Tuesday, September 1, 2015

August 2015 Dragon Run, Post #1 (Making Passes)

Southbound, Killboy Corner.

When I go to the Tail of the Dragon with my Great Lakes Area buddies, they like to set aside a day for general tourism.  And I understand this: making fast Dragon passes is intense.  A day, or even a few hours, of relief is the real vacation, especially when it takes 10 hours (each way) to get down and back. But I am a Dragon Freak.  So when I go alone, making as many passes as I can is the name of the game. My "down time" was spent hanging out, roadside, with the photographers for Killboy.com.

On this trip, the Blount County Sheriff's Office and, to a lesser extent, the THP were much in evidence. My radar detector alerted early one morning for what turned out to be a BCSO motorcycle officer, shooting mobile from the oncoming lane.  The detector saved my butt: visually, he was "just another cruiser bike."  Later, one of the locals told me "He's cool--if you're staying in your lane and not crazy-fast, he'll let you slide."  But of course one never knows the luck of the draw as to which officer will be encountered.  Some are on the Dragon to enforce, enforce, enforce.  I used to think "Why bother with the detector?  It 'never' alerts on the Dragon anyway."  No longer.  Don't Leave Home Without It.  Other L.E.O. vehicles were primarily SUV's, which are also hard to spot quickly.  The Ford Crown Vic, so easy to spot, is a vanishing breed.

No car clubs were scheduled for "my" weekend, which was why I picked it.  All the same, "civilians" clogged the road.  They were about equally divided between tourists and locals.  Many, but not all, 4-wheelers used the pull-offs to clear for me.  Cruiser bikes were more of a problem and Harleys remain the bane of my Dragon existence.  These bikes and their riders are loud, flatulent, and slow.  They never use the pull-offs.  OK, one did.  I gave him the standard "thankyou" wave.  If I'd had had an appropriate piece of hardware, I'd have pulled off myself and given him a medal.  I have never understood, and never will, the Harley Subculture.  I clocked their speed through slow turns on my very accurate digital speedometer when I was blocked: 12-15 m.p.h.  They were so slow that the bikes almost lost the momentum needed for stability.  And the cornering skills were just as sketchy.  These are turns that can easily be taken in a 4-wheeler at 20-25 m.p.h., a sportbike at 25-30, and in a bonafide 4-wheeled Slayer at 30-35 m.p.h.  When turns like this come one after another, which of course they do on the Dragon, Harleys are a monumental pain in the a**.

Speaking of Harleys, one crashed in the middle of "Guardrail" on Saturday afternoon.  BCRS was on the scene quickly and took the rider out on a back board.  I mention it here because accident scene management was sketchier than I would have liked to see.  Fortunately, I got the "E-Z" sign from a couple of south-bounders.  Came around the blind corner northbound and the Rescue vehicles were right there, in my lane.  Turned on my flashers, got out of the car and moved to a visible point to warn other north-bounders.  Southbound lane was clear, so I decided to get my car out ASAP.  Proceeded slowly to the Overlook, giving south-bounders the E-Z sign.  Turned right around (the Overlook was jammed most of both days) and went through again.  By then, other "civilians" were manning the corner I'd been at briefly.  But nobody manned a south-bound corner before the accident site.  As usual in these situations, there were half a dozen or more people standing around watching the EMT's work on the downed rider.  At least a couple of them should have walked north to man the south-bound approach.  This is much easier to do if your bike is already parked than if you must find a pull-off to park your car (especially northbound).

Sportbikes appear behind you instantly when you're making a fast pass.  Check your mirror entering a corner, nobody behind.  Check it again and a sportbike is right up your chuff (you'll hear him, so no worries).  The speed differentials between Harleys and various four-wheeler skills and equipment levels, and sportbikes is mind-boggling.  On a crowded Dragon, you must keep your wits about you at all times.  Then there was this:

This guy showed up at 5:00 p.m. on Saturday evening!  Who tries to tow a 53-foot trailer through the Dragon as night is
falling?  The staff at Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort persuaded him to turn around, but only after some "discussion."  The
Dragon is now, clearly, posted in both NC and TN for "NO TRUCKS OVER 30 FEET," but that doesn't mean that you
won't encounter one--even on a weekend.

As for my own passes:  They were noticeably faster on the Michelin Pilot Super Sports.  I didn't put a watch on myself, partly because so many passes were blocked.  But suffice it to say that the tires are better than me: I never came close to exceeding the grip, in a front-wheel-drive car.  The Civic Si now feels like it needs quicker and more precise steering to get the most out of the tires (and me).  The body roll became annoying.  These are problems I never have in fast driving on ordinary roads (and such twisties as can be found) at home.  I used 39 lbs. front, 33 rear, for fast passes.

Michelin Pilot Super Sports: NO graining on the shoulders after a day's worth of hard passes.  My all-season Michelins
had shoulders that looked like Velcro after similar "abuse."  Dragon Locals speak highly of PSS's, complaining only
that they are expensive.  But the locals go through 2 or 3 sets of tires in a season.  I don't press my tires in normal,
summer, driving at home.  So I am a PSS loyalist who will try to get 2 to 3 years out of a set.

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