Laconia, N.H., June 11–19—The afternoon sun streaming through the trees painted a mottled patchwork of brown and green as I rode along the picturesque two-lane of Route 9 through Vermont and into New Hampshire. I was on my way to the 88th Laconia Motorcycle Week, and I was in no hurry. Only once a year do I get the opportunity to enjoy the lush, verdant woodlands along the last hundred miles to the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.
When I arrived at the NASWA Resort, my lodging for the week, I was surprised to see that, although it was only Friday, the day before the official start of the rally, the parking lot was already filled with bikes. Must’ve been the gorgeous weather, or maybe after several years of a poor economy, everyone decided they’d earned some leisure time.
Track and touring
The beginnings of the rally are traced back to 1916 when about 150 motorcyclists gathered at Weirs Beach. The next year, the Federation of American Motorcyclists sanctioned the gathering as a Gypsy Tour, so-named because riders would travel long distances and camp along the way. 1923 brought the first-ever Loudon Classic motorcycle race. That heritage has continued to the present day, with many more racing and riding options added over the years.
The first ride of the week was Saturday’s 5th annual Peter Makris Memorial Run, accompanied by rain all day long. The liquid sunshine made intermittent visits throughout the week, but to the best of my knowledge, not a single race, ride or other rally activity was canceled. We riders who come to Laconia are prepared for whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at us, and a little precipitation won’t stop the party.
Monday, the US Classic Racing Association Vintage Grand Prix took place at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) in Loudon. There were 14 races featuring American and European race bikes from days of yore, including the sidecar class that thrilled spectators with the antics of the sidecar monkeys flinging themselves from one side of their racing hacks to the other as the rigs careened around curves. On Wednesday, the 19th annual hill climbs at Gunstock Recreation Area took place, with about 400 competitors racing motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs and even a golf cart up the hill.
Friday night, Sideways Promotions put on a new rally event at NHMS—amateur and pro supermoto flat track races on the pavement—offering a $1,500 purse. Saturday night was motorcycle and ATV racing at Jolly Roger Motorsports Park in Lempster, New Hampshire. According to Sideways Promotions’ Pete Giammalvo, the hero of the racing week was 21-year-old Shane Narbonne from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. Shane not only won his class in Friday’s race, but also took the checkered flag (his second) in the 88th annual Loudon Classic held the closing weekend of the rally.
Several guided tours left from headquarters at The Weirs. Monday was a Gypsy Tour to the USCRA Grand Prix, Tuesday a huge crowd rode to Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel, Maine, and Wednesday was a ride along one of the best riding roads in New England—the Kancamagus Highway. Laconia Harley-Davidson sponsored some rides from their Meredith location, including a guided tour to Mt. Washington Auto Road on Thursday (one of the two motorcycle-only “Ride to the Sky” days designated during the rally) and a Women’s Lunch and Ride on Saturday.
All the old haunts
Like any rally that’s been around awhile, Laconia features many traditional venues, some going back to its beginnings. The Weirs Beach area is one such place where you’ll find double rows of bikes parked from the intersection of Route 3 for a half-mile down Lakeside Avenue. Riders and locals alike while away entire days and nights in the bars and restaurants as well as patronizing the vendors, or just hanging out watching the spectacle of Motorcycle Week pass them by. Wednesday night we were treated to a fireworks show at Weirs Beach put on by Progressive Insurance, and on Thursday was the 18th annual POW/MIA Freedom Ride that left Winnipesaukee Crossing in Gilford and paraded down Lakeside Avenue on its way to Hesky Park in Meredith for a POW/MIA vigil.
Just across from Lakeside Avenue is the Lobster Pound, a year-round seafood restaurant that hosts a field full of vendors during the rally. The Lobster Pound also features the Laconia Roadhouse, an outdoor stage with a bar and food setup under a huge tent. Live music rocks the place day and night, and if your timing is good, you might catch a wet T-shirt contest or a bikini model competition.
Dave Perewitz could be found at the Allstate Insurance tent displaying his custom builds. Indian Motorcycle brought their big rig to display their new models. Dirico Motorcycles had an exhibit, but no Steven Tyler. Between recording Aerosmith’s new album and preparing for the next season of American Idol, I guess he’s one busy rock star.
This year, the Lobster Pound added some new attractions, such as the Harley-Davidson Road Tour that relocated from downtown Laconia. The Road Tour featured new product displays, a H.O.G. pin stop and the H-D1/Fit Shop and Jumpstart experiences.
The Limpnickie Lot, a consortium of next-generation bike builders and parts manufacturers, made its appearance at Laconia for the first time, taking up residence at the Lobster Pound. Every day was a new addition to the Lot—one day, Dave Mizur of DeVille Cycles turned up with some of his bikes, and another day, Lock Baker of Eastern Fabrication added part of his collection to bikes from Acme Choppers and Nash Motorcycle Co., among others.
Across from the Lot was the Jack Daniel’s tent that housed the 5th annual Biker Build-off. Five up-and-coming builders had one week to complete their bike builds and earn a $5,000 payoff. Shaun Ready Customs, Vintage Custom Cycles, Deadwood Choppers, Masshole Motors and Petoniak Cycles were the five competitors. The tent also housed tattoo and hot legs contests every afternoon, as well as daily karaoke contests.
One of the highlights of my week was meeting and spending time with English Don of SD Cycles and Steg von Heintz of Psycho Cycles. Both had motorcycle shops in New York City in the ’90s and both worked and rode with Indian Larry. Don and Steg, along with Kevin Alexander of Intensity Cycles in Indianapolis, were set up in the Jack Daniel’s tent and attracted just as much, if not more, attention than the build-off. The guys were on the first leg of their Ride Like Hell tour across the U.S. Don has advanced liver disease and wanted to take one last ride—and maybe find a liver donor along the way—so the three of them decided to make it a doozy.
Other vendor areas included Fun Spot just a mile up Route 3 where Can Am Spyder and Yamaha demo rides were also being conducted, and the Broken Spoke Saloon another half-mile up Route 3. Following the highway a few more miles brought you to Hart’s Turkey Farm and Laconia Harley-Davidson in Meredith, where more rally activities took place, including Harley’s demo rides and tons of vendors displaying everything from seats to stereo systems. Just outside Laconia H-D, the Hog Wild Turkey Pen offered food, drinks and live music. Around the back the Ives Brothers performed stunts inside the Globe of Death.
It’s all fun and games
After the hill climbs at Gunstock, Kitchen Cravings in Gilford hosted their second annual biker rodeo and barbecue, which I arrived at just in time for the wienie bite contest that was followed by a contest involving riders maneuvering through an obstacle course.
Dick Cartier, a local businessman who’s also a well-known bike show judge, organized and judged bike shows at Fun Spot, the Lobster Pound, the old Laconia train station and the Laconia Bike Show at Opechee Park. One outstanding entry at the park was a 1938 EL 61 owned by Deb and Tim Yarnall of Cumberland, Maryland. Tim was dressed in period riding gear, and he and his wife had a wonderful display of photos and memorabilia tracing the bike’s history. The EL won 1st place in the antique class as well as best antique in the show.
Cartier also organized the Biker Build-Off at the Lobster Pound. On Saturday afternoon, the winner, selected by people’s choice, was announced—Deadwood Choppers from Middle Island, New York. The award was well deserved; owners Ann and Jack Fiorvante hand-built nearly every component on the bike, creating a rolling work of art.
Presenting, for the very first time…
The stately excursion ship M/S Washington never leaves its Lakeside Avenue dock during Motorcycle Week; that is, until this year when the 230-foot vessel set sail Monday afternoon for a 2 1/2-hour cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee. The ship offers food and beverage service and spectacular scenery that can be enjoyed on any of its four levels. Captain Paul Smith and pilot Denis Finnerty seemed quite pleased with the good-natured, appreciative crowd of more than 250, so we hope the cruise becomes a new Motorcycle Week tradition.
Michael Ballard’s Full Throttle Saloon set up a touring tent for the first time at Heat Pizza 7 Grill across the road from the Fun Spot. The place was packed every time I stopped by, yet I managed to catch a biker-style burlesque performance by the Flaunt Girls. Concerts were held in the evening, with Skid Row performing to a full house on Friday night. On the opening Saturday of the rally, Ballard’s partner Jesse James Dupree put on a free Jackyl concert at Laconia H-D, and in spite of the rain, a large number of fans showed up.
Another new event was the NAZkini contest held Thursday afternoon at the NASWA Resort. Terry Moran from Crown Entertainment emceed, Dave Perewitz joined the festivities as a VIP guest and his daughter Jody was asked to be one of the judges. A dozen lovely ladies strutted their stuff down the dock with scores of cheering fans watching from the NAZBar beach bar. The first round had the contestants sporting biker wear, while the second round featured some of the teeniest bikinis we’d ever seen. It was a close call, but the judges selected Heather for third place, Sierra for second and Caroline came in first. Everyone had a blast, and I expect we’ll see the contest again next year.
The final Sunday, one of the biggest days of the rally—most likely because of the perfect weather—saw wall-to-wall people, with scores of weekenders streaming into town. Although overall rally attendance is not provided by local authorities, a typical Laconia Motorcycle Week sees several hundred thousand riders over the course of nine days. Regardless of the numbers, the regulars return year after year—to wit, the couple I met at The Weirs who’ve been coming to the rally every year since the ’60s—and this rider is no exception.