A few weeks ago we got a call from our friend and motorcycle writer, Neale Bayly. He wanted us to plan a route and lead a couple of Aprilia exec’s on a backroads adventure from the Historic Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. Neale would be compiling the adventure into a photo shoot and magazine article. He asked us to use back roads and as much gravel as possible. We would be riding Aprilia Caponords,1000cc, 500 pound adventure touring bikes equipped with Metzler DOT knobbies. The Capo boasts a retuned Mille engine with 98hp making for a very responsive ride.
We knew many of the back roads in western North Carolina, but we were at a loss when looking at the North Georgia and Asheville area. We got on the Internet and found a source for North Georgia at the website info-map.com. Joan Moody has put together a map detailed not only good motorcycle routes but dual sport roads as well. We spoke with Joan on the phone and she routed us through the Chattahoochee National Forest. We also called the National Forest Service and got some good tips from the local rangers.
Our trip began on Wednesday afternoon at Aprilia USA in Woodstock, Georgia. We rode the Capo’s down the interstate into downtown Atlanta. We weren’t used to the traffic, but managed to wind our way through the 80 mph bumper to bumper traffic with no problem. The knobby tires gripped well, but hummed quite loudly in the 55 to 70 mph speed range. We took a few pictures in front of the Biltmore Hotel near Piedmont Park and then fought rush hour traffic north into Dahlonega where we spent the night. We had a great pizza at Crusos, a local brewery in the downtown square. We were treated to some live music by folk/blues/jazz guitarist Slim Fatz.
Early the next morning we headed north on US19 and found our first gravel road a few miles away. Copper/Coopers Gap Road began at the Camp Merrill Army Ranger Training Site entrance. We had a few suspicious looks by the guards as we passed and decided not to stop for photos. Coopers Gap intersected the Appalachian Trail and then jogged east to Suches. We made a quick stop at TWO (Two Wheels Only Motorcycle Resort).
We then jogged north on Wolf Pen Gap road (180) before heading back into the woods on Cooper Creek Road (gravel). Here we passed many camps as the hunting season was in full swing. We then found Mulky Gap Road which took us north onto the Old Blue Ridge Highway and into Blairsville. We had to use our GPS mapping system several times as the back roads on the map we were using proved inaccurate. We were not using one of Joan’s maps which would have helped a great deal.
We bypassed a few more back roads that had been planned and jogged north to Andrews, North Carolina on paved roads. From Andrews we took the Tathum Gap Road (gravel), which is part of the original Trail of Tears, north into Robbinsville. This gravel road over Joanna Bald is known as the “gravel dragon” for its twists and elevation changes.
From Robbinsville we headed to US 19 again and descended into the Nantahala Gorge. We turned onto Winding Stairs Road (gravel) which climbs steeply out of the gorge. This road has some of the steepest drop offs and sharpest switchbacks we’ve ever seen. A short hop over to Otter Creek Road (gravel) which climbs to the Appalachian Trail and then Tellico Gap Road (gravel) descends to the Little Tennessee River. Tellico Gap Road is another challenge with its steep switchbacks and loose gravel. We had plenty of opportunity to test the Metzler DOT knobbies and they performed well as did the heavy Capo’s. Ron commented that it was actually easier to handle the Capo compared to our KLR 650’s because the brakes were smoother and the bike was so well balanced.
Once again we changed our route plans as it was getting later in the afternoon and we had to make Sylva by nightfall. We rode east of Franklin and took the paved Ellijay Road (SR 1001) over the Cowee Mountains into Sylva. This 16-mile jaunt was a great way to finish the day. No traffic, tight twisties, beautiful fall scenery, and perfect temps (60’s). Our first stop in Sylva was the local Bre-Thru, a drive through beer store, where we purchased some refreshments..
We had a great dinner by candlelight at Neale’s house (the power went out), and spent the evening reliving the day’s ride. We were up at dawn and after a quick breakfast at a local diner we headed for the Blue Ridge Parkway and more gravel roads to finish the trip.
The Parkway brought cool morning temps with patches of frost on the roadside. “Ice Warning” signs were a bit unnerving, but we never felt any tires slip. We exited the Parkway on 276 South and made our way to Asheville via Yellow Gap Road, Wash Creek Road, and Bent Creek Road (all gravel) traveling thru the Pisgah Forest. We noted many scenic camping areas along these roads.
Entering Asheville we encountered heavy traffic once again as we entered the 8000-acre Biltmore Estate. This was the home of George Vanderbuilt in the early 1900’s. The estate is a 250-room chateau filled with priceless art and antiques. The grounds are immaculate with dream-like gardens and vast pastures.
After a quick photo shoot at the Estate we said our good byes and headed back home on two of the Caponords. We plan to continue our adventure on the Capos by riding the Dragon, the Cherohala, and some of the local gravel back roads.
We have nothing but praise for the Caponords. They proved reliable, functional, and fun on all of the roads that we tested them on. The Capos were well balanced and nimble for their weight. Nancy had no problem handling one on all of the roads. Engine performance was smooth with excellent acceleration. Two-up riding was also very comfortable. The Metzler knobbies surprised us with their grip on the gravel as well as the pavement. The only complaint was the humming at highway speeds, but that is normal when using off-road tires. Nancy and I would love to take a couple of these on a month long tour of the United States. We would not hesitate to take these bikes on just about any roadway.