96th Annual Laconia Motorcycle Week

Laconia Thunder Press

An Enduring Legacy

Words and photos by Melissa Shoemaker

Considered the oldest motorcycle rally in the country, with roots dating back to the early 1900s when Gypsy Tours were loosely organized and served as an unsanctioned way to gather riders around races and campfires—imagine dirt roads, waistcoats, trousers and tweed scally caps—it wasn’t until 1916 that Laconia was added as an unofficial stop. Keeping with the gypsy namesake, roving riders would band together on the southern shore of Lake Winnipesaukee for several days.

But it wasn’t until years after the end of the Great War, when the American Motorcycle Association was formed and took over the reins of Laconia, that it became a sanctioned event. Fast forward 96 years, add leather and jeans and the evolution of v-twins by Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle, and the celebration endures.

Laconia Thunder Press
Mini bike races were a hit this year

One of the original events that occurred in those early days was the Tower Street Hill Climb. The United States Classic Racing Association revived this tradition last year with a two-hour exhibition of classic motorcycles racing up the now-paved Tower Street Hill. The Climb was so well received that they brought it back again this year, although rain delayed the event for a few hours, racers were ready to go once the all-clear was given.

Wednesday brought the AMA Hillclimb at Gunstock Resort with both amateur and pro classes testing their skills up the historic 70-meter (nearly 230 ft) Torger Tokel Memorial Ski Jump, which is literally almost a straight up climb. It is amazing to stand at the bottom and watch bikes scream up a hill meant to take people down.

Laconia Hill Climb Thunder Press Melissa Shoemaker
The AMA Pro Hill Climb took place at The Gunstock Ski Resort and saw riders surmounting 70 meters. Mini-Bike races were a big hit this year at the Laconia Roadhouse.

The New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted a vendor lot, road racing and, for the first time, American Flat Track racing. Here you could also enjoy demo rides from Harley-Davidson, Indian and Yamaha.

The riding in this area of New England is absolutely beautiful and I spent an entire day exploring. I was at Bentley’s Saloon in Arundel, Maine, when I realized it was only six miles from Kennebunkport and the Atlantic. I checked out that charming town, dipped my feet in the ocean, collected a bag full of smooth rocks (yeah, I am that nerd), before heading back to Weirs Beach.

Laconia Thunder Press
Tower Street Hill Climb Expo hosted by the US Classic Racing Association.

At Rally Headquarters on Weirs Beach, you can find daily organized rides, some free and some for a fee. The famed Kancamagus Highway offers a beautiful journey through the White Mountains. Twice during the week automobile traffic is closed on Mount Washington Auto Road, leaving it open to motorcycles only. This ride, however, is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced rider, so it is best to research the ride before heading up Mount Washington.

Laconia Thunder Press
Weirs Beach was beautiful and crowded.

Xavier Muriel of Providence Cycle Worx, and former drummer of Buckcherry, served as Grand Marshall for the Laconia Roadhouse’s C.H.a.D Appreciation Day ride, with proceeds going to the Children’s Hospital of Dartmouth. Xavier even raffled off his beautifully built custom Shovelhead. Can’t wait to see what he builds for next year!

Most establishments host bike shows, tattoo contests, live music and, of course, serve cold beers as women in white T-shirts get cold water poured on their chests. New to the Roadhouse this year, our friends from Cycle Source Magazine put on minibike drag and flat track races. Members from the Mason Brothers Pro-Hill Climb Team stumbled across the races on Tuesday, where Jack Mason crossed the finish line as a strong second while flipping over the handlebars.

Laconia Thunder Press

Despite some rain and cold temps, spirits remained high during the rally and the final weekend brought sunny skies to end the rally on a positive note.

Laconia Motorcycle Week is definitely becoming one of my favorites and I can’t wait to go back next year, and who knows, I may brave it and take that trip up Mount Washington!

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