Slaying Deals Gap Dragon

Adam Waheed | July 18, 2007
The 2007 Kelly Brown R1 Deals Gap Convention played host to over 300 Yamaha riders at the famed Tail of the Dragon.
The 2007 Kelly Brown R1/ Deals Gap Convention played host to over 300 Yamaha riders at the famed Tail of the Dragon.

Riding with the R1/ boys at Deals Gap

What do you get when you take 300-plus Yamaha YZF-R1 and YZF-R6 enthusiasts, stir in 318 tire shredding twists and turns in just 11 knee-dragging miles, add a healthy dose of legendary Smokey Mountain hospitality and top it off with some of the most gorgeous scenery east of the Mississippi? Well, my friends, you have the ingredients for the 2007 Kelly Brown R1/ Deals Gap Convention.

The winding river of asphalt otherwise known as The Tail of the Dragon is nestled deep in the smokey-blue haze of the Appalachian Mountains. This one-of-a-kind paved paradise is situated on U.S. Highway 129 between the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina. The Tail of the Dragon stands-out from your typical winding country roads. There’s no driveways, strip malls, gas stations or other modern-day distractions that we have become so accustomed to everywhere else.

We dropped in Thursday night to catch the tail-end of this year’s week-long celebration that featured a variety of motorized and non-motorized events catering to riders and their families. Off-road riding, cycling, boating, fishing, jet-skiing, underwater basket weaving – you name it, Fontana Village Resort had it! Our host for this mechanized shindig was famed custom sportbike builder Shane McCoy of McCoy Motorsports. If you haven’t heard of McCoy Motorsports, check out its ultra-trick stretched and slammed Yamaha YZF-R1 Fusion machine and that’ll be all you need to verify McCoy’s building prowess.

Thursday night got off to a hazy start. I was greeted to a full-on house boat party on the picturesque Fontana Lake. The decked out two-story house boat was the perfect place to take in the scenery, have a few cocktails, and meet like-minded Yamaha aficionados. The first thing that struck me at the party was the level of camaraderie of this tightly-knit group. Being an outsider, having never heard of either the R1- or online round-table, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. But I was greeted with a cold can of Milwaukee’s’ finest, a warm smile, and a question that seemed normal enough at the time.

“What’s your name?” asked Vaughn, an R1-rider from Tampa, Florida.

“Adam”, I responded.

“No, no. What’s your screen name?” Vaughn asked again.

“Oh. I’m not a member just yet.”

If you love Yamaha sportbikes  the Deals Gap convention was the place to be.
The pristine beauty of the Smokey Mountains shelter the famed stretch of asphalt known as the Tail of the Dragon, which over 300 riders tackled during the R1/’s Deals Gap Convention.

“It’s all good; just make sure to look me up when you sign up – I’m yamadogfj1200,” replied Vaughn.

After catching a few extra hours of sleep in my Fontana Village Resort cabin, I met with the leather clad army of Yamaha enthusiasts. We geared up and set off to slay the notorious Dragon. Chinese folklore says the Dragon brings prosperity, health and luck. While it offers these rewards to the rider, The Tail of the Dragon can take a bite out of those who let their guard down, overestimate their skill or underestimate the risk. And with at least one motorcycle-related fatality every year, not to mention the numerous crashes and injuries associated with those smash-ups, it is important to recognize your skill level. Last year’s event was marred by the passing of Kelly Brown, an group member who suffered a fatal accident during this very ride.

For the second year in a row, Yamaha Motor Corporation stepped in and sponsored this year’s convention. In wide-open Yamaha fashion, it came fully prepared with a tractor-trailer loaded with a fleet of brand new candy-painted 2007 Yamaha YZF-R6s and YZF-R1s – the ideal weapons of choice for an all-out asphalt assault.

I spent Friday riding the R6, which has an ideal set-up for the tight and technical first-, second- and third-gear switchbacks that litter the curvy 11-mile route. The Tail of the Dragon is all about quick side-to-side transitions, and this is where the R6 shines like a tourmaline gem. The well-marked road meandered smoothly like a river through the unspoiled terrain of the Smokey Mountains. It packs every kind of corner a rider could yearn for. It harbors a continuous mix of off-camber downhill, uphill, side-to-side switchbacks, love-it or hate-it decreasing radius-turns, and abrupt roller coaster-like elevation changes. Most corners offer little to no run-off room, so a rider’s margin of error is slim at best. To say the Tail of the Dragon is very technical riding is an understatement. But the real question is: Does the Dragon live up to its hype? That depends. If continuous non-stop, knee on-the-deck cornering is your forte – than you, my friend, have found your motorcycling Mecca.

With the sun quickly falling to the West and after a full afternoon of runs up-and-down The Dragon (which are a completely different experience within itself), I decided that tomorrow I would see what the other roads in the area had to offer. Eastern Tennessee and Northwestern North Carolina is an experience of road-engineering virtuosity, offering the widest variety of curves and perfectly paved roadways that I have ever experienced. Everything from slow first-gear bends to ultra-fast fourth-gear sweepers that seemingly beg you to twist the throttle harder and harder.

Does the Dragon live up to its hype  That depends. If continuous non-stop  knee on-the-deck cornering is your forte – than you  my friend  have found your motorcycling Mecca.
The Yamaha R6 was the perfect tool for the job on the Tail of the Dragon.

I experienced one such road firsthand by way of the legendary Cherohala Skyway. Many in the group raved about the high-speed highway, so I decided to hop on the R1 to see what it’s all about. The road’s distinctive name comes from the Cherokee and Nantahala National Parks through which the roadway passes. Originally planned in 1958, the road took over 32 years and $100 million to build, making it North Carolina’s most expensive road ever constructed. And all for our motorcycle riding enjoyment – thank you, North Carolina!

On a side note to all you R1 owners out there, the Achilles heel that beset some 07′ R1s was the intermittent slow acceleration problem that would routinely occur when the bike was in second gear at 5500 rpm. This glitch had the potential for turning a fantastic ride into something to be desired. Fortunately for us, the R1s that Yamaha brought were fitted with a revised ECU that completely rectifies the acceleration gremlin. On the way up the infamous Cherohala Skyway, I had a chance to test the R1 in a few of the tight second-gear corners and in fact the revised ECU did cure the bothersome acceleration problem. (If your 07′ R1 suffers from this problem, bring it your local Yamaha motorcycle dealer and they can assist you further.)

After another epic day of riding under my belt, it was time to call it quits and park the hot-rod machines from the boys in blue for the rest of the weekend. Yamaha rounded out the week’s festivities with a first-rate three-course meal in the Fontana Village Banquet room Saturday night and thousands of dollars worth of Yamaha swag was given away. And who doesn’t like free stuff, right? The dinner was a great way to put the wraps on another successful event.

So why do all these enthusiasts make the annual hajj out to Deals Gap? Taking off an entire week of work is pretty difficult nowadays – especially to go hangout with people that you see but once a year. That being said, after sampling the fire of The Dragon and seeing the passion and camaraderie that the people of the R1/ share for each other, there is no doubt that the time taken off work and the travel money spent is worth every penny. If you have a Yamaha, or any sportbike for that matter, and want to have a good time on an unforgettable road with an even better group of people, get on the R1/R6-forum and come join the fun next year – you won’t be disappointed.

(Tragically, as I am writing this, Glen “Elvis” Breaux, a forum brother, passed in a non-motorcycle related incident after arriving home from the event. God speed, Glen.)

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Adam Waheed

Road Test Editor | Articles | Adam's insatiable thirst for life is only surpassed by his monthly fuel bill. Whether rocketing on land, flying through the air, or jumping the seas, our Road Test Editor does it all and has the scars to prove it.

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