It's a weird way to make a living. Darryl Cannon and the photographers of Killboy.com are out there standing in the woods every weekend, and most weekdays from March through November. What started out four years ago as a weekend business has grown into a cottage industry-without the cottages. Today, Cannon and partners Keith Norrod and David Spotts vie for prime position with other shooters to click about 500,000 digital frames per year of heroic cornering action on the tight, serpentine pavement of Route 129, straddling the border between Tennessee and North Carolina.
Most are images of anonymous riders arcing serenely through the wooded curves of the Smoky Mountains. Those hero shots can be had for $5 a pop on Cannon's Web site (www.killboy.com). But a tiny percentage of photos are far more jarring. These are the hapless riders who ran out of road, skill or adhesion-sometimes simultaneously.
For our edification and amusement, the Killboy guys have graciously provided us with a treasure trove of back-road mayhem, compiled over the course of four years of intensive shooting. For the record, none of our subjects here went home in a body bag, or even in an ambulance. So marvel and learn, secure in the knowledge that all these poor bastards lived to crash again. And since unlucky victims of Deal's Gap get their commemorative crash photos for free from Killboy.com, they're effectively cashing in a $5 discount on new plastic, leather and aluminum. That and a bottle of Bactine should take the sting out of it.
How does an 11-mile piece of pavement become a destination for riders and sports car drivers from coast to coast? Deal's Gap's convulsive asphalt (posted for 30 mph) squirms though amazing scenery, and the local traffic is light. That certainly qualifies it as a fun road, but like Paris Hilton, much of what makes Deal's Gap famous is its fame. Riders from as far as Florida and Colorado have been known to pull all-nighters to show up here midday, make a few bleary passes and then collapse in the Deal's Gap Motorcycle Resort, the Two Wheel Inn or any of a long list of local motorcycle-friendly motels.
But this is a public road, not a racetrack. The Killboy team says that a sense of community keeps this little slice of paved heaven from turning too ugly or getting so rowdy the police are forced to shut it down. The regulars try to keep things running smoothly, sometimes to the point of serving as self-appointed traffic control. Most weekdays, about a half-dozen semis weave through the contorted turns of The Gap, sometimes blocking the entire road negotiating the tighter turns. It's not unheard of for Deal's Gap regulars to escort trucks through just to keep oncoming traffic from coming upon them without warning. Think of it as a co-op version of Racer Road.
For the riders who love this road, crashes bring unwanted attention. So does behavior that rankles the locals who use this thoroughfare for transportation instead of recreation. Cannon says egregious "douche bagging" is frowned upon, and for the people who live to ride this road, minimizing the mayhem is a top priority.
In short: Ride smart, stay on your side of the road and everyone's happy. Screw things up and a mob of riders is going to want to see your helmet on a pike. Or at least on the Tree of Shame.
Killboy, From Both Sides Of The Lens - The human condition is all about learning from your mistakes...but better still, why not learn from the mistakes of others? With their almost continuous roadside vigil on nearly every rideable day, the Killboy crew may have the queasy distinction of witnessing more street crashes and near misses than perhaps anyone in history. If not them, who?
Still, the Killboy cameras capture only a handful of crashers each year. Just how many riders bail on Deal's Gap on a given sunny weekend? Maybe five or 10, though it's just speculation, since with 318 turns, there are plenty of places to crash anonymously, dust yourself off, find your missing glove and hightail it the hell out of there. Just in case they happen upon an "incident," each of the Killboy photo cars is equipped with a broom, grease sweep and leaf blower to help keep things tidy. The show's over, move along.
What causes most of the crashes? Killboy founder Darryl Cannon says that most people actually fall on the roadside gravel when they pull to the shoulder and forget it ain't pavement. For the guys who do lose it on the pavement, "Every black mark leading to a crash is due to somebody getting on the back brake too hard," Cannon says. "It's better not to use it at all, just to make sure you don't panic and lock it up."
Darryl himself has been snake-bit by the Tail of the Dragon. Riding a camera bike for a DVD appropriately called Bit by the Dragon, a bobble by the lead rider triggered a bigger twitch from the second one and an even bigger spasm (and front-end departure) for Darryl in the third position. Even years of Deal's Gap road wisdom can't inoculate you against calamity. Darryl was hurting for sure after that one...but of course the photos were freakin' awesome!
10 Top Ways NOT To Crash
- Learn the road.
- Stay on your side!
- Leave room for oncoming jackasses who don't stay on their side.
- Forget about your rear brake on the pavement.
- Forget about your front brake on the roadside gravel.
- Know where to pass-if you pass at all.
- Don't turn across the centerline to get to the shoulder.
- Memorize those turns riders/drivers frequently blow.
- Respect the Dragon. Or the Snake. Or whatever canyon road you ride.
- No "douche bagging."