When the sun is shining, the bikes are whining.
That’s how Tallassee Store owner Bo Henry, Jr. describes traffic on Calderwood Highway in the spring.
The crew at the Tallassee Store are ready to open up the motorcycle season on the Dragon. The legendary winding stretch of U.S. 129, locally known as Calderwood Highway, has more than 318 curves in 11 miles from the North Carolina line into Tennessee.
Bo Henry, Jr., owns the store along with his dad, Bo Henry, Sr.; and brother-in-law, Larry Cabot. While the store is opened year ‘round, they are preparing for the busy season and kicking it off on Saturday, May 23.
At 11 a.m. on May 23, a motorcycle ride benefiting the Bud Allison Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police will take place. Scott Maddux, owner of Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson Buehl, will be grand marshal.
At 1 p.m., a motorcycle show for sport bikes and choppers is planned. “We’re giving $100 to the winners,” Bo Henry, Jr., said.
At 3 p.m., a cage fight will take over the extreme sports arena behind the store. “This is a Cage Aggression Fight League event,” Henry said. “The titles they’re fighting for are all sanctioned. General admission is $20.”
Henry said it should be a fun time for everyone involved. “This is the first time we’ve ever done anything like this,” he said. “It’s going to be a big weekend.”
Bo Henry, Sr., said a portion of the fight proceeds also go to the F.O.P. “We’re looking forward to seeing how that goes,” he said. “In addition, there will be members of Blount County law enforcement agencies emphasizing safety on the Dragon and riding on the curves.”
But mostly, the day is about fun and celebrating the return of crowds to the Dragon. Bo Henry, Jr., said something else new he’s preparing for this season is a band stage behind the store where the old Tallassee School once stood. “The steps are still there, I’m going to be putting in a school bus, and the stage will be made out of the school bus.”
The new venue should be completed in three weeks. There will be weekly music on stage with bike nights on Wednesdays. Henry said there will be plenty of parking.
The new Tallassee Store opened the store in 2008, and traffic is increasing at the store for the season, said Henry. “It’s based on sunshine, but we still have a steady stream of people who tour on motorcycles,” he said.
In their first season in 2008, the store staff had a map with pushpins for riders to place on their homes. “Last year, I covered all 50 states and 30 countries in basically five months,” Bo Henry, Jr. said.
Bo Henry, Sr., said The Dragon is the second largest tourist attraction in Blount County next to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. “People don’t realize that. People from all over the world come to visit the Dragon,” he said.
Co-owner Larry Cabot from Houston said motorcycle enthusiasts recognize the Dragon even in his state. “I wear my Tallassee Store shirt, and they ask, ‘Is that the Dragon in Tennessee?’ Even as far away as Texas, people know the Dragon,” he said.
Bo Henry Sr. said the people who are real bike riders know that the big rides are in Sturgis, S.D., the Dragon in Blount County and Big Ben in Texas. “It’s the one people talk about,” Cabot said.
Bo Henry Jr. said people from England and New Zealand have come and one group Hawaii shipped their bikes. “The Dragon was their number one stop,” he said. “They offloaded them in Seattle and rode straight here. They were touring.”
Car clubs also are discovering the Dragon. “We have parking across the street,” said Bo Henry, Jr. “They’ve been getting on my roof with tripods and taking pictures. I had Minicooper rally recently. Every weekend there’s a different kind of car - hundreds of them. It’s fun,” he said.
Henry has one end of the store with old railroad track insulators he’s collected over the years from all over the U.S. There’s a deli with seating inside and outside the store, and he plans to add more picnic benches.
“It’s real serene,” he said. “It’s a good place to sit and eat.”
The Dragon defined
Bo Henry, Jr., shared two versions of how the Dragon got its name.
“We are the Heart of the Dragon,” he said. “The Tail of the Dragon is a North Carolina company.
Bo Henry Jr. said there are many different reasons for the road’s nickname. One reason had to do with the curves of the road and how it caused motorcycle frames to strike the ground. “On a map, it’s curvy and looks like a spine or tail of dragon. That’s one story. Another is that, after World War II, Hal Lunsford’s uncle rode a motorcycle up there and commented that when you turned, everything was as if it was draggin’, he said.
The store is located at 5908 Calderwood Highway.