“Wind therapy is good for the soul,” according to Trent Crewe, an avid motorcyclist and mayor of the southwest Virginia town of Wytheville, about a five-hour drive from Washington, D.C.
Crewe has ridden to California and back, and he’s been caught in rain, hail, and — once — snow. He’ll ride just about anywhere, anytime, but his favorite rides are in his own neck of the woods. “The most pleasant rides are in open country, with very little traffic, beautiful vistas, curves, and hills,” said Crewe.
That’s southwest Virginia, where the “Claw of the Dragon” motorcycle trail awaits. Bikers can explore beautiful mountains and winding roads and, along the way, stop at a growing list of restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, historical sites, distilleries, wineries, and other attractions.
Claw of the Dragon also encompasses an array of shorter loops — including the Back of the Dragon, Bastian Loop, Bland Loop, Wytheville Loop, Galax Loop, and Marion Loop — all organized around the towns of Galax, Marion/Chilhowie, and Wytheville.
The trail features loops totaling more than 350 miles as it ventures over to the community of Marion to the west and Galax to the east, meandering through parts of seven Virginia counties. Multiple starting points are easily accessible from I-77 or I-81.
The ride up Big Walker Mountain is a challenging 16 miles on a scenic byway. At the top, take a rest at Big Walker Lookout, climb the 100-foot tower, and enjoy a snack in the country store.
Insider tip: Information about other segments and stops can be found at clawofthedragon.com, but don’t overlook word-of-mouth tips from residents, many of whom offer recommendations and stories (both true and legendary) about motorcycling.
How the Claw of the Dragon came to be
The Claw of the Dragon is named for its predecessor motorcycle trail, the “Tale of the Dragon” in North Carolina and Tennessee, which is considered the nation’s America’s No. 1 motorcycle and sports car road.
Who thought of the trail? Local motorcyclists first came up with the idea, said Ron Thomason, who directs tourism for Smyth County. “They were absolutely waiting for someone to do this,” he said. “They created these seven really great rides.”
Thomason sends out individual maps in the mail, but he really wants you to travel out to Smyth County and stay while. “We want bikers to stay several days and ride with some of our local guys.”
How to connect with the locals
There are several organizations in town that will plan group rides almost all year round, said Crewe. Many rides are advertised as “poker runs,” where bikers pay an entry fee, then ride a designated course with stops to collect playing cards. Prizes are given for the best (and worst) poker hand, and usually there’s a meal to enjoy.
How to connect? The local Moose Lodge in Wytheville has a very active Moose Riders Club. “They love to have new folks — both Moose members and others — join them to ride,” said Crewe.
Or, drop in at any local motorcycle shop, check the local bulletin boards, or search social media.
Highlights of stops
The Lincoln Theatre, home of the nationally syndicated bluegrass music television series Song of the Mountains, is one of only three remaining Mayan Revival theaters in America.
The General Francis Marion Hotel is a favorite of riders, with its restaurant, The Black Rooster, and a bar with 27 beer taps. The General Francis is located in the town of Marion, which celebrates the Hungry Mother Arts & Crafts Festival and the Downtown Chili Championship on the third weekend in July.
Hungry Mother State Park offers cabins and campsites for overnight stops, plus more than 17 miles of hiking trails if you need a break from riding.
The newest anchor community for the Claw of the Dragon is Galax, a Virginia city steeped in the history of music. The Galax Old Fiddlers’ Convention — held the second week of August each year — has earned the community the distinction “World Capital of Old Time Mountain Music.” Festivals and special events are held at the Rex Theatre and in the downtown, showcasing the area’s authentic sound.
Take a swipe at the “Claw.” You’ll like it.