Road Riding & Touring

What is a "great motorcycle road?"

New motorcyclists may wonder what kinds of roads are “great” motorcycle roads. The answer to that question varies, because each rider has a unique set of preferences for the road features they enjoy ... or despise.

A general consensus is that some roads tend to bring out the fun in motorcycling more than others. Such roads have distinct features that add something to the motorcycling experience.

A good motorcycle road for some riders may be straight and narrow, with woods on either side. Others prefer a route that is full of twists and turns.

 

Road types

Great motorcycle roads generally fall into one of the following categories.

Scenic: This road type offers riders exceptional views of mountains, valleys, prairies or deserts. While some of these roads may fall into one or more additional categories, a road could be long and flat and still be considered a “good” road.

Sweepers: These roads feature lots of gentle, wide-radius turns. They can be enjoyed at a leisurely or spirited pace, and they allow riders to enjoy leaning their motorcycles over in a less technical environment than a “twisty” road. These roads are often found in foothills or mountainous areas.

Twisties: These are the roads most commonly associated with “great” motorcycling roads. Such roads feature many sharp turns and, sometimes, include lots of changes in elevation between or within corners. Sometimes the turns are “switchbacks” (alternating left-right-left-right). Some twisty roads also often scenic views, especially those found in mountainous areas or along rivers.

Interstates (aka “the slab”): These are the multi-lane expressways many Americans use to commute to work or school every day. And they are often the road of choice for 18-wheelers, RVs and families traveling on vacation. While an interstate highway is a specific kind of road, the term is used more broadly by motorcyclists to describe roads that have multiple travel lanes in each direction, are often limited-access (no stop lights or at-grade intersections), and often feature wide lanes, a median and gentle changes in road elevation.

Some motorcycle road riders look down on interstates because of their immense size and limited changes in elevation – not to mention traffic along popular transportation corridors. Some argue that the grade-separated nature of interstates detracts from the joy of motorcycling, because riders are insulated from the quirks and nuances of localities along their route.

 However, some interstates in mountainous terrain can fit the descriptions of scenic or sweeper routes.

 Interstates can be good places for new riders to gain riding experience at highway speeds, because the risks from cross traffic are minimized.

 

Finding the best roads for you

For new riders, the best roads to start with are often the roads you already know in the surrounding community.

This may not sound very exciting, but it is best in terms of safety and motorcycling skills development.

Beginning riders are still developing important motorcycle control skills, such as braking and quick maneuvering. If a safety issue arises (for example, if an animal runs into the road), it is best for the new rider to be in familiar surroundings.

As you practice, start to venture out further into the unknown. Soon, you will feel confident to explore roads that take you far from home.

 

Road Hazards

Caution is the key on all road surfaces because traction is not a constant. When roads are wet or covered with debris such as sand, gravel, grass clippings or leaves, the available traction is reduced. Also, be aware that road markings – such as stripes, imbedded reflectors or raised dots – can affect traction.

New road riders also need to be aware of special road hazards that cause motorcyclists more problems than car and truck drivers.

One example is the crack sealer used by many highway departments. “Tar snakes” are the long, narrow patches of black, slippery crack sealer that cross portions of some roadways. The material is very slippery when wet and can easily cause a momentary-yet-dangerous loss of traction.

While cars experience this traction loss, cars do not need to worry about staying upright. For a motorcyclist, losing traction due to riding over tar snakes, especially in curves, can lead to a crash.

Other motorcycle-specific road conditions include new pavement and concrete pavement.

Freshly-laid pavement will have oils that seep to the surface. A concrete surface has a lower grip-coefficient than asphalt surface, which also reduces available traction. Both types of pavement can result in longer stopping distances, as well as cause the front wheel to lock up more easily when braking hard.

Another danger is grating or metal plating that is used on bridges and in construction areas. Both provide for different types of traction and require caution.

Also be wary of transitions in the road surface, particularly those that are parallel to traffic. Crossing over a sharp rise or drop in the pavement can cause an abrupt and surprising jerk at the handlebars.

Often, the best advice is the simplest: slow down, maintain a firm but relaxed grip on the controls and be prepared. The slower you are riding, the more time you will have to react to surprises, whether those are related to road conditions or the actions of other road users.

           

Ride at your own pace

Experienced riders often will tell new riders they should avoid “technical” roads. Many of these roads would fall into the twisties category and feature limited visibility through corners, off-camber turns, and many sharp turns in succession.

New riders can ride any public road they wish to. What they also should do is ride within their limits and choose a pace that is comfortable.

Twisty roads can become addicting, and the desire to ride faster and lean a bike farther and farther may creep in. Practice and experience are the key to maintaining control and a safe pace.

A new rider also may feel pressure to keep up with a group ride, even though the group’s pace feels too fast. In those situations, slow down.

The fun vanishes quickly when you find yourself and your bike in a ditch or worse.

 

Great riding across the country

Some experienced riders will also tell you that you have to travel to certain parts of the country to find good motorcycle roads.

While regions like the Great Smoky Mountains, Colorado, the Pacific coast and the Driftless Region of Wisconsin are renowned for good motorcycling roads, great riding can be found in every part of the country.

No matter where you live, there are new areas to explore, sights to see and curvy roads to be experienced.

AMA Great Roads Database

One resource for finding good motorcycle roads in your region is the AMA Great Roads Database, a members-only benefit that allows AMA members to share routes they enjoy with the AMA community.

The database is organized by state, which makes it easy to use.

Database entries include start and end points for a suggested route, as well as distances and travel time, points of interest along the route, and information on motorcycle clubs who meet along the route or ride the route.

To check out the database, visit www.americanmotorcyclist.com/For-Members/AMA-Great-Roads-Database.

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