“Weather is King.”
So said Charlie St. Clair, Executive Director of Laconia Motorcycle Week, and thanks to fairer-than-normal weather, what could have been an off year was instead a positive one at Laconia Motorcycle Week 2012. Sunny skies brought people out early, reservations were said to be up in comparison to last year and the state’s governor, John H. Lynch, showed his support. The New Hampshire dignitary made several appearances at the rally and by the time the final weekend rolled around it took at least an hour of doing the biker crawl to even get close to Weirs Beach.
For 10 days straight, a couple hundred thousand motorcyclists from around New England and beyond stormed Weirs Beach as Lakeside Avenue and the Lobster Pound became the center of the cruiser motorcycle universe during the 89th Laconia Motorcycle Week in New Hampshire. Cars and trucks filled the parking lot of Shaw’s supermarket and lawn chairs were unfolded as people lined the roads to watch and wave at motorcyclists passing by. Setting up camp almost anywhere alongside the road, from rolling out old folks in front of the assisted living center to families with kids strapped in strollers, is a phenomenon only seen at Laconia. It’s people watching at its finest and the curious characters on the high-powered ‘Hogs’ are the star attractions of this circus on wheels.
As we’ve mentioned, this year’s rally was blessed with unseasonably nice weather, the rain gods held at bay for all but one overnight dousing. This worked to the benefit of the pro hillclimbers that were in town for the first time as the annual event moved to a new location in Canaan to entice the pros to attend. Thanks to the light rain, traction was solid on the steep slope as riders took turns barreling up the intense grade, spitting big roosts in their wake. (Read all about it in our AMA Pro Hillclimbs Storm Laconia Bike Week article.) A day of dirt slingin’ fun was had by all in what is always one of the biggest draws of the rally. But as spectacular as the pros were, the new format lacked the intimacy of the old event. We missed the little guys bouncing up the hill on their 50s, doing their best to be like their local heroes. We miss the crazy blown-up snowmobiles slammin’ up the slope with a blast of nitrous. Our seat-of-the-pants impressions tell us attendance was down in comparison to last year. The new location is a much further drive than when it was held at Gunstock, too, which didn’t work in its favor. Still, stories like Bob Purdy’s, an 85-year-old local man who had just gotten out of the hospital for cancer treatment yet insisted that they take him to the hillclimbs because he hadn’t missed one in 57 years, demonstrates how important this event is to the region, regardless of where it’s held.
(L) The 2012 Laconia Motorcycle Rally got off to a fairly incident-free start until that fateful final Friday. (M) Thousands of bikers converged on Lakeside Ave. in Weirs Beach to get their party on. (R) The one-man-band entertains crowds, strummin’ guitar, blowing a harmonica, kicking a tambourine and singing vocals all from the seat of his motorcycle.
One of the highlights of the week took place under the white canopy of the Lobster Pound tent where five custom motorcycle shops competed in the biker build-off with the task of completing a ground-up build in one week. (Laconia Biker Build-Off Pits 5 for $5000) There was an awesome amount of hand-craftsmanship on display, from the sporting ride with the stainless frame the crew at White Knuckle Kustoms created to the 1946 Harley WL Northeast Chop Shop breathed new life into. In the end, though, the sentimental favorite, FTF Cycles out of Randolph, Mass., won one for “Crispy.” It was a tight competition, with only four votes reportedly separating the top two, but it was the cool old school scoot with the ’71 Triumph Bonneville engine, Springer front and lots of trick antiques incorporated into its design that won over the crowd. It was a true “labor of love” for the FTF guys who were building the bike in honor of a fallen friend, Chris “Crispy” Murphy. In fact, the straps that were used to lower “Crispy” into the ground are now the grips on the bike, so he will forever ride with that resurrected Bonnie.
As usual, bikers opened up their hearts and wallets supporting any one of the several benefits that were going on during Laconia Motorcycle Week. It started off with the $32,000 that was raised for the Laconia Fire Department and New Hampshire Easter Seals at the 6th Annual Peter Makris Ride. It continued at the “Treasured Chests” Art Auction held out at Hart’s Turkey Farm, with funds benefiting oncology patients at Laconia’s Lakes Region General Hospital. It’s a neat project, with 65 people having their torsos plastered, many of them cancer survivors, those castings then being painted by local artists to create the unique pieces of art that were auctioned off. The New England Warrior Benefit set up shop over at the Broken Spoke Laconia to promote the motorcycle auction it is conducting, with proceeds going to five charities representing different branches of the military. The New England Warrior Benefit has secured five Dirico Motorcycles for its fund-raising auction, each customized in honor of the various branches of the U.S. Special Forces. Plenty of good stuff going on for all the right reasons at the Laconia Motorcycle Rally.
Much of our time was spent at the Naswa Resort whose lakeside bar was always hopping, be it live bands belting out tunes to the second annual NAZkini contest, where local girl Jaime Lee strutted off with the $500 cash prize as the winner. We also caught up with land speed record holder Jody Perewitz at the NAZ as she helped host the resort’s popular bikini contest. It also gave us a front row seat to the fireworks display put on by our neighbors next door who shot off more fireworks over Lake Winnipesaukee Friday night than the city of Laconia did the night before. I’m envious of the cool fireworks you can buy in New Hampshire that we can’t get in our home state – at least legally. Of course, I could have done without that final volley our neighbors launched off just as I had fallen asleep at almost three in the morning when they all got back from partying on the Weirs. Oh well, that’s Laconia for you!
We had the good luck of scoring a slick little Single to roll around on all week, a 2012 Royal Enfield Classic Chrome. Cruising around on a bike with timeless styling cues and a highly polished tank with a sheen that rivaled anything in the parking lot was a big hit with the predominantly Harley crowd. Many believed it to be a restoration even though it’s a brand new bike. While everybody was rolling into town for that final Friday, we got outta Dodge with a road trip over to the coast of Maine, rumbling through quaint, touristy towns like Kennebunkport on a quest for the best Maine Lobster. The 4.5-pound monster we saw at Barnacle Billy’s was a prime contender, though we opted to have his lesser 1.5-pound brother tossed in the boil so we could dip his tasty little tail in drawn butter.
Laconia 2012 started idyllically, accidents were far and few between and everybody had their fingers crossed that maybe, just maybe, this year
Fireworks light up the sky over Weirs Beach during Laconia Motorcycle Week 2012. Though the party barely ended, we can’t wait to see what organizers have in store next year for the 90th anniversary celebration at the oldest motorcycle rally around!
might be an incident-free rally. On the final Friday of the rally, that all went out the window. With the outpouring of riders on the road for the final weekend, four motorcyclists died in four different incidents on that one fateful day. One happened on Roller Coaster Road when a 38-year-old man crossed the center line and collided with a pickup while the other three were spread out around the state, from Nelson to Dummer. To go from a rally with no fatalities to four in one day is disheartening as the idea of seeing a rally where no one had to die was exciting. It just doesn’t happen very often, not when you have thousands of riders of all skill levels sharing unfamiliar roads. Add variables like alcohol and attitude into the equation, then throw in the fact that the majority of riders aren’t wearing helmets, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Even though the year before a big anniversary is generally slow, this wasn’t the case at the Laconia Motorcycle Rally 2012. The weather gods smiled upon us almost all week long, the vibe was loose and positive and the law enforcement presence didn’t feel as heavy-handed as in the last couple of years. Let’s hope the weather gods are still in a generous mood next year as the 90th anniversary celebration promises to be the biggest party yet to rock Laconia!