Appalachians 2010

Our first response on receiving an invitation last year to a wedding in Atlanta, Georgia in June 2010 was that it was a long way to go for a wedding.

However we quickly realised that a trip to Atlanta would allow us to explore more thouroghly the Appalachians which we had skirted past in 2000 on our Coast-to-Coast ride on a rental Goldwing. The Appalachians are a fold mountain system, rising to over 6,500 feet, which run approximate 200 miles inland from the eastern seaboard north-east from Georgia and forms the boundary between Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina on one side and Tennesee and Kentucky on the other.

The fact that the Appachians also just happen to contain the two best biking roads in the USofA, US129 west of Deals Gap known as the "Tail of the Dragon" and US421 at Shady Valley known as "The Snake" which time constraint had prevented us from test riding in 2000 made the decision to extend a wedding visit into a full touring holiday a certainty.

Having investigated, and discounted, shipping a bike from UK to the US back in 2000 we once again started a seach for a suitable rental. The biggest rental operation is Eagle Rider but in Atlanta the franchise is held by Atlanta H-D and based on the experiences of H-Ds during our 2000 trip we looked elsewhere. The nearest Eagle Creek franchise renting Hondas was in Knoxville which was convenient for the Appalachians, however for low transatlantic flight costs the return trip had to be from one US airport and this would mean an additional return trip between Atlanta and Knoxville.

We eventually found MotoHobo tours run by Mark Martin who had two BMWs available, only the R1200RT had a top box and so the choice was made and a deposit duely paid.

Mark pointed us in the direction of a set of three excellent motorcycle tour guides written by US bike cop Hag Hagenbak. The set is available from Amazon US for $36 post free to US addresses but they were working out at nearly £25 each delivered to the UK. The publishers had an online store offering only US or Canada shipping but Sue Ellen in their sales department volunteered to take them to the Post Office herself.

With bike and guide books sorted it was into the planning stage. Having read Hak's books we had enough recommended rides to last a whole summer but the highlights were :

1. The Smokey Mountains National Park which is west of the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway and straddles the North Carolina / Tennessee border and is home to the section of US Highway 129 known as “The Tail of the Dragon” comprising 318 curves in 11 miles and reputedly the 'best biking road in the USofA'.

2. The Blue Ridge Parkway which was built in the 30's depression and runs for around 400 miles along the spine of the Appalachians often at over 4000ft and a highest point of 6,050 ft. (At it's northern end it joins the Skyline Drive which continues north to the outskirts of Washington DC.)

The Tennesse Valley area west to Chatanooga also has some superb scenery and roads but was discounted on the basis we had been there in 2000. We booked flights from Edinburgh to Atlanta via Newark with Continental , and while their website had advise on packing everything from surfboards to diving gear it had nothing on motorcycle kit. Their helpline clarified that our helmets were indeed sports safety gear and could be carried as hand baggage.

Final checks showed that southern USA was suffering a heatwave with temperates reaching over 100degF in Atlanta and US Highway 129 was blocked by a rockslide. After an eventful flight, including an unscheduled overnight in Ireland, we made it to the hotel near Atlanta with an hour to spare before the wedding and wondering what more could go wrong.

Next morning Mark deliverd the bike to the hotel and we packed up the bike leaving the remainder of our luggage in store at the hotel. After visiting our friends John and Jo-Ann for Sunday Brunch we headed north leaving Georgia for North Carolina and our first stop in the town of Highlands. The reception at the “historic” Inn on Main Street turned out to be un-manned but a notice on the desk gave a contact number. The manager quickly appeared and allocated us an excellent large room with a balcony. The guest information was interesting “ the fridge in the bar is unlocked, just leave a couple of dollars if you want a beer; the outer doors are normally unlocked {the reception contained open displays of jewellry and clothes} but sometimes 'city guests' drop the lock but there is a door at the rear by the kitchens which is always unlocked”.

After a pleasant evening in Highlands we booked a room at the Deals Gap Lodge and headed for US129. The road had indeed been blockedby a massive rockslide but it was beyond the “Dragon” so with no through traffic, minimal habitation and no side roads it was a bikers heaven. We arrived mid afternoon and rode the “Dragon” to the road closure signs :-)) and had no option but to turn round and go back :-))) thus effectively making it 636 curves in 22 miles.


The Deals Gap Lodge is home to the “Tree of Shame” , surprisingly given that both “wrecks” on the day we were there were H-Ds the tree is decorated mostly with sports bike parts. Checking our bike camera recording that evening we discovered that the video camera had been suffering from the heat, so after breakfast we had to go and ride the “Dragon” again :-))) to record the trip before heading to Cherokee and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The Blue Ridge Parkway is not a normal public road, commercial traffic is banned, there is a speed limit of 45 and minimal commercial development on the road. Interestingly, given the history of the road, large sections are being re-surfaced as part of the current US anti-recession programme. A significant proportion of the road users were bikes, everything from 125cc scooters to H_D Road Kings and Wings. Riding apparel among the H-D brigade was prodominently jeans, cotton t-shirts and sleevless leather waistcoats and a “pudding basin” helmet. This did permit the displaying of the numerous tattoos sported by the H-D brigade. We spent several days on the Parkway making it all the way to the top and back. Highlights included a night at the park's “Peaks of Otter” lodge, no television, no cellphone coverage or even phones in the room but stunning views from all rooms and the dining room which all face a large lake.


We also discovered that some very spectacular roads drop down from the Parkway on either side, decending thousands of feet with plenty of bends such as the Diamond Back at Little Switzerland.

Close to the Parkway is US Highway 421 “The Snake” which claims 489 bends within 12 miles of the local store.. Naturally we had to undertake a scientific comparison and can report it is more sweeping and less technical than the “Dragon” and possibly the better ride. Perhaps it was all this scientific investigation which lead to the premature demise of the Dunlop front tyre which Mark had assured us would last the trip. The local BMW outlet had no tyre in stock and pointed us to the Honda outlet who made us most welcome and fitted a new Bridgestone tyre within an hour.

On returning to the southern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway we secured our previous room at the Highlands Inn and spent a couple of days in the area including a trip on the Cheroheela Skyway and visiting the highest waterfall east of Colorada, plus fixing the Inn's internet gateway.

Returning to our hotel in Atlanta Mark turned up with a trailer to collect the BMW which had covered just over 2,200 miles in 11 days.

Our last day was spent touring Atlanta visiting the Jimmy Carter Centre, the Martin Luther King museum and mausleum and the Coca-Cola museum.


During our trip we met around a dozen ST1300 owners from the US and Canada.

One, Joe from Ottowa, was staying at Deals Gap Lodge the same night as us. He loved his ST13 and reckoned it handled very well except for grounding out riding solo on the “Dragon”. A check showed he was running “ 5 clicks” of preload on the rear shock; after having “Bob Crawley's recommended” 24 clicks dialed in he headed off to try a few bends to see if it made any difference. Joe returned 45 minutes and 636 bends later with a huge smile and a “Where were you when I bought the bike 5 years ago?”

Two other Canadian ST13 owners who arrived at the top Mount Mitchell about 15 minute after us that morning had a mile before rounded a bend on the road to find a large bear sitting on the centre line; we were very glad we had not left the hotel 15 minutes later!

Interestingly Honda sell accessories under the Hondaline branding but provide minimal support to US & Canandian ST13 owners - no radio or CD option and even topboxes and tankbags have to be imported from Dave Silver!

Also the UK is not the only country well populated by white police specification ST1300s. It seems Honda Canada imported a large batch in anticipation of persuading their police forces to abandon H-Ds in favour of V4s. When this plan fell flat they sold off the bikes through the dealer network still fitted with ST1100 vintage police switchgear.

US 129 Deal's Gap

And an aerial view of the Dragon

US 421 The Snake

Big Lynn Lodge, Little Switzerland

Peaks of Otter, Blue ridge Parwkay

Main Street Inn, Highlands

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