From the outside, Manchester Harley-Davidson looks like your typical dealership, a red brick building sitting on John E. Devine Drive with the standard black and orange Bar & Shield sign flanked by a big parking lot. Off to one corner of the lot sits a long trailer, a larger-than-life picture of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler belting out a tune stamped on its side, a clue to this dealership’s dual identity. Because while registers are ringing up sales of biker apparel, boots, wallets, and rings sold in the showroom, behind this façade a dedicated group is busy wrenching in the back doing both service work and assembling Dirico Motorcycles from the ground-up. This is because the owner of Manchester Harley-Davidson, Stephen Talarico, happens to be one of three partners who own Dirico Motorcycles, the other two being the aforementioned Steven Tyler and his brother-in-law, Mark Dirico.
We’ve come to Manchester Harley-Davidson to pick up a prototype Dirico bagger to ride around Laconia during Bike Week. Mark Dirico is constantly tinkering on something, this time sourcing a counter-balanced Twin Cam V-Twin and rubber-mounting it on an FL. Dirico matched it up with soft leather saddlebags, added some floorboards and threw on
Covered bridges have a rich history in New England states. We went on a quest for the best during our recent visit to New Hampshire for the Laconia Motorcycle Rally.
a removable tall windscreen. Cruising lights and a fat-bottomed solo saddle add to its classic styling cues, highlighted by two-tone paint. It’s small, vintage round air cleaner and dual black pipes with slotted heat shields are two of its strong features. It’s a true prototype, so details like the horn sticking outside of the left downtube would be addressed should it go to production, and items like the controls and mirrors aren’t necessarily what would be on the showroom version. But the bike had no qualms firing up at the push of a button, which was more than enough of an invitation for us to hit the road eager to explore this beautiful state.
There are few things that mirror the charm of New England towns quite like covered bridges. They can reflect the character of the town, the artist or architect that designed them, or even the period they were built in. They are as Americana as a Rockwell painting and are an inextricable part of New Hampshire history. There are 54 covered bridges listed on the New Hampshire.gov website alone and this doesn’t even take into account some of the newer and pedestrian bridges. So during our trip to Laconia Motorcycle Week, we charted a course to see some of the picturesque bridges of this New England state.
A Google search reveals that the closest bridge is a few towns over in Franklin. The Sulfite Bridge looks cool in pictures on the site which says it’s the only deck-covered bridge left in the U.S. They also call it the Upside-Down Bridge because the railroad tracks cross over the top of the structure instead of running through it, a lattice-work of X’s under thick wooden ties.
It’s early but there’s already quite a bit of traffic on Weirs Boulevard and Union Avenue as we try to get out of Laconia. It’s pretty much a straight shot to Franklin. The towns of both Tilton and Franklin are small and rustic. White homes with turreted corners and big porches are a common site and downtowns are still the domain of mom and pop shops. We get the full tour of Franklin as we hunt for the bridge. We find the street it’s supposed to be on but no bridge. After a second pass through town, we break down and ask for directions. The ladies at the local quickie mart look at me curiously when I inquire about the Sulphite Bridge before one of their faces lit up with a spark of memory.
“You mean the Upside-Down Bridge? It burnt down,” she said matter-of-factly
(L) Dirico Motorcycles was kind enough to hook us up with its prototype bagger to ride on around New Hampshire. (M) The Dirico bagger had all the touring basics – tall windscreen, saddlebags, cruising lights and floorboards. (R) It’s best to take it easy on the covered bridges. The wood is usually dusty and slippery and speeding is frowned upon.
Great. That was a waste of an hour. We scratch it off the list and aim for the next one.
I’m glad to be jumping on to Interstate 93 north for our second stop at the Squam River Bridge outside of Ashland. The air-cooled engine of the Dirico bagger doesn’t like all this stop-and-go and is sharing its disdain by roasting my thighs. It quickly cools down as soon as I’m able to open it up. Ahead of me, the interstate cuts a grey path through the green unspoiled forests which blanket the mountains.
We roll into the little town of Ashland and despite its diminutive size, the town is able to hide the bridge we’re looking for. The inability to find the actual location of bridges is becoming a recurring theme, but the quest is half the fun. A map check sends us to the outskirts of town where we finally discover what we’re looking for. The timbers of the Squam River Bridge are new as the cool little lattice truss bridge was erected to replace a condemned steel and concrete span. It was built by covered bridges expert Milton S. Graton and Sons in 1990. The open-aired, truss passage was designed to mimic the traditional style of covered bridges. Boats busily passed by underneath and several people were taking advantage of the great little beachhead just over the bridge on Little Squam Lake.
The original Blair Bridge was built back in 1829 but has since been rebuilt after the first one burned down.
A few photo and video passes later, we’re back on I-93 heading north again. Mark’s rubber-mounted venture is working well as the Twin Cam underneath me is putting out nominal vibes at highway cruising speeds. Splats on my windscreen are making me grateful for the tall windscreen. It’s much easier to find our second stop. The old Blair Bridge in Campton is held in such high regard it gets equal billing on the highway sign for the Campton turn-off. It is a truss style bridge reinforced by arches and spans almost 100 yards over the Pemi, aka the Pemigewasset River. The original bridge was built in 1829 but was burned down. It was rebuilt in 1870 employing a truss design patented by Col. Stephen Harriman Long and is the only surviving example of Long’s patented method of construction.
A sign above its entrance states “Five Dollars Fine For Riding or Driving on this Bridge Faster Than a Walk” which gave us the temptation to rip a nasty burnout at its entrance. Good thing we didn’t. A large group of New Hampshire patrolman happened to be watching us do our photoshoot as they had lunch on the outdoor deck at the The Country Cow Restaurant and Bar right next to the bridge. Watching a guy in full gear on a blustery summer day running repeatedly back and forth over the bridge on a big V-Twin putting out a burly growl somehow caught their attention. Fortunately, they were more interested in friendly banter than writing tickets that day.
Riding through the Blair Bridge on a motorcycle is a unique experience. The wood is smooth and slick below the bike’s wheels and the symmetry of the beams overhead is mesmerizing as I roll by, the shadows of the sun clicking by like the frames of an old-time, coin-operated movie machine. The inside of the bridge is a few degrees cooler than the outside temp and smells musty and dusty.
Following the lead we got from a local at the welcome center, we then found a small treasure off the beaten path in the form of the Bump Bridge. It’s the smallest of the three, a short expanse over the Beebe River. Like the Squam River Bridge, it has been rebuilt and its timbers lack the antiquity of the Blair Bridge. It was formerly known as the Webber Bridge until its bottom framing got so rotten it had to be condemned. It was also built by the Graton family of bridge builders, this time by Arnold in 1972.
We continue north with a trip to Flume Gorge inked in as the next stop on our itinerary. I’ve heard the path through the vertical walls of the gorge and Avalanche Falls is breathtaking. The Flume Covered Bridge, one of the oldest in the state, is also nearby. But pulling into an empty parking lot at a usually busy state park is never a good sign. The park closes early and we were too late, so we point the Dirico bagger towards town to get some lobster rolls the area is famous for.
New Hampshire is a wonderful state to ride a motorcycle in. It’s easy to find a lightly traveled, curvy road cutting through scenic mountains. There’s no shortage of swimming holes to pull over and jump into on a hot summer day. I’ve heard the area is even more spectacular when the foliage burns with fall colors. Arriving back in town, we kick out the sidestand of the Dirico bagger with a feeling of contentment, a combination of the sights we’ve seen this day and the pleasure of riding a motorcycle which served us dutifully as we bounced from bridge to bridge touring the stunning New Hampshire countryside.