Monday, May 17, 2010

A Very Twisty Road and a Downhill Technique Tried

I planned a trip north of Saluda North Carolina for April 17, 2010, about a month ago, to try a road that I had picked out on the map, seeing that it was quite twisty and might offer some nice views of the Green River paralleling it.

Here it is:

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This shows the route from Saluda to the start of the road, and as far as it parallels the Green River.

Here is a closer look at the 1.4 mile twisty section:

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It is downhill going to the north. In fact, since it is far easier for me to go up twisty hills than down, I planned my trip today so that would be the case on this section.

I motor up the Greenville Watershed Road to Saluda, and stop for a little break there, and to visit the proprietor of the M. A. Pace Company General Store, Mr. Robert Pace. The store was established in 1899, and Mr. Pace is the son of the original owner. Here is the exterior view.

Mr. Pace seems to like a little company and some chat, and he always has something to say about the area when I ask him. Each time I have visited, he has asked me if I am from outer space, because of my riding suit. I suppose that is a valid question, but one I am used to and take in stride.

Now that I think of it, I do look a little like that, don't I? Silver spaceship, and all. (The photo above was taken at the parking lot near the highest point in South Carolina, Sassafras Mountain.)

The Pace store is filled with both new goods that are likely to be needed by the locals, and a huge amount of antique goods that he does not sell. He also stocks a large variety of cheap plastic toys arrayed on a table much as you used to see in five and ten cent stores years ago. None are priced at five or ten cents, but it brings back memories of pestering my mother to look at the toys in the dime store when I was a child.

There are ancient shoes and shirts galore here, and probably a lot of other things hidden away in various nooks and crannies, all new but quite old. In automotive parlance, that would be new old stock. Mr. Pace has lots of that.

I look around a bit. There is an easel set up with information about the store and Saluda. There are old photographs, and an plaque for having been open 100 years, eleven years ago.

I ask Mr. Pace if I may snap his photograph. He gives his permission and I do, but he stops me and says I should take another one with him smiling. So I do.

That's better.

By the way, the store is for sale, if you are interested. I didn't ask the price, and I don't know if the stock and antiques go with it.

I bid Mr. Pace adieu, take a few minutes to walk the main street of Saluda, and go on my way.

The road from Saluda to Tryon goes down the Saluda Grade, roughly paralleling the famous railroad grade, in a series of switchbacks that are, again, much more fun and easy when you going up. The elevation change is about 800 feet in three miles of road.

This downhill twistie problem that I mentioned earlier is basically that I seem to gain too much speed for comfort. I know that I should have the throttle open at least a bit to help stabilize the bike, but I fear building too much speed, especially where the curves are close together with no braking room between. I have managed to at least hold the throttle constant in this situation most of the time, but I tend to enter the curve far slower than other riders.

Upon searching the Internet, I find that I am not the only one who has this downhill cornering problem. Here is a posting by DevilNinjaDog from the ADVrider Forum that describes it pretty well:
"I have serious problems with steep downhill hairpins. I have no problems taking the same turns going uphill -- in fact it usually goes great. Smooth, good line, good sight through the corner, roll on throttle, bike doesn't run wide, everything feels 'right.' Coming back down the same turns are a nightmare. This has been a problem for me for thousands of miles. I tense up, can't seem to look through the turn, can't seem to roll on throttle to stabilize the bike, run wide, feel like the bike is going to lowside, etc, etc, etc.

"I know part of it is because I always feel like the bike wants to run away from me, so I tense up and it screws up my control. That makes me not want to roll on throttle, though that is exactly what I need to do to stabilize the bike and give me better ground clearance, but it always makes me feel like I'm going way too fast through the turn, which freaks me out again. I get more tense and end up running wide again. Even shifting to a much lower gear seems to cause problems...then the bike gets snatchy."
I understand from experience what DevilNinjaDog is describing.

There are some suggestions later on in that ADVrider forum thread, but I thought I might better ask someone who seems to speak with authority about things related to motorcycle riding. His name is Irondad, and he writes the Musings of an Intrepid Commuter blog. He is a long-time rider and has written extensively about riding and about teaching people how to ride. (He also lately writes about a new grandbaby too, a boy -- and the effectiveness of motorcycle gear when changing diapers.) He graciously responded as follows to a question I posed in one of his postings:
"If there's a long downhill stretch between corners, you'll need to just ride normally. Brake earlier and a little more than what you would on flat ground. The goal is to get down to a speed that is lower than what you would [normally] enter the corner at.

"Why? There will be an interval of time between when you release the brakes and smoothly roll on the throttle. The bike should still be straight up and down at this point. You still want all braking done and to be back on the throttle before you lean the bike. During the transition the bike will be gaining speed again since you're headed downhill. Ideally this speed gain should put you just about where you want to be to enter the corner. Practice will help you learn to judge how much speed to scrub for the grade and corner.

"It's important to set your entry speed so that you're comfortable applying at least steady throttle through the downhill corners. You don't want to 'load' the front wheel with braking forces anymore than you have to. Cornering demands enough of the front tire as it is.

"If there is a shorter distance between corners, try riding in second or third gear. Your bike should be capable of fairly high road speeds in these gears. Chose a gear that brings the revs up. Not all the way to redline, but close.

"What this will do for you is allow you to use the throttle like a rheostat for the engine. Ideally you won't need the brakes. Rolling off a little will provide enough engine braking to set your entry speed. Rolling on a little will lift the bike for the corner.

"Once you get a feel for this technique, you can actually use the throttle to help set your lines, too. A little bit of roll off can bring you in a little. A small bit of roll on can move your line outside. Remember the goal is to make the exit of the first turn the entry to the next one."
Irondad has a way of explaining things so they make sense, don't you think?  I believe that is because of his teaching experience based on years of riding and analysis of his own and others' riding.  (Here is a blog page he later wrote on the topic.) 

I have tried the technique with some degree of success, and though I felt some improvement in control, there seemed to be something yet missing. I probably did not wind the RPMs up as high a Irondad recommended, so that may be part of it.

I found some additional information in Sport Rider magazine, in a column written by Andrew Trevitt, their senior editor. Mr. Trevitt writes in the January 2010 issue:
"[F]or a control that has very little effect on actually stopping the motorcycle, the rear brake can be used in subtle (and maybe surprising) ways to your advantage....

"Say you find yourself in a sweeping turn with a bit too much speed, or the corner tightens up slightly. Chopping the throttle and using front brake will load up the front end, possibly overpowering tire traction and causing a crash. But in this situation, holding the throttle steady and applying a small amount of rear brake can scrub off just enough speed and actually help you tighten your line. The rear brake is much better at modulating your speed than the throttle and/or front brake. With the clutch out and the throttle steady, you'll find that you've got a surprising amount of control with the pedal alone. This is especially effective on a downhill turn, where keeping even a slight maintenance throttle will have the bike accelerating. The rear brake will easily keep this in check while letting you stay on the throttle to avoid overloading the front tire.

"As an added bonus, the above technique can minimize the effects of an abrupt throttle response or excessive engine braking....

"Finally, downhill corner entries pose a bit of a conundrum. Here there is more than usual weight transfer to the front wheel under braking, leaving the rear brake less useful. However, this situation is exactly where you want the extra stability it can offer. Adding even a small amount of rear brake can make a beneficial difference to how the bike reacts downhill, to the point that at times it may be worth sacrificing some front brake so that you can use more rear."
Ah, maybe that will help me too.

Now, back to the trip.

I use the opportunity of going down the Saluda Grade on US-176 to try out a little rear brake so that I don't gain too much speed through the downhill turns. The turns are not amongst the tightest, and the road is wide, so this is a good place to try the technique. The rear brake seems to help with the speed control problem, and the bike feels much more steady. The important thing is to still maintain a bit of throttle opening -- don't coast -- and apply the rear brake to help hold the speed down.

It is, indeed, amazing how much a light rear brake application helps control the bike. I'll have to practice more when I am in the twisties again.

US-176 straightens out east of the grade on the way to Tryon, but every few hundred feet there is a ridge across the pavement that nearly pitches me off the bike. They must have installed utility lines under the road and not smoothed out the surface again. It goes on for several miles, so I lift myself off the seat a little before each one to reduce the wear and tear on my back and on my scooter. I feel like a Jack in the Box. Maybe I should work on my dirt bike skills including standing on the pegs.

I reach Tryon and turn north on NC-108, through Lynn, Columbus, and Mill Spring, then turn left on Silver Creek Road and follow it to Green River Cove Road. Most of Green River Cove Road is fairly straight with some good views of the river. I pass a couple of tubing companies, but surprisingly, they don't seem busy today, and I don't see any tubers or kayakers on the river.

Just before the steep switchback section of the road, I stop at a gravel parking lot where there are quite a number of cars and people. This is a put in and takeout point for kayakers, and a fishing spot as well. I dismount, and walk down to the river.

It looks like a pleasant place. I don't know the class of the rapids near here, but some sections of the Green River are class V plus -- very difficult.

Back in March of 2010, I wrote about FastFred and the parallels he draws between kayaking and motorcycle riding, especially looking where you want to go. He enjoys paddling on the Green River along here. I communicated with him a little while after my blog posting and he sent me a copy of a photograph combining his two loves.


This is shot taken by one of the photographers on the Tail of the Dragon in 2009. FastFred says, "I had a hoot riding my bike on the Dragon last 4th of July while towing my kayak. I had no problem staying in my lane and maintaining at least the posted speed limit."

After a little rest, a snack, and a drink of water, I saddle up again for the twisty section ahead. To say that this section of Green River Cove Road is crooked is an understatement of significant proportions. It has the tightest switchbacks I have ridden on.

In fact, now that I am experiencing it, this looks familiar. Why is that? After some effort to get the rusty wheels of my memory turning, I recall why. Remember my friend Ryan? He is the one who gave me some tips on riding way back in March of 2008 by shepherding me up and down the Greenville Watershed Road. Well, later on in that same month, Ryan invited me to tag along on a group ride he had arranged. Green River Cove Road was amongst the places he led us. I remember wobbling down the grade fearful of my life, having been riding for only a few months at that time. I am certain that I have improved since then, but I don't think Green River Cove Road will become one of my favorite riding routes very soon.

I make it to the top of the hill, and head back through Saluda. On my way home, I take a slight detour and find the Tuxedo hydro-station that is fed by the penstock from Lake Summit that runs under US-176 west of Saluda. I wrote about seeing it in a previous posting -- and you know my interest in engineering-related things.

Here, you can see where the penstock runs sharply downhill and into the powerhouse. Note the concrete standpipe at the top of the steeply-sloped section. That smooths out the flow from the lake above, and probably acts to keep a positive pressure on the penstock at all times. There is also a place to put in for kayakers just below the powerhouse.

The rest of my trip is uneventful, and mostly on superslab. By the time I reach home, I have traveled 160 miles on this route on widely varying roads.

I'm glad I went, especially having the opportunity to try out that new downhill technique.

Maybe I'll get the hang of this motorcycle riding yet.

If you go:
Use special care on the hilly section of Green River Cove Road. There are no guardrails, the pavement is patched, there is a dropoff from pavement to berm in many places, the view from one switchback to the next is limited, and there are numbers of cars using the route to reach the river for tubing and kayaking.
Here are two videos of a rider negotiating Green River Cove Road both up and down.


1 comment:

irondad said...

Appreciate the mention. Glad you had a good ride!