It doesn’t take much to prompt a tour at the RoadRUNNER offices, especially after an unusually cold winter – at least by our thin-blooded Southern standards – has been keeping us annoyingly close to home. So when coworker Florian called and announced that two Can-Am Spyders were in dire need of some mountain mileage we did what any moto-mischief-makers would do. We grabbed the keys and declared the riding season officially under way.
Flo and I do a fine job of putting up a good front in professional settings. We behave responsibly and act like the grown men that the dates on our driver’s licenses declare us to be. Occasionally, however, we’re assigned to go on tour together, and when that happens it has the odd effect of jerking the rug of maturity from beneath us. So here we are, motoring east from the small town of Pilot Mountain, NC, aboard a couple of unconventional, three-wheeled contraptions, on our first tour of the season. This could get interesting. Did I mention that we’re also well-caffeinated?
Before this begins sounding like a fool’s errand I must declare that we chose roads that are familiar to both of us. As we’re not very used to the unique handling characteristics of the Spyders, these home stretches offer a good opportunity to get to know our mounts. Route 268 unravels its curves in a smooth and predictable manner. As the miles roll by, the easy bends of the Tarheel Piedmont slowly tighten into some serious peg draggers as we approach the mountains. Though being aboard the stable Can-Ams, said metal to asphalt contact is a non-issue. By the time we turn north on Route 8, a real RoadRUNNER favorite, we’ve developed a pretty good feel for the rides. Traffic is light and there’s a nip in the air; it’s a grand day to be out of the office.
Motorcycle & Gear
We stop to warm our mitts and bellies at the Honduras Coffee Company in Stuart, VA. As soon as our helmets are off the seemingly deserted sidewalks suddenly sprout curious passersby interested in our steeds, and we’re bombarded with questions about the Spyders. Doing our best to field the queries we begin to realize that any semblance of anonymity just isn’t going to happen. I guess that means we’ll have to be on our best behavior. Yeah, right.
On Route 8 we begin the slow climb toward the Blue Ridge Parkway. The bends tighten a bit, giving us an even better feel for the Spyders’ capabilities. As we go through Woolwine I’m confident that Flo’s grin is growing as much as mine. Soon the grade shoots skyward as the asphalt gloriously conforms to the rugged hillsides like a snake climbing a fence post. Rocketing back and forth we power the nimble tri-wheelers through some of the best bends in the East. It’s not long before we discover just how effective the machines’ built-in traction control and anti-roll systems really are. Of course our firebrand riding methods are for evaluation purposes only.
Topping the hill at Tuggles Gap in Floyd we slow for the next leg of the journey, the parkway. The temperature drops markedly and an eerie haze shrouds the mountaintop. We’ve literally ridden into the clouds. Though the trees below are sporting full summer greenery, only a few blooms can be spotted at this altitude. Having exorcised our Moto-GP demons on Route 8 we settle into the mandated 45 mph speed limit enforced on the parkway. National Park Service rangers do prowl the way and speeding here is a federal rap so do yourself a favor and behave. Our ride is an odd amalgamation of ghostly clouds that suddenly break to expose the phenomenal views that have made this 75-year-old byway famous. Then around the next curve the thick mist enshrouds us again.
We stop for a bite of spicy-sweet pork barbecue at Two by Two BBQ in Meadows of Dan. As we depart the restaurant the hazy sky has magically cleared to azure, and the mercury has spiked a good 10 degrees. It just validates the age-old Appalachian axiom, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
In Fancy Gap we turn north on Highway 52 and head deeper into the mountains. Not terribly impressed with the heavier truck traffic, we jettison this busier thoroughfare in favor of the less-traveled Route 100. Our Spyders’ front wheels plow through the mottled shadows decorating the smooth pavement in front of us. With the sun in retreat mode we swing west on Route 42 for our final push to Marion and our digs for the evening. But just as we think the fun is over we reunite with Highway 52 one more time. The nearby Interstate 77 tunnels straight through Big Walker Mountain and takes the vast majority of the traffic with it, which means we get this bygone highway all to ourselves. As we pick up elevation it quickly becomes obvious why big is in this hill’s name. Nothing but sinuous curves and vacant blacktop stand in our way as we climb to the 3,405-foot summit. After a quick photo op at the Big Walker Lookout and BW Country Store we remount and plunge toward Highway 11 and Marion. Just to be on the safe side the traction-control systems are given a thorough evaluation. Yep, we’re still on the job.