I'm always praying for good weekend riding weather. Sure, there are some bikes and roads that are fun to ride even when it's pouring, but when it comes to the infamous Dragon, we're not talking about your everyday rain ride. If you're accustomed to riding in the wet and to twisty, curvey mountain roads and you're on a bike (like a supermoto or many touring bikes) and have tires that do well in the rain, you'll have no problem. But for the rest of us, a wet Dragon can be tricky. With the right approach, it's not unrideable.
1. Do a Scouting Lap First
Rain storms on The Dragon mean the potential for fallen trees. If you're riding following a storm, it's helpful to do a slower-paced scouting lap to check for any trees that may be hidden around blind corners. I always recommend doing a scouting lap on The Dragon anyway regardless of storms just to get a feel for any new road conditions (or, uh, cops).
2. Be Smooth
When I say The Dragon is twisty, I mean it's TWISTY. The curves are tight and many are blind. Even when The Dragon is dry it's important to be very smooth on the throttle and brakes--but even more so when it's wet. So just remember your basics and smoothly roll on the throttle in the corners and try not to stab at the brakes.
3. Ride Well Within Your Limits
When it rains, the wind often blows debris onto the road and sometimes there can be mud in corners too. The pavement in certain corners also gets very slippery when wet and there are pot holes and some corners that require navigating. Not to mention the pigs. Yes, pigs. The wild boar like to come out when it's raining and it's not fun when you hit one. If you're going full "send it" mode, you're gonna have a bad time. Instead, slow down and ride well within your limits and skill level so you have time to dodge anything that may impede your riding. If faster riders come up behind you, just pull over at one of the 104 paved pull offs along The Dragon and let faster traffic by.
4. Do What You What Makes You Comfortable
Honestly, I just plain don't like riding The Dragon in the rain. I like to go at what I'd refer to as a "spirited pace" and on a sportbike and Q4 tires, The Dragon just isn't much fun in the rain. When I go at what I consider a fun pace, my tires slide, so I have to slow down. For that reason, if it's raining, I normally don't ride. However, that's my personal preference. Other people enjoy and even prefer slower paces. It's ultimately up to each person and his or her comfort level and desired pace.
5. Don't Trust the Forecast - Check the Radar
The weather at The Dragon is unpredictable. There have been many times the weather forecast looked terrible and I thought there is no way I would be able to ride. But then within an hour to two the weather clears up and is fantastic the rest of the day. Before you hop on your bike, just check the radar. It's likely any pop up showers will clear and you can have a fun day of riding. Plus, The Dragon usually dries out fairly quickly since there's often a breeze. Just keep in mind that it will remain a bit wet and slick in the shaded corners.
6. Stay Off the Lines
The painted lines on the road (both the double yellow and white line to your right) are slick even when it's not raining. Add water to the mix, and those lines are like hitting ice. No matter what conditions you're riding in, you should stay off the lines for your safety and the safety of others, but it's all the more important when these lines are extra slippery.
7. Fun Things to Do When It's Raining
So you've planned a trip to The Dragon and there's a monsoon all day long. There are still some fun things to do in the area. I can't promise they're as fun as riding, but at least you won't be cooped up inside. One year when it monsooned during Women's Sportbike Rally, a group of us ladies went to the Lost Sea, an underground lake within a cavern in Sweetwater, Tennessee. There's also Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City, North Carolina if you like craft beer or Tapoco Lodge is a fun place to sit and have lunch and watch the kayakers go down the river. Or, just hang out at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort. They have a grill and when it rains, folks tend to congregate there and you can meet some interesting motorcyclists from all over the globe.
Long story short, just because it's raining it doesn't mean you can't have a good time on The Dragon. Hopefully these tips will help ensure you have a safe ride and know what to look out for.