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Riding the Smoky Mountain Twisted Tour

“Why did you request a GS?” he yelled at me over the phone.

“Because we’re doing an off-road tour and that’s what I want to ride,” I responded, wondering why it was an issue.

“We’re doing an ON-road tour,” he replied.

“Oh, really?” I thought.

When a friend asked me to join him on a tour with the BMW Performance Center, I assumed it would be for an off-road tour. To be honest, I didn’t know the BMW Performance Center offered tours, and while I know the staff has fantastic instructors and classes are offered for all riding styles, I was unaware they offered more. In September 2019, I found myself geared up in street-riding apparel – or at least the closest thing I had to it – and sitting in a briefing on what we would experience over the next two days.

BMW Brand Ambassador Shawn Thomas and BMW Performance Center head instructor Aaron Rankin suggested riding something other than what I was used to. Shortly before arriving in South Carolina, I found out I’d be riding an S 1000 XR. That sounded good to me, but I knew nothing about the XR except it has two wheels and is made by BMW.

The next morning, the tour participants met over breakfast. Our group was small and included five riders and four staff members, three who would ride with us and one who would drive the support vehicle. Immediately after breakfast, we headed into a meeting room where the PC staff introduced themselves and gave us a rough itinerary of what was to follow, as well as the basic rules of riding in a group. Aaron Rankin would lead the group, accompanied by Ricardo Rodriguez riding sweep along with another instructor at the PC. The chase vehicle would carry our overnight bags, meaning we’d be able to ride carrying minimal gear.

After the brief meeting, we were finally released to our bikes, and I hopped on the XR and immediately began experimenting with its height and balance. Before long, all of us were chomping at the bit to get riding. The reasonable temperatures felt earlier that morning were now giving way to South Carolina’s late summer heat and humidity, something this Colorado girl was not used to.

We were all ready to ride, and we set off on wide, fast roads chosen by the Performance Center to get used to the bikes. Included in our group was my XR, a K 1600 Bagger, an R nineT, an F 850 GS, an R 1250 GS, and a handful of R 1250 RTs. As we shuffled around in the pack finding the spots where we wanted to ride, we quickly turned off onto small, winding two-lane roads. We rode through farmland dotted with lovely little houses and animals as we snaked through the state park full of towering trees while making our way up into the Smoky Mountains.

Our first stop was a quick break near Hendersonville, at a bakery offering mouth-watering pastries and curious locals wanting to know about our adventure. In exchange, they gave us a little history of the mountains we were riding. Our timing was perfect, as our next destination was the famed Blue Ridge Parkway in the middle of those mountains. Once there, I found myself having a great time zipping my XR through the twisties and scenic sweepers. Before long, we arrived at a lookout point and stopped for a photo opportunity.

The Smoky Mountain views were breathtaking. Often when people come to ride in Colorado, I hear comments on how rocky our trails are. That typically elicits a smile and a comment along the lines of, “The Rocky Mountains, not just a clever name!”

I have to admit that as I looked across the valley at the blue-hued mountains in the distance, I thought, “Huh! Smoky Mountains, not just a clever name!” as I was utterly charmed by the beauty laid out before me.

We stayed just long enough to get the photos we wanted. If beautiful roads, pastries and stunning scenery were not enough, we had more to see. When another rider asked if I wanted to swap bikes and try the Bagger, I jumped at the chance. I admit I was intimidated by the bike, but this seemed like the perfect place to try it out. Riding the Bagger on the Blue Ridge Parkway put a huge smile on my face as I felt myself relaxing and enjoying the powerful machine beneath me and the beautiful scenery all around me.

After more miles of eye-popping views and lunch at a tiny but delicious local restaurant, we found ourselves at Dale’s Wheels Through Time motorcycle museum in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. The museum is a beautiful collection of more than 300 running vintage motorcycles, and the Performance Center had arranged for a fascinating presentation on one of the most interesting bikes there with a bizarre history.

After leaving the museum, we had one more stop scheduled for the day: The Tail of the Dragon. I had heard of this famous stretch of road for many years, and the information always boiled down to two things: The Tail of the Dragon is super fun and always super crowded. Arriving at the end of the day, we were given a choice to ride it that afternoon or to come back the next morning. Seeing the Dragon’s lack of traffic, we chose to ride the 11 miles and 318 curves that evening.

I was back on the XR when I rode the Dragon and just enjoyed every curve. Traffic was light, with only a few other riders out. Once we reached the Tennessee state line, we turned around and rode it again since we were staying in North Carolina for the night. It was the perfect end to a great day of riding.

One would expect the riding on a BMW Performance Center tour to be fabulous but may wonder what the hospitality would be like. Wonder no more. Our accommodations sat smack dab in the middle of the mountains at the rustic, but beautiful, Snowbird Mountain Lodge.

The next morning began with us on the Cherohala Skyway and sweeping through the Nantahala National Forest. The many shades of green and the fresh scent of the forest vied with the beautiful roads as my favorite place that day. North Carolina has the most beautiful and well-kept roads I have seen anywhere. Gliding through sweepers or concentrating on the apex of tight turns was easier without having to worry about potholes or broken pavement.

As we rode, we experienced more twists and turns through the national forest along with several small waterfalls and creeks, all while sunshine streamed through the trees or shone brightly on walls of kudzu. If you don’t live in the south, the undulating kudzu covering everything in its path is a sight to behold and was not scarce on this tour.

After lunch, we stopped at a rock outcropping where a waterfall cascaded over us. While there, we encountered another group of riders, took pictures of each other, and acknowledged what a beautiful day it was and how fortunate we felt to be able to enjoy it in our own way.

Finally, after a few more gas stops, we were rolling back into the Performance Center as a storm moved into the area. Our arrival was timed perfectly to avoid getting soaked. We sadly exchanged goodbyes despite knowing we had just spent two fantastic days of riding together while making new friends.

If you did not know the Performance Center hosted tours, you were not alone. The PC offers a wide range of them, both on-road and off-road, from one to three days in length. This is a great way for someone like me who came from thousands of miles away, and who wanted to ride the area. It’s the ultimate fly-n-ride. I also came away from this tour with an all-new love of road bikes, especially the K 1600 Bagger.

If you’re looking for a well-thought-out tour to ride the best roads in this area, this is the way to go. Likewise, if you are thinking about a new bike, this is the perfect way to spend a couple of days on the model you’re thinking about to help make your decision. I enjoyed myself so much that I am now eagerly waiting to try their off-road tour.

For more information or to book a BMW Performance Center/US Rider Academy Smoky Mountain Tour, visit