Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A Sign Of Spring - Motorcycles On The Blue Ridge Parkway

As spring time moves into the Southern Appalachians and the Blue Ridge Parkway starts to open its roadway to the public, there are certainties to life. Trees will begin to bud, wildflowers will start to burst forth to bloom, birds will begin to return from the south, and motorcycles will begin to roar up and down the ridge lines. People who have kept their motorcycles under wraps in garages and sheds will be anxious to get them out and stretch their skills in the warming sunlight and fresh air.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has consistently been described in motorcycle media as one of the best rides in the country if not the world. Although not a motorcyclist myself, I do not doubt this judgment for the views, lack of large commercial trucks, and interesting curves are not to be found anywhere else.

Unfortunately the increase in motorcycle traffic is accompanied by a significant number of serious motorcycle crashes. A number of years ago Park Rangers became concerned about the significant increase in motorcycle crashes resulting in injuries and fatalities. Statistical research of crash scenes and drivers was conducted and several theories were developed as to the causes.

One consistent condition was found to be a factor in many crashes. They were occurring in areas where the Parkway had been engineered with descending radius curves. When the Blue Ridge Parkway was designed the purpose was to adhere it to the land providing for the least destruction of the landscape while providing for the best views. The 1930’s and 40’s were not times when motorcycles or motor homes were commonly used by the visiting public. Very few if any roadways in the United States today have descending radius curves and consequently most motorcyclists have never driven through these types of challenges.

A traffic safety program was designed to step up traffic regulation enforcement, educate the public, and to place more aggressive signing at locations of repeated wrecks. Through these efforts the number of motorcycle crashes sharply decreased. In the District where I worked in we had a curve that had seen eight motorcycle wrecks in one year. Once the warning signs were put in place the follow year there were zero wrecks. However, other duties and constraints of budgets have made the park staff step back from these programs.

Ultimately it is the operator of a motor vehicle that is responsible for their own safety. If you operate a motorcycle on the Blue Ridge Parkway, observe the following safety tips:

•Observe the speed limits that are posted. In most areas it is 45mph. In some developed areas it will drop to 35mph.

•Watch for curve warning signs and take them seriously. They are few and far between, but mark the most dangerous areas.

•Be aware that even though you may have years of experience operating a motorcycle, you will encounter curves and road surface elevations that you have not experienced before.

•Maintain full attention to your driving at all times. Many instances in the past operators have been distracted by the view and just that split second of inattention has gotten them in trouble.

•Watch for wildlife in the road. You are in their neighborhood and they are in the road often.

•Do not pass on the double yellow lines. There are many blind curves on the Parkway that come up fast. You never know what is beyond your view; a motor home, a deer, or a car full of kids.

Remember as the Blue Ridge Parkway Traffic Safety Program says:



  1. One of my least favorite sounds is that of the peace and quiet of nature shattered by a group of Harleys imposing their obnoxious, brain rattling sound on those trying to escape the kind of noise they bring to the forest. I have often wished that some lawmaker would propose legislation to reduce this kind of noise pollution within 1/2 mile of any park, national forest recreation area, or national park. Why are these bikes exhaust systems legal when, in some communities the police can write you a ticket if they can hear your booming car stereo (not that I like that noise any better) within 100'? I know I sound like an old man, but sheesh, can't a guy go into nature and find some serenity?

    The crotch rockets are annoying in a totally different way. They may not be as noisy, but are a menace just the same. Every year or so on Hwy 129 crossing Blood Mountain, near my home, there is a fatality due to a bike traveling too fast for the hairpin curves. They are a danger to themselves and other drivers. I just wish the state patrol took this serious enough to write some tickets here and there.

    Sorry if I sound like I'm ranting. As a former Shenandoah Valley resident, I really do enjoy your posts.

  2. The other noise generated by motorcycles that shattering the quiet are these large touring motorcycles that have stereo speakers built into their handlebar cowling. They drive down the Parkway with toons blasting loud enough so they can hear it through their helmet with the wind blowing by. You can hear them for miles in the mountains.