There’s a familiar term in TV production known as B-roll; no, this doesn’t refer to the white reels of stuff found in pub bathrooms, but those shots you see on the tube of people riding motorcycles down sunny lanes, or traffic on the L.A. freeways, or just about anything a camera operator finds interesting enough to film and then use to patch together narratives. During the shooting of Café Racer, impending B-roll shoots were often cause for much mood improvement among the troops as it meant taking a few of the shop ton-up toys on the road, finding a beautiful, deserted piece of blacktop and riding like people determined to surrender their motorcycle operator’s licenses by the end of the day.
And where better to clock many hours of quality corner-carving café style than along U.S. Route 129 in North Carolina, better known as Deal’s Gap. The gap first came to this rider’s attention some 15 years back when some of the faster, more talented members of the Pittsburgh sportbike community told fantastic, butt-clenching tales of this incredible, faraway mountain road in the Deep South. They claimed the road had more and better curves than a pickup truck full of Beyonces and riding it once was enough to make true believers out of the most stubborn straightline fanatic. I managed to head there for the first time back in 2002 with a group of pals and the place was about as full-on nuts as the Homicidal Maniac ward at Bellevue just before meds were doled out. I remember entering Smoky Mountain National Park from nearby Gatlinburg, Tenn., a weird place where locals sat along the curbside in lawn chairs most days, waving Confederate flags and drinking beer. Not bad as hobbies go, but the riding throughout this neck of the woods was simply incredible, with endless long, fast sweepers, second (and first- gear switchbacks and long, empty stretches of road where cars and Winnebagos were scarce.
The Dragon? Well, it was pure mayhem, an incomprehensibly twisty ribbon of 318 S-turns wedged into just 11 miles of North Cacka-Lacka mountainside. The road is dizzying enough and treacherous enough that crashes here are more common than people who shouldn’t be wearing things at Daytona Bike Week. The problem is an odd mix of overzealous throttle freaks- us included – who fool ourselves into forgetting that, despite the road’s attraction to bikers, it’s still a very public two-lane thru-way, filled with commercial vehicles, folks towing (very slow) fishing boats, and packs of Harleys and cruisers going slower than molasses traveling uphill. In January there were full-race R-1s and CBRs doing twice the speed of anyone around them, only to nearly collide when the two very different closing speeds converged on a single corner. There were fast trains of a half-dozen supermoto bikes cranking at incredible lean angles and convertibles full of pretty girls causing nearly everyone to lose focus. Add surprise police patrols and weather into the mix and damned if this isn’t one crazy ride!
Darryl Cannon, aka Killboy (www.killboy.com) is a local fast rider and ace photographer who’s been shooting regularly at the Dragon for years and his archive of images of riders mis-judging these corners is a must-see experience. Like much in life, when nailed just perfectly, the Dragon is one of motorcycling’s unforgettable thrills, as the curves and apexes just flow into each other with a wild, vertigo-inducing rhythm. Get it wrong, and, well, let’s just be grateful there’s several professional, well-stocked medivac teams in the area.
During our recent B-roll shoot at Deal’s Gap, we were fortunate enough to arrive at a time of the week when both tourist and motorcycle traffic was scarce, thanks in part to a recent rockslide that closed the road for weeks. Rain had washed the tarmac clean and we were able to play like parentless kids at Legoland. There was one police car patrolling the area, but the occupant seemed more interested in chatting on his mobile than clocking our bikes, so off we went. We’d brought along a wide assortment of café racers and modern, naked performance bikes, including a Moto Guzzi 1200 Sport, a new Triumph 1050 Speed Triple, our project Wreck to Winner Bonneville and a new, 2010 Triumph Bonneville Thruxton. Funny thing about this mean old stretch of road is how it will quickly reveal any design flaw or soft spot in a given motorcycle and by days end, our crew were practically scrapping over who got to ride the Speed triple while the poor Bonneville was sitting unloved thanks to some too-low handlebars and lousy ground clearance. The Guzzi? Great thudding torque, but spongy suspension while the Thrux showed why so many café racers dig the Brit twin, as it handled the road like a much more agile machine. Still, we came out of those 318 turns with all four bikes – and our licenses -intact and a promise to return with some stickier tires, for another go. Any takers?
– Mike Seate