Street Riding Information
Road Riding in West Virginia – Part 1
W. Grant Norman
West Virginia street riding is one of the most rewarding experiences for any motorcyclist. Virtually every type of road style exists within the state – smooth, sweeping asphalt valley roads, twisty mountain climbs with multiple switchbacks, long, lazy river roads, and challenging paved/unpaved back roads. Some are great US Highways, such as US 219, US 220, and US 19 and other are state highways – WV92, WV38, and WV73. While many of these great roads are in the north central part of the state, there is no limit to great roads throughout – WV28 in the eastern mountains – US250 diagonally cuts across the state – northwest to southeast – and the old granddaddy east west – US 50. Lastly, even the interstates present some pleasant riding opportunities – I68 From Morgantown to I70 has several beautiful mountain vistas with several elevation changes and I79 – south from Clarksburg to Charleston has several wonderful sweeping turns and elevation changes – from Flatwoods south, it even has fairly limited traffic.
For those of us who live and ride regularly in West Virginia, these great roads are kind of a well-kept secret. Many riders from neighboring states – Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania can be frequently met on various West Virginia roads at many stopping places – Seneca Rocks, Parsons, Elkins, and Cool Springs, to name a few, but for the most part, the vast majority of riders seem to hail from the Mountain State. The two-lane highways, in general, have little traffic, and where there is traffic, there are generally many passing opportunities.
The roads themselves are mostly in good repair. I say mostly since there are periods of time when one of the better roads has suffered too many harsh winters and too many gravel or coal trucks. Yet, for the most part, the WV DOT does a pretty good job of repairing these roads when the funds are there for the work. I had read where West Virginia spends about 1 billion dollars a year on roads and really needs about 2 billion to get it all done. So it is no surprise that some roads are a little rougher at times. However, when one finds a newly paved favorite road twisting through the mountains, it is an extra special riding reward.
Riding in WV does present some challenges. As mentioned, there are several coal and gravel trucks sharing the two-lane roads. There also can be an occasional tractor-trailer truck, but generally you will find them more on the interstates and not as often as coal trucks on the two-lane highways. Additionally, there are frequently drivers that are extra cautious on the two-lane roads. While the speed limit on these roads is generally 55 MPH in all the open places, there are drivers that do not feel comfortable at much over 35 MPH. When driving in most cars or trucks, this can be difficult since many of the passing zones are just not quite long enough for your car to pass one or two cars and/or trucks. However, for the most part, any modern motorcycle or scooter above 600 cc’s has little difficulty in passing in these conditions. The only exception is the slow moving “parades” – where several cars/trucks are moving along at 35 MPH . There are two strategies for the rider in this situation. CAREFULLY pass a couple cars/ trucks at a time until you have eventually passed the entire parade. I advise EXTREME caution if you are attempting this and recommend NEVER PASSING A PARADE if you are riding with a group of motorcyclists. The danger is that many times in these long parades an individual car or truck will suddenly make a left turn into a street or driveway, or angrily swing out and attempt to pass while you are already cranked up passing to get around everyone.
The second, much safer strategy is to pull over and chill. Even at the “parades” slow speed, you would be amazed how a 10-15 minute break will separate you from them. And, usually, parades are caused by one vehicle – a slow moving car or truck – and in my experience, these slow-movers are local to the area – not on a trip to Florida – so they will reach their turnoff and be off the road. Those in the string behind them will then generally pick up the pace to 55 MPH again, so by the time you have had your break, you have safely eliminated a possible passing hazard and are refreshed for your ride.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, there are several coal and gravel trucks on the roads. These trucks can be found most anywhere, but most frequently, they are in certain areas of mine activity. As in tracking an animal, watch for the signs of the trucks. There will be telltale signs of truck activity – dusty, greyish dirt on the roads, gravel on the roads, especially in turns where the truck tires have left the pavement and kicked up gravel from the berm. Fortunately, this gravel debris mostly happens in consistent areas and once you have passed those areas, there is not a lot of gravel. Still, a rider ALWAYS needs to be cognizant of gravel potential on all roads, especially those where traction is at a premium – cranked over in a tight turn. If there have been signs of gravel, keep the lean angle safe and look forward to a twisty gravel-free road in the future. A low side spill is not fun and any road accident can be very hazardous on the West Virginia roads – there are not open fields and bales of hay like on the track – but instead, guardrails, rocks, cliffs, banks, and trees – none of which provide for a safe landing.
As mentioned, West Virginia two-lane highways are mostly marked at 55 MPH – which is a fun and safe speed limit for most motorcycles. However, if you have limited lean angle on a large touring or other type bike, be aware that there are plenty of opportunities to “drag parts” in some of the turns. Again, ride sensibly and manage lean angles even more if your bike was not designed with twisty turns in mind. A slower, safer ride is ALWAYS much more enjoyable than a trip to the emergency room and because of the remoteness of many parts of the state, trips to the ER can often be delayed.
Spring through fall, the West Virginia highways have a lot to offer. With safe riding, and a little planning, wonderful day or overnight trips can be had. One of the trips I offer through the Ride Appalachia! touring is the “Inside West Virginia (mostly) Ride” – this ride is 4 days around the inside border of West Virginia and brings the rider the experience of ALL the wonderful types of roads mentioned. For more information, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org