LACONIA, NEW HAMPSHIRE, JUNE 9-17—Groups of motorcycles pass the Town Docks in Meredith, New Hampshire. The waterside restaurant provides a tranquil setting very different from the boisterous scene at Weirs Beach, the epicenter of the 89th Laconia Motorcycle Week. Seeking relief from the midday heat, I order a double scoop of homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream and find a shady spot at a table under a beach umbrella.
Lake Winnipesaukee shimmers and sparkles under the blazing sun, and much like the other bikers enjoying their refreshments at the restaurant’s outdoor tiki bar, I’m not in a hurry to hit the road again. For the most part the weather has been glorious, with the mercury consistently in the mid to high 70s. The atypical clear and sunny skies have drawn day trippers from all over New England, greatly multiplying the number of bikers already packed into the tiny village of Weirs Beach.
The main drag
U.S. Route 3 could be considered the main thoroughfare of the rally, with Motorcycle Week venues strung along the few miles of two-lane between The Weirs and Meredith. T-shirt and food vendors packed end-to-end under tents and in storefronts, combined with daddies and mommies wheeling tots in strollers and lugging stuffed animals won at the arcade, lend a carnival-like atmosphere to Lakeside Avenue.
Monday night, we board the M/S Mount Washington for the second annual Motorcycle Week cruise. This year over 300 people were on board—about twice last year’s numbers. It’s the ship’s only sailing during the rally, and the two-and-a-half-hour cruise offers scenic views that most people never get to experience by land. During the rest of the week the Mount Washington is docked at Lakeside Avenue, and I discovered that’s a great place to watch the Motorcycle Week fireworks show. The bar and restaurant on the Mount Washington is open all week, as well, which seems to be one of the best-kept secrets of the rally.
Across Lakeside Avenue on Route 3 is the Lobster Pound, with a larger variety of vendors spread across a huge field. Harley-Davidson’s setup has grown quite
a bit from last year’s initial foray at this site, and for the first time during Laconia Motorcycle Week, The Motor Company has invited H.O.G. members to a party on Tuesday night. The party is being held at the Laconia Roadhouse, the adults-only portion of the Lobster Pound property. Under the tent, our hosts have roped off a VIP area, and we enjoy the free food and two drinks allotted to each registered H.O.G. member. A band is playing, refreshments are flowing and we’re having a grand old time under the big top. And then the rain begins. No one seems to mind, with the more adventurous (or well-lubricated) dancing in the open, getting soaked in the process. During a lull I dash back to my lodgings, the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa in Lakeport, and get to my room just before the rain starts again. That night and into the next morning was the only inclement weather for the duration of the rally.
Just over a mile north of Weirs Beach is another rally venue—the Funspot. Several motorcycle manufacturers are giving demo rides, Speed’s Performance Plus is doing performance upgrades and dyno tuning, and various vendors are displaying riding paraphernalia. And less than a half-mile north is the Broken Spoke Saloon, where you could hear free live music, check out the Dirico Motorcycle display and watch—or enter—the oil wrestling competitions.
Last year, the Full Throttle Saloon made its first Laconia appearance, but when the saloon decided against a return engagement, Heat Pizza set up a tent in its parking lot on Route 3 creating Bender’s bar and entertainment venue. Along with several other bands, headliners Quiet Riot, L.A. Guns and Bang Tango put on nighttime performances.
A few miles up the road in Meredith, Laconia Harley-Davidson and Hart’s Turkey Farm feature two parking lots full of top-name aftermarket manufacturers such as Küryakyn, Mustang Seats, Performance Machine, Hoppe Industries and Progressive Suspension. The dealership offers free entertainment with bands playing day and night. Once again, Laconia H-D presented a Women’s Day Lunch and Ride, as well as a guided tour to Ride to the Sky on one of the two motorcycle-only days on Mount Washington Auto Road. The 7.6-mile ascent winds its way up to 6,288 feet at an average grade of 12 percent. It can be somewhat intimidating to those not used to blind corners and hairpin curves, but the views at the top are breathtaking, as are the high winds. In fact, Mount Washington has the distinction of holding the record for the strongest winds ever measured—231 mph recorded in 1934. About 5,800 motorcyclists tackled the Auto Road during this year’s Motorcycle Week, one of the highest totals in rally history.
Changing it up
Many rallygoers are creatures of habit and, as such, tend to enjoy the same events every Motorcycle Week. One such event is the Loudon Classic, the longest-running motorcycle race in the U.S., held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. My favorite, though, is the U.S. Classic Racing Association Vintage Grand Prix held Monday of every Motorcycle Week at the speedway. The track is a pleasant half-hour ride from Weirs Beach, and well worth the trip. I always get a thrill watching the sidecars careen around the turns, and I enjoy wandering around the pits watching vintage bike buffs get the most they can out of their old iron.
Thursday afternoon, an estimated 2,000 riders participated in the 19th annual Freedom Ride and Vigil. The ride began at Shaw’s supermarket in Gilford, with the procession following Route 3, turning down Lakeside Avenue and continuing to Hesky Park in Meredith. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch spoke in support of the group’s work in keeping the pressure on our legislators to ratchet up their efforts to return missing and captured service personnel back to the U.S.
Another ride for a good cause was the 6th annual Peter Makris Memorial Run kicking off the start of Motorcycle Week. Before he passed away in 2007, Makris, a member of the Leathernecks MC and owner of the Naswa Resort, helped start the Laconia Fire Department Water Rescue Unit. Nearly 300 riders showed up at the Naswa to enjoy breakfast, ride around Lake Winnipesaukee and return to the Naswa to enjoy a gourmet lunch and party. The $32,000 raised from this year’s ride, auctions, raffles and other donations went to the Water Rescue unit and the Easter Seals New Hampshire “Veterans Count” program.
The Naswa had some surprises in store this year, as well. The resort’s inside restaurant and bar were redecorated, the menu revamped and the name changed to Blue Bistro. And in addition to live music and the Miss Nazkini Contest, the beachside NazBar presented Hangin’ with Jen, where Jennifer Santolucito, the Tattooed Songbird, emceed each afternoon’s entertainment.
Cornerstone Ministries relocated the Papa Joe Delio’s Bike Blessing from Gunstock to Opechee Park, where the Laconia Bike Show was being held.
But the big news this year was the relocation of the annual hill climbs from Gunstock Recreation Area in Gilford to Ridge Runner Promotions’ property in Canaan. This year’s event, an AMA Pro competition, was called the Shawn P. Farnsworth Memorial Hill Climb, named after a well-known hill climber who died while competing in Oregon last year. The Wednesday morning rain had stopped by the time I got to the Canaan venue, but the dirt road leading into the property had been transformed into a swampy mess. My white-knuckle adventure along the quarter-mile or so to the parking area was well worth it, as the competition was more exciting than it had been in years.
Build ’em and show ’em
Nearly every day of the rally brought ride-in bike shows at venues such as the Funspot, the Lobster Pound, the historic train station and Opechee Park in downtown Laconia. I managed to catch three during the week, and although these shows aren’t the largest in the world, some very interesting bikes are often entered. At the Opechee Park show, I caught up with Mike Yeo, the builder of an eye-catching chopper I’d seen earlier in the week. The colorful creation was painted with the design of the Taiwanese flag—red with a white sun against a blue background. Yeo, from Long Island Choppers in New York, told me it was built for a Taiwanese customer to mark 100 years of the country’s independence in 2011, and also in celebration of the re-election of Taiwan President Ma.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was a ’66 XLCH I saw at the historic Laconia train station, where I spoke to owner Eddie Provencal from Ware, Massachusetts, about his pride and joy. Eddie, 67, has owned the 900cc Ironhead since he bought it new at NF Sheldon in Worcester, Massachusetts, for about $1,625. The tins are restored from original, as is the seat. Although he doesn’t use it as a long-haul rider, he still rides it to local car and bike shows. Eddie also shows his bike at the occasional AMCA meet. He showed me some minor dings and dents caused by incidents such as his first accident, and commented that the AMCA judges subtract points for such things, but he doesn’t fix them for the same reason he never sold the bike—pure sentiment.
All week long, the Laconia Biker Build-Off, also organized by Dick Cartier, was at the Lobster Pound where a full bar was set up under the build-off tent. The
crowds were also entertained by live music and diversions such as tattoo contests, best butt, best beer belly and other competitions. Four builders competed in this year’s build-off: WhiteKnuckle Customs from Windham, Maine, who built a handmade front end and frame housing an S&S 145″ motor and JIMS Fat 5 tranny; FTF Cycles out of Randolph, Massachusetts, with their 650 Triumph; Ready Customs from Derry, New Hampshire, who worked with a 93″ Panhead motor stuffed into a Kraftech frame; and Northeast Chop Shop also from Windham with their ’46 WL flathead. The winner was selected by popular choice ballot, and Dan Kirk of FTF Cycles took the top vote. Cartier told me, “I don’t get a dime for this. What I do here is to help these guys get their names out there.”
Another type of build took place at the Weirs Beach Drive-In, where two former Laconia Build-Off competitors participated in a build of quite a different nature. Rick and Tina Beauregard of Cyclone Cycles from Richford, Vermont, partnered with Brian Bagley from Satan Cycles out of Ravena, New York, to build a custom bike for autism awareness. The shops donated every part and all the labor for the build, and drive-in owner Brandi Baldi donated the space so that that every cent raised could be donated to charity. The bike was raffled off with Steve Fockwood’s name being picked in the random drawing. The lucky Laconia resident now owns a one-of-a-kind custom, built as a labor of love. Over $3,000 went to Northwest Counseling and Support Services (NCSS), a nonprofit in Vermont that helps autistic kids and their families in Northwest Vermont. Tina has been working with this organization for over a decade, and she tells me that the expenses for the special needs of these families far exceed what insurance covers.
A perfect trifecta
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, told me, “We are up from last year’s attendance. Weather is king, as always. I thought this year would be flat because next year is the 90th, but that turned out not to be the case. Ridge Runners did a nice job with the pro hill climb, but I hope they get the amateur race back next year. I’m very happy with everything this year, keeping in mind that our number one concern is safety of the riders. We work very hard on this, and we’re already planning for the 90th next year. I also let people know they should go to Sturgis and Daytona. These three rallies are the perfect trifecta.”
LMWA Director Jennifer Anderson shared a poignant moment with me, saying, “A 20-year rally veteran named Bruce contacted me just before the rally. His wife was in the hospital with their first son who would be born soon. Bruce always got a shirt every year, and he asked me to put a shirt aside for him and he’d make a day trip from Connecticut to pick it up. I got a onesie infant shirt and had the Laconia MC Week logo applied. He came and picked up the shirt just like he said he would, and asked her, ‘What do you think of the name Laconia for my son?’ I was so touched. I got all choked up.”