2010 Yamaha R1/R6 Forum Convention at Deals Gap
Transcending screen names and transforming how riders interact
Framed by the pristine Smoky Mountains that are home to that most awesome of roads, the section of Tennessee’s Route 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon, a clear picture of the evolving face of motorcycling was offered at this year’s R1/R6 Forum convention.
The week of June 7 to 13 marked nearly a decade since 2001, when forum member Ned Stribling and a handful of online friends informally agreed to get together for several days in the region along the Tennessee/North Carolina border surrounding Deals Gap.
In 2002, Shane McCoy, on behalf of his family’s powersports dealerships – which at the time owned the R1 and R6 forums – began using his easy-going manner to promote their first official convention, growing it into what soon became an annual pilgrimage for many.
In recent years, as many as 400 people have come to the week-long happening at the Fontana Village Resort. However, this year the economy was said to have reduced turnout, and a rockslide blocking the way from Tennessee prompted 40% already signed up to opt out.
Even so, the 125 who did make the trek this year from all corners of the U.S. showed what constructive use of the Internet can do to enable positive synergy in riders’ lives.
What began as individuals reaching out in a virtual community is said to have provided a twist on the meaning of becoming fast friends.
Nor has its significance been lost on top players in the motorcycle industry. McCoy, who is now the director of media and technologies at Graves Motorsports, is still instrumental in organizing the annual event on behalf of Graves. Yamaha Motor Corporation also supported the event with a banquet dinner at the convention’s end. Likewise the McCoy family dealerships, Mountain Motorsports, and Graves Motorsports donated some pretty cool prizes at the dinner. Further, a newly begun sportbike rental company – Sportbikes4hire.com – supplied Motorcycle.com with a 2006 50th Anniversary Edition R1 to ride for several days.
And if this wasn’t enough, Chuck Graves, head of Graves Motorsports, which also runs Yamaha’s American pro race team made time to ride 200 miles from Georgia to the convention with more than 20 forum members who’d ridden out to meet him.
The Deals Gap convention is a convergence of people from all levels who love motorcycles, and in this case, the R1, R6, and Yamaha brand. These riders also showed they can do more than talk about bikes, and couldn’t have had better roads on which to demonstrate it.
While the Dragon, with its 318 curves in 11 miles, is the most famous road in the Smokies, it is part of a network of hundreds of miles of superb routes. Along with the natural resources in the region, the allure of these roads support a sub-economy of hotels, repair shops, gas stations, restaurants, and more.
The Dragon is also lined with several professional photographers, including the originator of his local occupation, Darryl Cannon, of Killboy.com, who is a fast rider himself, and last year posted a video of what it’s like to ride its twisty tail. For his day job, Cannon and four employees capture images of other vehicles attempting to tame the Dragon, and offers opportunity to purchase these recorded moments of glory online.
During the convention week – in part because of the rockslide barring access – there was a mild and commendably tolerant police presence on the Dragon, which has an uninspiring 30-mph speed limit.
In turn, forum riders had a bare minimum of incidents. Nearly all wore full-face helmets and head-to-toe gear. This was surely advisable because, as Graves described, the Dragon is particularly compelling.
“I have a very difficult time restraining myself there,” Graves said of riding with several friends, including McCoy. “Shane goes, ‘Let’s go again,’ and I’m like, ‘Oh, I don’t know…,’” he said, trying to resist the temptation to dice with his friend on one of the country’s best roads for sport riding.
Since Route 29 from Tennessee may not open until July, but the entire Dragon is open, the way it worked was riders would go up to its serpentine asphalt from Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort just inside North Carolina to the Dragon’s other end in Tennessee – and back – repeating over and over.
Its pavement is so good, some locals add to the fun with “sparkies” – pucks on their leathers with molded-in titanium bits that cascade sparks when they touch down their knee.
While Graves wore regular knee pucks, he brought along something even more dazzling – a 2004 R1 with ’06 swingarm that his crew built as a street-going World Superbike Formula machine using some of his company’s go-fast parts, plus a healthy sprinkling of cost-is-no-object components.
The trees lining the Dragon made Graves notch back his pace to around 80%, he said. But with about 180 rwhp, $6,000-per-caliper Nissin brakes lifted from Noriyuki Haga’s racebike, a $15,000 Ohlins fork, matching shock, hand-cut 16.5-inch slicks on Marchesini wheels, and more – plus Graves’ ability to comfortably thrash the estimated $65,000 bike – he raved about the experience.
“It’s just a phenomenal road. It’s immaculate,” he said, “If I could find a racetrack like that, you’d never get me off of it. I would just go and go and go.”
Graves, 45, has ridden on most of Southern California’s best roads, plus many of the great roads throughout the country, so we asked him how he rates the Dragon.
“It’s the best road I have ever ridden. Period,” he said, “Without a doubt.”
So maybe these R1/R6 forum people are onto something. All the members we spoke to said they thought it was worth the time and effort to stay in a lodge or cabin, complete with good catered meals, nightly partying to one degree or another, and daily rides.
According to another of the event’s organizers, Dan Quintero, many who began as online strangers have since found cause to return each year for more.
“I’d say the biggest thing is the amount of fellowship,” Quintero said, “They see that you come to the convention one year, and you meet people that you’re friends with permanently from that point forward. It’s really interesting to see over the years. What will end-up happening is these same people that meet here are going to meet at different events throughout the year.”
Included in these are bike festivals, track days, club races, street rides, and the like.
But to forum members like Brandon Stampfer, the internet’s impact has proven far more profound.
“I’ve met these people online and you then relate online,” Stampfer said, “And then when you meet them in person, it further solidifies these online relationships and they become even deeper.”
In his experience, the initial anonymity of online forums has facilitated an aspect of human nature in which – while some people will put on a facade – many more posters will reveal a truer side of themselves than they might ordinarily face to face.
Stampfer said he has thus gotten to know and trust several friends to the point that they might talk on the phone about anything, from light stuff to life issues. In 2004, his online exploration – actually on a dating site – also led him to the woman who would become his wife. A few years later, he documented the birth of his son with the rest of his “family” on the forum.
With thousands of posts to his screen name, and as a long-time member of the R1 Forum and moderator for the R6 Forum, Stampfer exemplifies what the internet can do for community building in today’s otherwise all-too-often scattered and disunited world.
We asked him therefore whether the R1/R6 Forum convention was a case of the metaphorical “global village” becoming like a real village?
“Yeah, it really is,” he said. “And people now are like family. I love these people.”
What binds them together is open to further discussion. And as is also expected online, cynics may offer their negative opinions if they wish.
But what seems certain is that commonalities run deep among those who begin interacting online and continue their relationships into the physical world.
Stampfer said his Yamaha friends are experiencing something akin to an already known phenomenon among other kindred souls who gravitate to a certain brand.
“When I was 12, I got my first Yamaha, and that’s when my love for Yamaha began in ’96. It was an RT180,” he said of the air-cooled two-stroke. “From there it was Yamaha, Yamaha, Yamaha, and I don’t know why. But for me, seeing our forum compared to some other forums, or just Yamaha aficionados, per se, compared to others, we seem to be a much tighter group.”
That said, Stampfer acknowledges that others share the same quality-of-life potential, including more than 60 members from the Suzuki SV650 forum who coincidentally were holding their own similar event at Fontana that week.
“Some forums, they are very tight,” Stampfer said, “I think the SV forum that is here with us, they are a very tight group as well.”
These people, he noted, seemed to have a different vibe from the personality types he knows who are drawn to the raw power of an R1. But finding like-minded people is what draws and retains people in any forum, he said.
If what Stampfer says is so, it confirms what Jerry Orban, VP for business development for VerticalScope, already believes and actively cultivates.
VerticalScope is the Toronto-based company that operates the R1 and R6 forums, plus over 40 other online motorcycle communities, including Motorcycle.com.
“We are operating a community of communities,” Orban said, “We are successful because we keep it simple by providing a single, easy-to-find virtual location, and comfortable social environment for relationships to develop.”
These details – and our role in this story in which we are also a participant – are being divulged in the interest of full disclosure, but also to add a factual dimension to what is happening in motorcycling today.
Having just started operations in April, Sportbikes4hire.com began as an idea between a California motorcyclist, Russ Johnson, and former shop mechanic and racer, Greg McCoy of Knoxville, Tennessee.
Johnson, who has long experience as a commercial real estate broker and consultant, “discovered” the Tail of the Dragon while traveling and riding around the country.
It seemed obvious that renting sportbikes to others wanting to travel into the region, could be done if he started small, and played his cards right.
Together with McCoy, that is exactly what they’re doing.
Prior to diving in, Johnson and McCoy made a lot of inquiries, researched, and crunched numbers to come up with a mobile, scalable business model with as little liability as possible, while still providing ability to rent out some serious excitement.
Plans are to add bikes, services and accessories as needed, and as the business grows.
The way it works is McCoy serves as the local liaison, and will deliver (free for multi-day rentals) your bike of choice in a wide area in and around the Smoky Mountains. The service allows renters to swap out bikes, if they like, once they’re signed up. This means someone could strafe the Dragon on a Motard or an R1, or other routes with another bike of choice. For this inaugural season, unlimited mileage is included.
Rates vary between $145-$185 per day, and the company’s insurance carrier mandates a $2,500 refundable deposit up front. In case you’re wondering, this is still a pretty attractive proposition. While there are plenty of places to rent sport-tourers and, more often, Harley-Davidsons, there are far fewer sportbike rentals around the country, and no others centering around the Tail of the Dragon.
“We are passionate about the Smoky Mountains,” Johnson says, “We designed Sportbikes4hire.com to allow those who are either too far away or short on time to experience the area on their own equipment.”
Customers with no riding experience are encouraged to get some first, and the minimum age is 25. McCoy will also ask potential renters about their riding history to weed out the inevitable unqualified riders who might also try to rent a repli-racer. Otherwise, licensed motorcyclists wishing to travel in and experience some very cool and well-maintained machines on terrific roads are welcome.
Directions, routes, and GPS rentals are also available. The website is growing, and more content and services are coming.
The recession has cut sales in half since 2006, but even at its peak, fans of motorcycling have always been a fraction compared to those for automobiles. Motorcycling is, however, a world that’s known for its loyalty, its biases, and unique personalities. And some of its diverse people are becoming tighter knit in ways that were impossible until the advent of web-based enthusiast groups.
While they can also facilitate undesirable aspects, forums are being recognized as otherwise good for motorcycling, or at least influential.
“For me this is fantastic. It’s a great excuse for me to get out and have a good time and ride,” Graves said, “That’s what motorcycling is about. You pull down the shield and the rest of the world goes away. All the stresses of life go away when the face shield goes down.”
Graves echoed a sentiment held by all who attended. Their attitude was they were riders first, and their carefree feeling shows the high caliber of people involved in motorcycling in general, and the R1/R6 forum convention in particular.
It further goes to show that for all the criticism the internet sometimes gets – often justifiably – like any other medium, it is a neutral tool that can be used for worthwhile purposes that are win-win all the way around.
As an aspect of the continually evolving face of motorcycling in the cyber age, the R1/R6 convention proves this and indicates what well-intending people can do to improve their lives, relationships, and the sensibility held by motorcyclists themselves.