LACONIA, N.H., JUNE 14-22—It was the very first time that my ride to New Hampshire was blessed by sunny skies and warm weather. And the first time I can recall in the 13 years I’ve attended that it did not rain once during the rally—except for an overnight shower midweek when everyone was most likely asleep in their rooms. In fact, the weather was spectacular, with the mercury hovering between the mid-70’s to mid-80’s. Some might attribute these favorable conditions to the slightly later-than-usual start of the rally, with the summer solstice occurring during the latter part of the week. And others say it’s because of the El Niño climatic patterns this year. But whatever the reason, the balmy temperatures made for a very happy crowd, especially those diehards that show up for the rally no matter the weather.
Our lodgings at Church Landing at Mill Falls on the Lake, right in downtown Meredith, proved to be the perfect location. A walk of less than 10 minutes down Route 3 brought me to Laconia Harley-Davidson, one of the largest and best Motorcycle Week venues. Major industry players and premium vendors set up shop at the dealership as well as the adjoining parking lot next to Hart’s Turkey Farm (a great place to enjoy a meal, by the way).
Laconia H-D provided plenty of entertainment, as well. Flaunt Girls (made famous by the Full Throttle Saloon in Sturgis and TruTV show of the same name) Laticia and Lanie staged three shows per day in front of the dealership. And live musical acts—25, to be exact—performed in the Hog Pen under the tent all week. LHD sponsors a different raffle each year, and this time there were two grand prizes donated by the dealership: two brand-new Street 750’s. All the proceeds will benefit David’s House and Lake Winnipesaukee Sailing Association, and you still have time to participate because the winning tickets won’t be drawn until August 9 and 23.
Another five-minute walk, continuing down Route 3 toward Laconia, brought me to the American Police Motorcycle Museum. Proprietor/curator Doug Frederick showed me some new additions like the 1926 Indian Laconia Police motorcycle that Indian restoration expert George Yarocki helped Doug rebuild. The Indian was unveiled on Thursday, but THUNDER PRESS contributor Kenzo and I got a sneak peak at this fine machine a few days prior.
Just a few miles further south is Weirs Beach, considered by most as the epicenter of Motorcycle Week. Nearly a half-mile of Lakeside Avenue was designated as one way, closed to four-wheeled traffic and for nine days, rows of bikes lined both sides of the road and the center of the street. Rally headquarters was again located on the boardwalk next to the train station and the pier where the water shuttles and the M/S Mount Washington were docked. Bars and restaurants offered drink specials, contests and live entertainment, and the gorgeous weather ensured crowds day and night.
Late Monday afternoon we boarded the M/S Mount Washington for a leisurely 2 1/2-hour cruise around Lake Winnipesaukee. Now it its fourth year, this cruise has become a Motorcycle Week favorite and there were many repeat visitors, such as the Cozy Inn crew that I’d met a few years ago. Well, that’s not their official name; they are a bunch of bikers that stay at the Cozy Inn across from the dock who have become fast friends over the years. There was one notable change this year, and that’s the new chef in the galley who had prepared a very nice dinner buffet.
Lining the driveway into the Weirs Drive-In Theater were rows of vendors and at the end of the drive was the Chop Shop Pub, a temporary big-top tent in its second year at Laconia. Live music and more Flaunt Girls entertained the crowds, and there was no cover charge this year—a wise move.
Next door, the Lobster Pound hosts a multitude of vendors on its huge property and offers entertainment in its adults-only Laconia Roadhouse. This was the home of wet T’s, live music and lovely bartenders. For the past few years the Lobster Pound has also hosted a Biker Build-Off competition, and adjoining the Build-Off tent was another stage with live music and more food and liquid refreshments. We missed Harley-Davidson’s presence at the Weirs; since last year The Motor Company’s setup was located at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
A new attraction at the Lobster Pound was the Ultimate Smoker featuring Trace Arnold, a.k.a. “the Rib Whisperer,” and his crew who were there as part of History Channel’s Cross-Country Cookout. The smoker is a staggering 80 feet long and can cook a ton of meat at one time, and all week long grilled sausage was offered to everyone who stopped by. An old-timey carnival claw game promoting American Pickers grabbed the crowd’s attention, as well as a mechanical gator meant to promote Swamp People. The only thing missing was Troy Landry yelling, “Choot ’em!”
About a mile north, the Funspot hosted vendors and demo rides held by several motorcycle manufacturers. Another half-mile north and we were at the Broken Spoke Saloon that had concerts, contests, burnouts, cute bartenders; all the stuff you’d normally expect at Bike Week. What wasn’t normal is that the bar is under new management and Jay Allen was back! Jay told me, “They call it the Jay Allen Experience, but the heart and soul of the Broken Spoke is back at Laconia.”
Bragging rights… and rewards
In our culture, we pride ourselves on winning competitions. With some people it doesn’t even matter what the competition is, but with bikers, you know it’s going to be burnouts, build-offs and bikini contests. At the Laconia Roadhouse were wet T-shirt contests held every afternoon—very elaborate affairs beginning with some spirited bidding for the privilege of pouring pitchers of water over the willing volunteers and ending with mechanical bull rides as the talent portion of the contest. Proceeds were donated to the Have a Heart Foundation, making everyone feel virtuous while enjoying a bit of decadent fun.
Local businessman Dick Cartier organizes, oversees and judges a series of bike shows every year during the rally. Tuesday’s show was held at the Funspot and Wednesday’s at the Laconia Roadhouse. On Thursday, the bike show, held at the historic train station in downtown Laconia, also included slow races, a pig roast and a burrito-eating contest sponsored by Burrito Me. Two-time defending champ John “The Mountain” Churchill took the honors by eating a burrito in 1 minute and 11 seconds, besting last year’s time. On Friday, the bike show, along with a swap meet and biker blessings performed by Cornerstone Motorcycle Ministry, was held at Laconia’s Opechee Park. This was the sixth year for the Opechee Park show, which has been growing slowly, but steadily, every year.
Back at the Lobster Pound, four shops were competing in the Biker Build-Off—last year’s winners Ape Shit Customs from Manchester, New Hampshire, Rayz Rod & Custom from Durham, Maine, Barnstorm Custom Motorcycles from Spencer, Massachusetts, and Forever Two Wheels, partnering with Old School Choppers, from Windham, Maine. Voting was by popular choice, and on Saturday the winner was announced at the Roadhouse stage—Forever Two Wheels! Owner and MMI graduate Nick Beaulieu had just opened FTW last autumn, previously having worked for several years at a Harley dealership and then putting in a stint at a custom shop.
A Paint-Off also took place under the build-off tent, with Scott McKay from Thin Air Grafx in Boston taking first, Rob Churchill from All Things Bad Ass in Austin, Texas, earning second and Corey Linehan from Raymond, New Hampshire, coming in third. One of the panels being painted was also donated to raise money for the Have a Heart Foundation.
It’s about the ride
With the fabulous riding roads in New Hampshire and surrounding states, Laconia Motorcycle Week is considered one of the premier riding rallies in the U.S. In fact, the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association was just honored by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) by being named Recreational Road Riding Organizer of the Year. Before the start of the rally, AMA Racing Director Bill Cumbow commented, “the organizers always do a good job of advancing the core values of the AMA” by promoting “the motorcycle lifestyle in a safe, fun and responsible way.”
Racing plays a prominent role in the rally’s history, and this year the United States Classic Racing Association opened the week with vintage racing at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Wednesday were the ever-popular AMA hill climbs in Canaan, New Hampshire, about 45 miles from the Weirs, and on the closing weekend, the longest-running motorcycle race in the U.S., the Loudon Classic, returned to NHMS.
The rally week kicked off the first Saturday with the 8th annual Peter Makris Memorial Run. Peter was the patriarch of the Makris family, and, with his wife Hope, founded and operated the NASWA Resort. After a continental breakfast at the resort’s NazBar on the beach, the escorted ride was led around Lake Winnipesaukee and returned to the resort for a buffet lunch, auction, promotions and giveaways along with live entertainment. This year’s ride was, according to Peter’s daughter Cynthia, currently GM of the NASWA, one of the best yet. The NASWA also held their popular NAZkini contest on Thursday, and between the two events thousands of dollars were donated to the Laconia Fire Department, the Community Emergency Response Team and the Easter Seals NH “Veterans Count” program.
On Sunday, the first Gypsy Tour of the week went to the USCRA Vintage Races at NHMS. Monday morning, the inaugural Mae West Animal Shelter Run departed rally headquarters at 10:30 a.m. Last year, Laconia Motorcycle Week Association Executive Director Charlie St. Clair’s cat Mae West died, and Doug Asermely of Sick Boy Motorcycles decided to set up a ride in her memory. Laconia PD provided a police escort for the 27-mile ride that took us through Meredith, Center Harbor and then onto some back roads with plenty of nice dips and curves, arriving at the historic train station in downtown Laconia. The registration fee included limited-edition T-shirts and a chance to win prizes including gift certificates to local businesses, lots of rock ’n’ roll items donated by Guns N’ Roses, Quiet Riot, Deep Purple and other bands, with the big prize of tickets to a Mötley Crüe concert in Sturgis. Doug has some deep connections! Participation in the ride far exceeded expectations, with 155 motorcycles registered and over $5,000 raised for the New Hampshire Humane Society.
Tuesday was the Gypsy Tour to Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel, Maine; a very cool bar, restaurant and campground that’s a scenic 70 miles from Laconia. Bentley’s was celebrating its 10th anniversary and special events were planned all week. On Tuesday, a Ladies Ride departed from Laconia Harley-Davidson to tour the Kancamagus Highway, one of the most popular riding roads in New Hampshire. Wednesday’s Gypsy Tour started at rally headquarters, went around the lake and ended at Laconia H-D. Thursday was a guided Ride to the Sky tour from Laconia H-D to Mount Washington for the second of two motorcycle-only days on the Auto Road. And Friday the Gypsy Tour left rally headquarters for an 80-mile tour of the White Mountain.
Also on Thursday was a special Passport Program Gypsy Tour leaving from rally headquarters. The Laconia Passport Program includes 23 destinations across New Hampshire and Maine where passports are stamped enabling riders to win prizes upon reaching certain levels, with the grand prize a stay for two at the NASWA Resort in 2015. And new this year was a Laconia Motorcycle Week 2014 commemorative coin, with proceeds supporting the Fallen Heroes Fund. More than 90 local businesses offered discounts if you showed them your coin. Had I known about the benefits, I would have purchased my coin at the start of the rally rather than after my return home.
The 21st annual POW/MIA Freedom Ride was staged Wednesday evening at Winnipesaukee Crossing, with kickstands up at 6:00 p.m. and Rolling Thunder New Hampshire 1 leading the way. I’d watched this ride pass through Weirs Beach every year, and finally, this year I decided to participate. It was a quite moving experience, as onlookers cheered, clapped and saluted when we rode by. The parade ended at Hesky Park in Meredith for the 26th anniversary of the POW/MIA vigil held in honor of POW/MIAs and their families. Emceeing the ceremonies was Bob Jones, vice president of the Northeast POW/MIA Network. Vietnam veteran Bob Williams, representative leader from the POW/MIA awareness vigil in Manchester, spoke, as did Meredith Town Manager Phil Warren who welcomed everyone to the longest-running continuous POW/MIA vigil in the U.S. Senator Jeanie Forrester and Steve Monier from office of Senator Kelly A. Ayotte were introduced. Don Amorosi, president of Northeast POW/MIA Network, took the dais and addressed the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl controversies. He stated that the organization has been involved for about three years in the effort to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home. “We don’t know much about Bergdahl,” he said, “but we lived up to our beliefs and our promises and brought a young man home alive. We do not regret that.” He asked everyone to impress upon their representatives to take the responsibility to bring our servicemen and women home. “We pledged nearly 30 years ago that POWs/MIAs have to come home, and if not, gather full info about why they weren’t returned,” he said, also commenting that he’d found that the least reliable source of information is the U.S. government. “I wanted to thank everyone who comes to this, but thank you isn’t enough. You are us. Without you, we are nothing.”
As soon as the 90th anniversary of Laconia Motorcycle Week had passed, Charlie St. Clair and Laconia Motorcycle Week Association Director Jennifer Anderson began promoting the 100th anniversary of the rally, which will occur in 2023. I hear there are already 100th anniversary shirts around, and Charlie has started a petition to request that the New Hampshire Legislature authorize a license plate displaying the logo of the 100th Motorcycle Week and apply the sales proceeds to the Association and promotion of the rally.
One local newspaper reported that Motorcycle Week attendance this year was about 320,000, with over $100 million coming into the local economy as a result. We can only imagine what the attendance will be when the rally hits the century mark. Laconia rally fans are already trying to make reservations for lodging during the 100th anniversary, which is proving to be a challenge since most area resorts will not even accept next year’s reservations until early 2015. As for me? I’m just looking forward to the 92nd annual rally, and I hope to see you there!