Story by Pedro Gregorio
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published the May 2014 edition of the MSTA Michigan Chapter newsletter. The story has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
Seventeen degrees Fahrenheit — that was the temperature on the first Sunday of Spring when I put my Speed Triple on the trailer. This winter had been a doozy — and by “doozy” I mean a freeze-your-cojones-off kind of winter. At first, I loved using my new snow blower to clear the white stuff that kept falling from the sky. But it kept falling and falling, and falling. By the end of March, I was so ready — ready to get the hell out.
Last year my baby and I spent a week in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina which I wrote about it in my “Spring in the Smokies” series. I mentioned that this might become an annual tradition for me. So, this year I decided to do it again. The weather around Pigeon Forge, Tenn., could be a crap shoot That time of year — but the chances of a Michigan-strength polar vortex were pretty rare. I wasn’t the only one ready for some excellent riding. I had bought the Speed Triple an Elka rear shock for Christmas (what, don’t you buy your bike Christmas gifts?) and was dying to see how it felt. The stock shock, even after re-valving and re-springing just wasn’t cutting it. So, I decided to spend the money on a high-quality aftermarket unit.
My favorite roads within an easy day’s ride of Pigeon Forge were all ingrained in my mind: Foothills Parkway, Deals Gap, U.S. Route 129, North Carolina State Route 28, Tennessee State Route 360 and the Cherohala Skyway. The week started off cool, but afforded me three glorious days of riding capped off by a 60-degree, sunny Thursday that gave me almost 300 miles of the best riding this area has to offer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — for all of the fanfare that Deals Gap gets, I really do prefer every other road around it. Eleven miles of second gear corners doesn’t really turn me on.
What does turn me on? Flow, baby, flow. I absolutely love roads that flow smoothly and quickly, preferably in third gear at 7,000 to 9,000 rpm. How fast is that? Let’s just say fast enough and leave it at that. I’ve waxed poetically about the Cherohala Skyway between Robbinsville, N.C., and Tellico Plains, Tenn., but there are three other roads that you MUST ride when you come down here.
The 18-mile long section of the Foothills Parkway connects U.S. Route 321 near Townsend, Tenn., with U.S. 129 and it was my route to and from my home base every day. During the high tourist season this amazing road can get clogged with cars admiring the beautiful views. But this time of year that was not an issue. What that meant for me was that every morning and every afternoon I was able to experience the perfect, constant-radius corners in solitude – blissful, third gear, 8,000 rpm solitude. I never sighted any wildlife bigger than a squirrel so maybe the wail of my Arrow exhaust kept the deer at bay.
Once I hit U.S. 129 and turned right I enjoyed the view of Chilhowee Lake on my left and the lazy sweepers before the road turned inland and gave me a few delicious kinks up to the intersection with Tennessee State Route 72. That road didn’t have many entertaining curves, but did give me a few long straightaways to play with.
Making a left on U.S. Route 411 and a few miles down the road, another left put me onto the second must-ride road: Tennessee State Route 360 to Tellico Plains, Tenn. The combination of low and high-speed corners makes this a curve lover’s dream. But wait, the best is yet to come.
When I got to Tellico Plains I followed the signs to Tennessee State Route 68 south. In my opinion, this road wins the M.V.A.C.A. (Most Variety of Amazing Corners Award.) From tight second gear narrow curves to wide, very fast sweepers this one does it for me. Plus, any road that takes me to a place called Ducktown, Tenn., gets bonus points. Just over the Georgia border is McCaysville, where I enjoyed a scenic lunch sitting next to the fast-flowing Toccoa River. I had forgotten what sixty degrees felt like. Then it was time get back on my bike and do it all again in reverse.
So whether we have another Polar Vortex next winter or not, you can show winter who’s boss by beating the tourist hordes to the Smokies and experience some of the best and most deserted twisty roads you’ve ever ridden. You can bet I’ll be back.