Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Unofficial PASS Summit Sportbike Tour

The closest we came to an action shot of the entire group.

 How it came together:

People that ride motorcycles inevitably talk about them all the time, leading to meeting others who do the same quite regularly.  As a result of my travels with SQL Sentry, I've met quite a few members of the community who are also sportbike riders.  The idea of a pre-Summit ride got started at SQL Bits this year, as I was talking to, and probably having a beer with, André Kamman, Mark Rasmussen, Mark Pratt, and Tim Kent at various times.  

Over the intervening months there was much discussion and banter as we planned the trip.  As the discussion went on, we ended up looping in my friend Mario Faraone, and local SQL guy and former SQL Sentry team member Ryan Brickey.  Tim and Ryan were unable to make the trip, but will hopefully make the next one.  There WILL be a next one!

Once we had what looked like a seven person group, we stopped looking for other riders.  Not because we didn't want company, but because groups larger than that become very difficult to manage on the kinds of roads we planned to ride.  I have some ideas on how we can grow this in the future without issues, so please contact me if you are interested in future rides.  I have a feeling there will be more rides not only in the US, but also in Europe.

Even if sportbikes aren't your thing, this does highlight one of the many benefits of attending community events like SQL Bits, PASS Summit, SQL Rally, SQL Saturday, or any other SQL Server event.  Not only do you network professionally, but you will inevitably meet people that share other interests as well. 

The cast:

From left: Mark Rasmussen, Mark Pratt, Mario Faraone, André Kamman. 


André Kamman - Holland
Mark Rasmussen - Denmark
Mark Pratt - United Kingdom
Mario Faraone - South Carolina
Myself - USA

Planning the ride:

Here in North Carolina we have some of the best motorcycle roads in the country, that are known worldwide.  Pretty much everyone who's been on two wheels for any length of time has heard of the "Tail of the Dragon" at Deal's Gap, and the Blue Ridge Parkway.  Both are great roads, but tend to be crowded as a result of their fame.  As the planner of this ride, I decided very early to skip "the Dragon" entirely, and just pop on to the Parkway for a little bit of the trip.  There are a bunch of other roads around here that are just as good, and far less crowded.

As I mentioned in a prior post, I used to live in Asheville.  I know the area fairly well, but I still wanted to do a little exploring of my own.  I started with some favorite roads from our usual weekend rides out of Charlotte, and figured out fun ways to get there and back from Asheville.  With that, one day of riding pretty much built itself.  Mario and I decided to make that Saturday's ride, since only one road on the route was new to us.

From there I went searching for fun roads on Google Maps and www.motorcycleroads.us to create a second nice loop for Sunday's ride.

André, Mark, and Mark needed something to ride, and after quite a bit of searching I ran across http://www.sportbikes4hire.com/.  Sportbike rentals are not an easy thing to come by.  In many areas the only motorcycle rentals available are from Harley Davidson dealers.  The bikes were delivered early, and Greg McCoy (the owner) was very friendly and easy to work with.  Those bikes have had hard lives, each having been down a few times.  That said, they had been repaired carefully, and looked well-maintained.  It seemed like everyone was satisfied overall. 


I only mapped one way for this route, because I wanted to leave it open to either a fast return via the interstate, or a leisurely one via the Parkway.  We ended up taking the quick way back to avoid rain and "leaf peepers" driving 10-20 miles per hour under the limit on the Parkway.

Our first road was US 74A from Asheville to Chimney Rock.  It's a great road with lots of twists and turns, and a fair amount of elevation change.  It's a fairly heavily-traveled road, so traffic tends to make for a slower ride.  Just before Chimney Rock, we turned North on NC 9 to head up to Black Mountain.  NC 9 had more great curves and quite a bit of elevation change.  The northern part of the road was particularly good, and one I'd like to try again heading the other direction to hit the tight turns going uphill.  

Our next destination was NC 80, also known as "The Devil's Whip" - one of my favorite rides.  Best experienced northbound, the section of 80 we ride runs from Marion up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It offers a great mix of hairpin turns, sweeping corners, and tons of elevation change.  

One of the many great Blind Kenny photos from NC 80: Mario headed up the hill. More pics at the end of the post.

While we stopped at the top for a break, I ran back down to say hello to Ken and Donna of Blind Kenny Powersports Photography.  They provide the great photos of visitors to "Blind Kenny Corner", road condition reports, and as I found out this time around, just great people to stop and say hello to.

Stopping for a break to enjoy the view from one of the Parkway overlooks.

After running down and back up the best part of highway 80, we took the Parkway up to US 221, and cut over to NC 181.  Another local favorite, NC 181 runs North from Morganton to Linville.  Great surface, sweeping curves, and numerous legal passing zones make for a motorcycle playground.  Just be careful, it's an easy place to get a ticket with many of the turns being possible at well over the 55 mile per hour speed limit.  After a few runs up and down the mountain, rain was coming, so we headed back to Asheville.


Our first ride on Sunday morning was a repeat of US 74A, a good warm up, but this time we went past highway 9 and turned toward Brevard on US 64.  Next time I'll find a better route to Brevard, as 64 really isn't much fun.  

André Kamman takes in the view at Looking Glass Falls, pondering this most un-flat landscape.

US 276 runs north from Brevard, past Looking Glass Falls, to Waynesville, NC.  It's a great road, but heavily traveled due to the number of attractions it passes.  Still, a great twisty road that's well-maintained, has great scenery, and is a challenging ride.  The descent out of the mountains on the North end of the road was wet, so we had to take it pretty slow.  

Our next leg proved to be the highlight of the day, NC 209, nicknamed "The Rattler."  Running from Lake Junaluska to Hot Springs, there are 239 turns and lots of elevation change.  The turns ranged from long sweeping curves to switchbacks.  There was almost no traffic, the surface was good, and there were only a couple of corners with gravel to dodge.  It's a pretty ride too, but we didn't have much time to look at the scenery.  The road demands undivided attention.

NC 63, heading back to town.  Dead tired :)

After finishing NC 209, we doubled back and did about half of it again, breaking off on NC 63 to head back into Asheville.  NC 63 proved both challenging and fun, with another steep descent with lots of switchbacks and finally some country road sweepers before turning into New Leicester Highway.  We took this back toward the West side of Asheville, picked up Interstate 40, got rained on, and headed back to the hotel to drop off the rental bikes and get changed for the ride home. 

All in all, it was an awesome experience, and one we will be looking to repeat.  Ride safely and enjoy PASS Summit!

A few more photos from NC 80:

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