Motorcycle USA traveled to Laconia Motorcycle Week for its 90th anniversary with great expectations. It’s the oldest motorcycle rally in America and anniversary years are always huge.
But the weather had other plans. It started with Tropical Storm Andrea that plowed through the area the first weekend, continued with the threat of showers throughout the week, and finished with a meteorological phenomenon called a “derecho,” a system with powerful thunderstorms and destructive winds. The approaching “derecho” was magnified by media hype but fizzled out before it hit the region. Unfortunately the damage was done, and by the time people learned it passed with a whimper instead of a roar, it was too late. While record numbers were anticipated, attendance was down compared to last year and vendors we talked to said they were scrambling the final weekend trying to salvage from dismal numbers throughout the week. But there was still plenty of fun to be had at this year’s rally for those that braved the inclement weather.
One positive affect of the less-than-expected attendance numbers was the fact that rally goers apparently were on their best behavior. According to an article posted by The Laconia Daily Sun, there were only 51 arrests at this year’s rally with the majority of those being cases of public intoxication. Back in its tumultuous heydays, the rally would practically have that many arrests in a single day. Capt. Matt Canfield states in the report that there were only five driving while intoxicated arrests. Traffic accidents seemed far and few
Attendance at the 2013 Laconia Motorcycle Rally was dictated by rain, but when it was sunny outside, motorcycles crowd the Weirs.
between too as we only witnessed the aftermath of one incident in front of the Broken Spoke Saloon. Police patrols focused heavily on areas where most accidents have been recorded in the past, including stretches of Routes 3, 25, 11, 104, 106, Scenic Drive and Roller Coaster Road. Capt. Wood of the New Hampshire State Police said he believes the increased visibility on these stretches was a success because traffic accidents were down and no fatalities occurred in the vicinity of the rally, though two were reported statewide but weren’t directly associated with the 90th.
We were excited when we landed in New Jersey to see a 2013 Victory Cross Country Tour waiting for us. With class-leading storage, a torque-filled 1731cc V-Twin and rider-friendly amenities like cruise control, heated grips, stereo system, big floorboards and a well-padded set, it’s a solid touring platform. Traveling with a week’s worth of clothes, rain gear, backpack, cameras and a computer, we were grateful it has big saddlebags and a capacious topcase. Before making the trek to New England, we detoured through Brooklyn to visit our friend Bobby at Indian Larry Motorcycles. While the crew was busily taking care of business in the shop, we got a chance to inspect some of the bikes Indian Larry built up-close, one of the highlights of our trip. It’s a shame we lost such a talented artist who still had much to offer.
We made it Laconia the next day just in time to catch the vintage motorcycle races. Sponsored by the US Classic Racing Association, it was a blast to watch these rustic racers dashing around New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It’s amazing to watch the choreography between driver and passenger as they steered sidecars into turns, the passenger leaning out so far their heads skirt the ground by inches. We also marveled at the cool collection of Indian Motorcycles
Doc Batsleer and friends brought to the event. To see them kick-started to life, a puff of smoke spitting out their exhaust and the raspy sound emanating from their pipes was an even bigger treat. It’s impossible to witness the vintage races without being engulfed in a sense of nostalgia.
The next day the heavens opened up and rain poured down. This didn’t stop us from making a soggy 150-mile ride down to Three Rivers, Mass., to visit Mustang Seats and tour the factory. The motorcycle seat maker still does things the old-fashioned New England way, much of the work done by hand, and all of it done with pride. The company is an integral part of the surrounding community and provides one of the more sought after jobs in town. Mustang Seats factory operates in a rustic building that was once a textile mill, injecting new life into an old building that might have been condemned otherwise. Kudos to them for preserving a vignette of American history.
Mid-week it was time for the annual hillclimbs, always one of the biggest events of the rally. Competition was fierce as AMA Pro Hillclimbers battled and bucked their way up the steep Canaan slope on nitro-methane burning bikes. The ingenuity that goes into building the racers is impressive, from the one-off frames they construct to the engines sourced which runs the gamut including Inline Fours pulled from Japanese superbikes to a BMW powerplant to Triumphs. Rider James Green was blasting up the hill on a modified Harley V-Twin. One of the biggest spectacles was the three-way ride off they had in the Pro Sport Class where competitors line up three-wide and race head-to-head up the hill. As if conquering the slope wasn’t challenging enough! When it was all said and done, John ‘Flying’ Koester was the rider of the day, blazing up the hill with the fastest runs in both the Unlimited and Extreme Classes. The only thing more explosive than the hillclimbers Wednesday were the fireworks that night over Weirs Beach that amazingly didn’t get rained out and went off on schedule.
We started Thursday off with a little riding around Lake Winnepesaukee. Most rally events center on the lake that seems to be around every corner, and because of all the rain the forests are thicker and greener than ever. It’s beautiful in
these parts, and the Victory we were on was a real looker, too, a 15th Anniversary Limited Edition model swathed in Antares Red and Black paint with gold trim and chrome accents. Our ride ended at Weirs Beach and the Lobster Pound, where we stopped by to check out the action at the biker build-off.
Five shops from around New England had a daunting task, to build a motorcycle in one week from the ground up with the public scrutinizing every move. We had to ride out before the winner was announced Saturday, but Jake Cutler of Barnstorm Cycles was kind enough to tell us that Apeshit Customs garnered the most votes to win the $2500 first prize. Rayz Rod & Custom would finish in second place to earn a $950 cut, while Cutler and Barnstorm captured third to take home a $750 check. In the past, the Laconia Biker Build-Off was winner-take-all, but the format changed this year so that all the competitors receive a little compensation for their time and energy spent. The competition went down to the wire because the top two shops both had issues getting their bikes started, one having troubles with an airbound carb while the other had a stuck float bowl and wiring issues. In the end, the other shops rallied around to help them troubleshoot the problem and get their bikes started to meet one of the primary rules of the competition.
And even though a slight drizzle was coming down the day of the annual Nazkini Contest, the girls braved the elements for a chance to walk home with a share of the prize money. Land speed record holder Jody Perewitz was the guest
Girls in the annual Naswa Resort bikini contest braved the elements to win over the judges and the crowd.
emcee and helped hype up the crowd as the Discovery Channel filmed the event on the pier of the Naswa Resort. Holly Cyganiewicz from Boxborough, Mass., was a crowd favorite who ultimately was awarded first place by the judges with Betty White from Augusta, Georgia, garnering the second-most votes.
We ran into the Discovery Channel again at the Broken Spoke Saloon. Metal master Ron Finch was there with his larger-than-life ‘Chopper at Large,’ and was kind enough to sit down and talk to us awhile about what went into building the 20-foot-long behemoth. Ron’s wife Ruth gave us a copy of the latest “docu-movie” on Finch’s life called “That’s All You Get,” and we can’t wait to sit down and watch it. Finch has been building award-winning motorcycles since the ‘60s and his work has graced many magazine covers. His creations have been featured at the Clinton Presidential Library and his work was bestowed the 2008 House of Kolor Prestigious Painter Award. Finch had to deal with a bit of adversity at this year’s rally, having to switch locations after being stuck anonymously in the back section of the area known as the Laconia Drive-In. While the drive-in itself isn’t a bad location, the tent he had to set up in was around a bend and so far away from the action, few people ventured that far. The day Finch moved to the Spoke, the sectionn actually got shut down because it didn’t have all the proper permits. Just as well, because after setting up shop in front of the Broken Spoke there was a non-stop procession of fans and friends at his booth.
We also caught up with another talented craftsman at the Spoke, Jason Grimes of Northeast Chop Shop. Grimes was a competitor in last year’s Laconia Biker Build-Off where he impressed us with his techniques of bringing out the luster of the Damascus steel he sourced for the fenders of the bike he built. That same motorcycle would end up competing in
the AMD World Championships in Sturgis last year and has since been topped off with fresh paint on the tank and extra bits of trim. Grimes and crew were busy building another bike from the ground-up at the Broken Spoke for this year’s rally, this one for the 207 Brand, a design and apparel company out of Maine, and featured his trademark split tank with wing-nut screws.
Of course, the day we left the 90th anniversary Laconia Motorcycle Week was the warmest, clearest day yet. But we still enjoyed the glorious sunshine on our 350-mile ride back to Lebanon, New Jersey, to return the Victory Cross Country Tour to the guys at Rollin’ Fast. Even though a wreck in New Haven, traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge and construction on the New Jersey Turnpike tried its best to make us miss our flight, the big Vic powered along the open stretches and got us there on time. Even though the 90th fell short in attendance numbers, it meant less congestion for those who did attend, and the chance to ride around New Hampshire’s White Mountains is always a treat. Hopefully the rain will cooperate a decade down the road for the 100th anniversary. We’ll place our request with the weather gods now in hopes that they oblige.