Me on my wicked ride Street Glide at the beginning of the Back of the Dragon.

Back of the Dragon

Adventure! In mid-April, I set off to slay the dragon with my wife and nine friends. This 4-day 900-ish mile motorcycle ride brought us through breathtaking countryside in Southwest Virginia. The main event was the Back of the Dragon – a 32-mile stretch of asphalt in the Appalachian Mountains with 438 curves.

I started riding motorcycles 25 years ago and this trip was, without a doubt, my favorite moto-experience. It was incredible. Beyond the amazing scenery, nice weather, and overall throttle-therapy goodness, the people made the trip. It was such an amazing group of folks and we had a blast in the downtime.

I’m really happy we did this. It was like a reboot for the soul.


What follows is a braindump of various things I took away from the ride.


I’ve always worn a half-helmet, unless I’m setting out in very cold weather or rain is forecasted. Since we were going to be on bikes morning ’til night every day, giving Mother Nature plenty of opportunity to throw her curveballs, I opted to wear my modular helmet most of the time. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate it. But I did wear my ultralight low-profile brain-bucket for most of our out and back on the Dragon. (The action shot at the top of the post was taken at the start of the Dragon before I switched out of my modular.)


I’m 6’3″ and the low-slung saddle on my bike helps drop me into a less awkward riding position. With the stock seat, I sit too high. The downside of a low-rider seat is that there is much less padding – which is problematic for someone who suffers from NBS (No-Butt Syndrome). It’s fine on shorter rides but(t) I got uncomfortable after a few hours on day one. By the second day, it didn’t bother me too much but(t) I think I’ll replace the seat before another ride like this.

Battlestar Galactica

(Sorry. The monosyllabic b-word headings made me think about one of my favorite moments from The Office.)


“I’m not an ambi-turner. I can’t turn left.”

Derek Zoolander

Riding 8-10 hours daily on squiggly roads made me realize that I’m a little more confident in left turns than right. Weird. This can be traced all the way back to my days of riding BMX as a kid and throwing down my left leg to skid approximately 7.3 million times per day. I never did that with my right leg.

My theory is that it’s a brain dominance thing. According to this Ask Mo Anything article on, “…we naturally protect the side we favor and have a built-in fear of placing that side in harm’s way, which is exactly why most right-handed riders are more comfortable turning left and more left-handed riders are more comfortable turning right.” This plays out for me as a righty. How about you?


My Rinehart pipes are amazing. When I pull the bike out of the garage it’s like I’m releasing the Kraken. Until this bike, I’ve always rocked Vance & Hines. V&H pipes have such a distinctive and satisfying exhaust note. My wife’s Heritage has them and I love the sound, but they don’t come close to the deep rumble of my bazookas. If you’re all about that bass you should give them a try. But I digress.

“Margaret, why are the knick-knacks in your curio cabinet shaking so violently? Is there a helicopter flying over?

“No, Floyd. It’s that red-bearded man on his obnoxious motorcycle again.”

As much as I enjoy triggering earthquake early warning systems, on this trip I learned it’s not as awesome when hanging at 70mph on the highway for hours at a time. In fact, my full-face helmet acted like a sealed subwoofer enclosure at highway speeds and amplified the pressure, making my skull more numb than usual.


I won’t say the HD navigation sucks. It works. But on a ride with people using Google Maps, the routes rarely lined up. We’d come to an intersection, my nav would tell me to turn right, and the leader would signal a left turn. There are a number of reasons for this that would not make for interesting reading, but the key takeaway is: work from the same navigation software.

One of the guys on the ride had a gorgeous new Road Glide Limited with an Apple CarPlay adapter installed. This allowed him to connect his phone like you can in any new automobile on planet Earth. Me thinks Harley should seriously consider abandoning their proprietary tech and adopt what has become an industry standard.


To state the obvious: cars and other vehicles on the road with four or more wheels will actively try to kill you. Surprisingly, the number of people swerving into my lane while gawking at their phones or doing their makeup was significantly less than riding locally. But it only takes one.

The most extreme incident happened when someone, clearly having consumed every available substance in bulk, exited out the entrance of a shopping center, and proceeded to cut across traffic the wrong direction towards my wife who was riding in front of me. I instinctively went protector-mode and whipped into the turn lane between her and the car. In that moment, I hoped that seeing a giant with murder in his eyes on a hog roaring like Godzilla would sufficiently startle them. I don’t know if my maneuver had any affect or if it was purely the hand of God, but no one was hurt.


Our rides were like episodes of Wild America lacking only Marty Stouffer’s narration. It wasn’t just the humans trying to kill us. There were dive-bombing hawks, swooping vultures, irritated herons, charging dogs, curious deer, scampering rabbits, indifferent groundhogs, and even a motionless cow. I’m not kidding. Cow.

What’s next?

We’re talking about making this type of trip an annual thing. There are other sections of “The Dragon” we could slay. I’d also be happy to spend more time exploring the nooks and crannies of Southwest Virginia. It undoubtedly has a lot to offer two-wheelers.

What say you?

Have you done any of the Dragon? Do you have any tips for riding in this part of the country? Comments are open and I’d love to hear from you.

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