Tennessee is known for great motorcycle adventure roads. Starting anywhere east of the Tennessee River, this state gets more pronounced hills until you reach the Cumberland Plateau – east of Cookeville. Going east from the plateau you quickly make your way into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains – and there you get more grins per mile than perhaps anywhere in the continental United States. And while the Smoky Mountains are a major travel destination, for bikers, there is one motorcycle road on the Cumberland Plateau which is not as well known as the Tail of the Dragon and the Foothills Parkway – The Devil’s Triangle.
Getting to the Devil’s Triangle
The Devil’s Triangle is made up of Tennessee Highways 116, 62 and 330.
If you are coming from Nashville, you will want to take I-40 East to Monterey, Exit 300. Ride into Monterey and turn right on Hwy 62. Stay on Hwy 62 for approximately 50 miles until you reach Hwy 116 – which you turn left on to start your ride of the Devil’s Triangle.
If you are coming from Knoxville, or the Smoky Mountains, take I-40 west to exit 376-A and turn right on Pellissippi Parkway (TN Hwy 162). Follow signs to Hwy 62 and continue heading northwest, through Oak Ridge, to Oliver Springs. In Oliver Springs turn right on Hwy 330, taking it approximately nine miles to Hwy 116 where you will turn left to start your Devil’s Triangle adventure.
Riding the Devil’s Triangle
While the actual triangle includes three highways, 116 is the REAL deal. Highways 330 and 62 form the base of the triangle and are fairly mundane. The left and right legs of the triangle are formed by 116 and to say it’s a gnarly, hairy, monster of an adventure road is an understatement. It is highly technical – and dangerous. Why is it dangerous? Well, let the Grey Beard Biker tell you. This is an old mining road. It is nestled along steep cliffs and rock walls. Today, large logging trucks still navigate the road. It is perched along spines of low mountains on the Cumberland Plateau. Because this section of highway doesn’t connect any major villages or cities, it is not well maintained. You will often find sections of road which are crumbling on the cliff-side or gravel washed across the road – many times in the middle of blind curves.
You can actually ride the Devil’s Triangle in either a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction. If you are not a highly experienced rider, I recommend only riding this road in the clockwise direction. Going this direction, you will approach the four tight switchback curves on the eastern leg, from the outside, going downhill, making the hairpins easier to navigate. This is critical, because from the other counter-clockwise direction, these nasty curves gain 25-40 foot of elevation change in a matter of 25-30 yards. Many a self proclaimed experienced rider has taken these switchbacks in the wrong gear and tumbled down with their bike to the entrance of the curve. And I will also tell you this, having ridden in the mountains for many years, these switchbacks are unlike any you will find east of the Mississippi River. They literally curve back against themselves.
WARNING: make sure you are looking all the way through the switchbacks when going counter-clockwise!
Unlike the Tail of the Dragon, the Devil’s Triangle will actually give you some periodic breaks in the white knuckled, adrenaline filled, ass puckering excitement. And believe me, your numb hands will appreciate it. But don’t let these breaks lull you into complacency. Many of the curves you will encounter in these sections are of reducing radius. If you enter them too fast, your speed may well carry you through the curve and off the road. And because this area is largely unpopulated, another vehicle may not come by for a very long time. If you are unfortunate enough to go off the road, and need medical attention, you are going to be in a very bad bind as there is also no cellular coverage in the area for your mobile phone.
While the eastern leg of 116 is the most exciting, the western leg is also very technical on the lower 1/3. And while the switchbacks are not as unforgiving as eastern leg’s, there are plenty of them to provide you ear-to-ear grins.
Finally, do not forget to stop at the historic Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary, on the western leg. This historic prison housed James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Martin Luther King, Jr. Closed in 2009, it now has a great little restaurant and you can tour the prison daily. Additionally, there are several little general stores along Hwy 116 that are worth stopping at. The people are all friendly and it will give you a chance to have your heart-rate slow.
Until next time, bikers and patriots, keep the shiny side up, master trigger control and ride often! Grey Beard Biker signing off!