90th annual Laconia Motorcycle Week
Laconia, N.H., June 8-16—In June 1916, 150 motorcyclists converged upon Weirs Beach in Laconia, New Hampshire, marking the beginning of Laconia Motorcycle Week. This event was organized by several New England motorcycle dealers, and the very next year, the Federation of American Motorcyclists sanctioned the 1917 gathering as the first Gypsy Tour in Laconia.
Early Gypsy Tours were intended to provide enjoyment for riders and positive publicity for the sport of motorcycling. In 1938, Fritzie Baer, a well-known and much-loved Indian Motorcycle dealer, hill-climb racer, racing promoter and announcer and all-around motorcycle enthusiast, was key in bringing motorcycle racing to the Belknap Recreational Area in Gilford during the Gypsy Tour. Thus began a tradition of racing that continues today.
During World War II, Gypsy Tours across the U.S. were suspended, and in the ‘60s, Laconia Motorcycle Week was canceled a few times due to poor relations and problems between the visiting motorcyclists and the local police. The event was shortened to a weekend, and it wasn’t until 1991 that local businesses and organizations got together to restore the rally to its former glory. The Laconia Motorcycle Week Association was formed, and one has to wonder whether Fritzie Baer would be surprised that the rally and races he helped create is now one of the top three bike events in the nation, with hundreds of thousands of riders visiting over the nine-day period.
In Laconia… we ride
The 90th anniversary of Laconia Motorcycle Week kicked off with a press conference on Thursday, June 7, under the big tent at the Weirs Beach Lobster Pound. A video illustrating the tenet, “We ride, we care, we support, we all benefit,” was shown, and the theme of the rally is “the joy of motorcycling in New Hampshire along with the philanthropic character and economic impact of the rally.”
Laconia has always been known as a riding rally, and this year, two new touring activities were introduced. The first was the Laconia Passport tour that took riders from the White Mountain region to the ocean.
Passports were available at Rally Headquarters at its new location on the boardwalk at Lakeside Avenue, just beyond the train station. Getting your passport stamped at all 18 locations earned you a chance to win a week’s lodging at the NASWA Resort for the 2014 rally. Participating New Hampshire businesses were The Hawk 104.9, set up at the Weirs Beach Drive-In, Heritage H-D in Concord, Weirs Citgo right at the Weirs bridge, EVL Cycles in Alexandria, Downtown Deli at Laconia Antique Center, Jack O’Lantern Restaurant in Woodstock, TLC Jewelry in Tilton or Sharky’s Dogs at Weirs Beach, Gilmanton Winery/Restaurant and Alpaca Farm in Gilmanton, Laconia H-D in Meredith, Hillbilly’s Southern BBQ at Rally in the Valley in North Conway, Whitehorse Gear in Center Conway, Traditions Restaurant at Purity Spring Resort in East Madison, Tanger Outlets in Tilton, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Gilford Mobile Mart in Gilford, Lucky Dog Tavern in Plymouth, Kokopelli in West Ossipee and, finally, Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel, Maine.
By Tuesday morning, the first completed passport had been handed in at Rally Headquarters, which was pretty impressive considering the entire route was about 350 miles (at least, the way I mapped it out). Sure enough, the guys said it took them about 15 hours over two days, but being that ambitious didn’t earn them the win. That honor went to Janis Buller from Ashburn, Virginia, in a random drawing. Laconia Motorcycle Week Director Jennifer Anderson tells me that participants included riders from the West Coast, Midwest and Canada, with just as many from the Northeast. She says that people actually wrote in and told her how much they enjoyed it. One guy, Morgan Rue from Luxembourg, is coming back with his wife in the fall for another visit. Jennifer reveals, “Next year, one of the Gypsy Tours will be a passport tour that will have a number of passports stops.” Not surprising… the rally’s 90th anniversary slogan is, “In Laconia… We Ride!”
The second all-new tour was the Motorcycle Farm Tour on Wednesday. Registration was $25 per rider and $5 per passenger with all proceeds benefiting the nonprofit North Country Resource Conservation and Development. NCRCD organized the tour to create greater awareness by visitors of what the land and animals of New Hampshire produce. Riders needed to get a special map stamped by at least five farms to qualify for the prize: a gift basket worth $100 containing products made in New Hampshire, which was won by Bruce and Susan Klingerman from Meredith. The farm stops were Sandwich Creamery in North Sandwich, White Gates Farm in Tamworth, Beans & Greens in Gilford, Ramblin Vewe Sheep Farm in Gilford, The Old Ways Mustard Seed Farm in Wolfeboro, Moulton Farm in Meredith, Spider Web Gardens in Tuftonboro and Tumbledown Farms in Brookfield. Although it was being promoted as a 65-mile tour, we mapped it at 113 miles round trip using the most direct routes. This was a fabulous concept and we thoroughly enjoyed the four farms we were able to visit that day.
Gypsy Tours were scheduled throughout the week, with the Ride to the Sky at Mount Washington Auto Road leaving from Laconia Harley-Davidson in Meredith. Gypsy Tours from Rally Headquarters included a ride to the vintage races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and to the hill climbs in Canaan. Tuesday’s ride to Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel, Maine, was postponed from Tuesday to Thursday due to rain. A number of other rides for various charities and causes took place that week, such as the 7th annual Peter Makris Run on the opening Saturday of Motorcycle Week and Thursday’s 20th annual Freedom Ride to Hesky Park in Meredith where the longest-running POW/MIA vigil in the U.S., marking its 25th year, took place at Hesky Park.
The biggest concentration of rally venues—and rallygoers—is contained in the four-mile stretch of U.S. Route 3 between Weirs Beach and Laconia Harley-Davidson in Meredith. Lakeside Avenue at the Weirs is motorcycle-only traffic and parking during the rally, and with the vendors, bars and restaurants providing live entertainment, some visitors spend the entire week there. It’s also where the M/S Mount Washington is docked—very convenient for the 3rd annual Motorcycle Week cruise on Monday evening. For $15 in advance ($20 at the ticket window) you could cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee for two and a half hours, enjoying the live music and fabulous scenery. And this was a special night; Motorcycle Week Association Executive Director Charlie St. Clair and Director Jennifer Anderson brought birthday cake—actually, four of them—for a 90th anniversary celebration.
Across Route 3 is the Lobster Pound that had numerous vendors in its giant lot, along with a tent housing the custom shops competing in the annual Laconia Biker Build-Off. On the other side of the restaurant was the Laconia Roadhouse, with a bar under another huge tent and an outside stage where bands played day and night. The stage also serves as the venue for daily wet T-shirt contests and other fun and games. One day I was lucky enough to be present for a beer belly contest. Actually, I’m not sure the word “lucky” applies here.
Adjacent to the Roadhouse, the Weirs Beach Drive-In had more vendors set up. Two new venues at the drive-in this year were the Chop Shop Pub and Devils Destination. The Chop Shop Pub had a bar and bands under a tent, and outside were the Ives Bros. performing their Wall of Death, Ball of Steel and freestyle motocross shows. Special guest Goat from the Full Throttle Saloon was brought in from Sturgis, South Dakota, as well. Devils Destination also had live music, with Strip Club Choppers and other vendors. On Wednesday and Thursday, the big attraction was Ron Finch and his wife Ruth who were displaying his wild motorcycle creations and his unique and wonderful sculptures.
A mile up Route 3, the Funspot was home to about 20 vendors in the parking lot, and across the road was Heat Restaurant with Benders Three Ring Saloon, another Strip Club Choppers setup, more vendors and a mobile stage with bands performing. And just up the road the Broken Spoke Saloon was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Adding to the festivities, on Friday and Saturday Ron Finch set up his motorcycle and sculpture display on the Spoke’s front lawn. You could see spectators’ jaws drop at the fabulous spectacle.
Another few miles north brought us to the American Police Motorcycle Museum in Meredith where special events were held all week including a veterans appreciation day on Tuesday and the kickoff of a new female motorcops exhibit on Friday. There were also bike shows, swap meets and vendors during the week. Proprietor Doug Frederick and crew are working on restoring a 1927 Indian Laconia Police motorcycle to be featured as the museum’s 2013 tribute bike.
Just a half mile from the museum, Laconia Harley-Davidson was celebrating the rally’s 90th anniversary in a big way. The dealership’s Vendor Village hosted about 30 premier vendors in their parking lot as well as the adjacent Hart’s Turkey Farm lot. Under the big top in front of the dealership was live music, food and, for the first time in Laconia, the Hellzapoppin circus sideshow featuring sword swallowing, a bed of nails and various acts involving hand and power tools. What a trip to watch those performers bend and twist and shock the crowd!
On display at the dealership was a raffle bike, a 2013 Street Glide featuring a beautiful custom paint job with the rally’s 90th anniversary logo. The paint work was done by Russ Mowry of Candia, New Hampshire. The aim is to raise $30,000 to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Lakes Region. And on Saturday, Laconia H-D organized a Community Appreciation Parade starting at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where participants made a lap around the track and rode 32 miles through downtown Laconia and on to the American Police Motorcycle Museum. Registration for the parade was $35 per rider and $15 per passenger, with VIP tickets available for $150 for those who wanted priority placement in the first 50 spaces behind the pace car going around the track. The event was held to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of New Hampshire.
Back in Laconia, the NASWA Resort presented rally events and live music all week. On Wednesday afternoon, the resort hosted a Laconia Motorcycle Week 90th anniversary celebration—with another cake! The party was emceed by Jody Perewitz and included contests and giveaways. Earlier in the week, the Travel Channel filmed Adam Richman’s Fandemonium finale on the NASWA beach, and the Discovery Channel was also filming for its Motorcycle Week 90th Anniversary special, with the film crew present for the resort’s Miss Laconia bikini contest on Thursday afternoon.
Downtown Laconia saw some rally activity, as well, with a bike show, slow race and burrito-eating contest held at the historic train station on Thursday. On Friday was the Laconia Bike Show and Swap Meet held at Opechee Park. The event kicked off with a bike blessing conducted by Cornerstone Motorcycle Ministry, the same folks that staff The Tent on Route 9 near Antrim, New Hampshire, during Motorcycle Week.
Although Fritzie Baer passed away in 1984, his legacy lives on through his sons Butch and Tom who are also Indian Motorcycle enthusiasts and collectors, as well as authors of Indian Motorcycle history books. Fritzie’s racing legacy is also alive and well, with the annual AMA-sanctioned hill climbs still taking place on Wednesday, having moved last year from Gunstock Recreation Area to the Ridge Runners Promotions property in Canaan, New Hampshire.
Another favorite is the U.S. Classic Racing Association, which every year puts on vintage races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This year’s Vintage Road Racing Championships moved from Monday to Sunday, making attendance a lot easier for many locals.
The jewel of the Laconia motorcycle racing crown is the Loudon Classic, which, at its 90th anniversary, is the longest-running motorcycle race in the nation. Although it was my 12th visit to Laconia Motorcycle Week, I’d never gone to these races. The Loudon Classic admission ticket that was included with the registration fee for the Laconia H-D Community Appreciation Parade was too good to pass up. So on the final Saturday of Bike Week I stayed at the track and for just $5 got to hang out in the infield, which is really where all the action is. The Loudon Classic involved a full weekend of racing, with practice sessions in the morning and races in the afternoon. The big race of the weekend, the Loudon Classic Middleweight Grand Prix, was the last race of the day. But the show wasn’t over—on the evening’s schedule were ladies’ mud wrestling, a chili cookoff and a stunt bike show. I couldn’t stay because we’d snagged tickets for the Blackberry Smoke, Aaron Lewis and Trace Adkins concert that night—a memorable evening to be sure. Sadly, we’d missed the Charlie Daniels and Willie Nelson concert the night before.
In summing up the 90th anniversary of Laconia Motorcycle Week, Rally Director Jennifer Anderson commented, “The weather impacted the rally, as it always does. Many businesses thrived in the rain, though, and said they had a better week than last year. We had folks from Paris, Luxembourg and other countries. We met a guy who’s taken his fifth ride from California this year, and he’s 71 years old!” Jennifer went on to say, “Charlie and I have such a great opportunity to meet people from all over the country and all over the world. That’s what it’s all about, and it gives us an opportunity to showcase our beautiful state and hope that people will come back to visit other times of the year.”