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Americade, Americade. So cool you have to say it twice.
The second week in June and another Americade has faded into the annals of motorcycling history. Americade is billed as "The worlds largest touring rally." What it really should be billed as is the rally with a difference.
Now just so you don't get the wrong idea, Americade is not all about riding Gold Wings and other big touring yachts, though it certainly started out that way some 21 years ago. Back then, it was known as "Aspencade", paying homage to the Gold Wing of the day. But soon the family oriented event began to draw those on all makes and models of motorcycles to beautiful Lake George, nestled in the heart of New York's Adirondack Mountain region.
Since those early days, Americade has changed. I myself ride up to the event on my YZF600R, as all manner of bikes proliferate the streets of Lake George. This year's event reportedly had 60,000 in paid attendance, and who knows how many more in a non-paying, merely up for a look weekend? While those numbers are relatively small when compared with a Sturgis or a Daytona, in actuality, they are awe inspiring to see.
Lake George is a history rich area of upstate New York. Ever see the movie "The Last of the Mohicans"? This is where that famed story takes place. There's even a rebuilt representation of Fort William Henry overlooking the lake's South shore. (The French burned down the original during one of many bloody battles along the lake coastline in August of 1757.)
Monday, June 2nd. I rolled the YZF out of the shed and attached the big, stuffed saddle and tail bags. It was a gorgeous day, with the temperature hovering around 70 degrees. Two of my buddies had already left several hours earlier, to brave the terrors of the Long Island Expressway, in their quest to arrive at the legendary and historic Lake George. Another friend was accompanying me on my trip up North. Jerry arrived at 11:30, on his ZZR1200 as planned, and we were off. Both bikes hummed along the LIE, westbound, as we began our climb towards the Adirondack region. One of the best parts about Americade is getting there, as the roads leading up to Lake George are both twisty and scenic. Once out of the city area, we continued along NY rte 22 to NY 149. (A real twisty gem of a road that runs right into Glens Falls, the next town South of Lake George) From there, It's a simple ride up 9 to Americade central, the town "Holiday Inn", to sign in for the week. A very cool 290-mile ride to start the week for us, and Americade is in full swing.
Tuesday, June 3rd. The real festivities start on Tuesday, as all the big (and some of the small) manufacturers are there with their demo fleets for test riding. The first day out I went for the gusto and aimed myself directly at Yamaha's tent, and the FJR1300, as well as the FZ1. The same day, I also got a chance to ride on Kawasaki's all new ZX-6R. Out of the three bikes I rode on Tuesday, the FZ1 was my overall favorite. It just does everything I need it to do, extremely well. Kawasaki is the only large manufacturer who brings their entire fleet of bikes to Americade year in, year out. The rest really don't bring their full-bore sport bikes at all. Suzuki brings the SV line, as well as the V-strom and Burgman scooter (?!?) . Honda brings only Gold Wings and VTX's to the event. But Moto Guzzi has their full line up there for riding as does parent company Aprilia right next door.
Wednesday, June 4th. I arrived late. (At 7:30 AM, groan. That's late? Apparently so, as there was already a line in front of Kawasaki's tent.) And only could hook up for rides on the Z1000 and Suzuki's SV650S. I've always been a fan of the little twin, but the big Z1000 really was a lot of fun to ride. I enjoyed the heck out of it, blasting along Kawi's back road route, then onto the highway section of their test ride. Great bike, small fairing, but tons of fun to ride. A real winner as far as I'm concerned. The rest of my day was spent wandering around the main event grounds, AKA the "Roaring Brook Ranch." The Roaring Brook is where all the manufacturers, save for Yamaha and Harley, have their test rides centered.
Harley and Yamaha park their fleets in the town proper, at the Fort William Henry hotel area.
I also spent time at the "Tour Expo" area, which is basically a motorcycle flea market where you can buy just about anything currently made for motorcycling in general. Want a new headset for your communications system? They have them at Tour expo. Want to have your bike pinstriped or to have a new design painted on the tank? Roll it right in here, sir. Want tires? There are at least three manufacturers set up to give you immediate service, as well as special prices on the package. Inside the big tent, you'll find everything from motorcycle lawyer's booths with buxom blondes handing out info packets, to leather manufacturers hawking jackets and boots. Of course the prerequisite Americade T-shirts are on sale everywhere you look. If you want it for a bike, and you can't find it at Tour expo, then chances are, it 's not available.
That night found my group of friends at a local Italian restaurant named 'Marios' where we ate pasta, and joked for several hours, just plain enjoying the pleasant surroundings of Americade itself. After dinner we ventured out onto Main Street, where we were able to immerse ourselves first hand in the manic fun that was riding and walking the streets of Lake George.
Bikes fill the road at this time of year, headlights are shining for as far as the eye can see in both directions up and down Canada (Main) street. Nearby, wherever you may be on the main drag, is an ice cream parlor within walking distance. Outdoor café's, bars, and restaurants fill to overflowing with revelers seeking to engage in the Americade experience. But as I alluded to earlier, this is no Sturgis or Daytona. There is no cole slaw wrestling (not that that's a bad thing) or wet T-shirt contests. Mostly the aforementioned revelers are adults and act respectably, and responsibly enough to not get into trouble with the local gendarmes, who are ever present during Americade.
Thursday, June 5th . Up and out early, as the sky and weather forecast was threatening rain. My first stop was the Victory booth, on my all-encompassing quest to ride as many new bikes as possible. Besides, Victory gives you a really cool T-shirt just for going on their test ride. The Victory Vegas I rode was really something special. I'm not a cruiser guy by any means, but this bike was nice. It was well designed and executed, as well as comfortable, and torquey. If I were ever going to buy a cruiser, this would be the one. Next up was the Moto Guzzi California Aluminum. This bike surprised me, in that I enjoyed riding it. It had a raw kind of feel to it, but was still lots of fun to toss through the turns on the twisty part of the route. The seating position was perfect for riding hard, but the motor, while gutsy in higher RPM ranges, was still anemic when compared to modern sport bikes. Lots of vibration in the lower part of the rev range too, but one thing about Guzzi's test ride, they let you go. This was by far the quickest of all the manufacturer.
Next was a ride on an Aprilia Futura that was interrupted midway through with a downpour of a shower. I liked the Futura a lot. It was comfortably sprung, had a great riding position, and had loads of power, but it handled a little oddly, seemingly wanting to fall into turns, instead of making a smooth transition. That really didn't bother me at all to be truthful. The bike was quite nice in every other regard.
Another event I took advantage of on Thursday was the Kawasaki boat cruise, which amounted to a dinner of fried chicken and various side dishes aboard the "Saint Sacrament" steam ship, as it lazily plied the waters of Lake George with a band playing on board, and door prize giveaways by Kawasaki themselves. This boat ride is always a hit with everyone who takes it.
Friday, June 6th. Friday dawns with gorgeous weather. Sunny skies and 80 degrees are the high point of the day. I do more test rides today, my favorite part of Americade. I ride a ZRX1200 Kawasaki as well as a ZZR1200. While I liked them both, the ZZR is still my favorite bike out of anything I rode this week. It's fast, nimble and comfortable, with great ergoes and wind protection. It really does have it all for me. The only downside to this bike is the hard-edged seat, which I could see being a problem a few hundred miles down the road. But it's nothing that sending the offending seat off to Sargents wouldn't take care of. I may well own one of these bikes before too much longer.
At noon, I met several other riders at the staging area for the GTOC (Good Times Owners Club) ride and dinner event. This was a hundred-mile ride through the Adirondacks with dinner back in Lake George at an extremely nice outdoor restaurant, overlooking the Lake itself. The riding in the Lake George area is top notch, and first rate. Rolling twisties past scenic mountains and calm lakes are the highlights of the Friday afternoon ride.
Friday night and it's back to the street which is now packed with bikes and onlookers who have walked to town (myself included) to view the Friday night festivities. Further up the road, fireworks are shot off from the "Great Escape" amusement park as darkness falls, signaling the last night of festivities at Americade for this year. The actual ending ceremony won't take place till Saturday, but for all intents and purposes, come Saturday noon, Americade 2003 will be over. But first the annual bike parade must take place.
Saturday June 7th. I awake to cloudy skies and the threat of rain, earlier in the day. Still, I would have liked to have gotten a few more demo rides in. Instead, I head over to the Tour Expo one more time to pick up a few more small items. I see those that are going to participate in the Bike Parade already gearing up and staging their bikes near the lake, but the rain begins early, and I don't stick around to see if it ever happens, or if they put it off till after the showers end.
Sometime during all this, a new Americade King and Queen are chosen, and are set to reign for one full year as ambassadors to the sport. This is a classy operation, all the way around.
Did I get to do everything I wanted to? Not even close. I missed all the seminars that are held there all week long by motorcycle luminaries from all over the industry. Magazine writers, AMA leaders, parts manufacturers and every other type of motorcycle related industry representative is here for a week of seminars. It's virtually impossible to do it all in the time allotted. Also, there are dozens of guided and unguided rides available for those who are inclined to see the region with the help of a well thought out route, planned by those that know the area the best.
Never does a week fly by for me, as does Americade week each year. Now I have a year to get ready and plan what I'll be doing next June 7th-12th in beautiful and historic Lake George. It is a week of pure motorcycling fun, in every regard. You can demo ride, you can tour the region, you can sport tour the various twisty roads, you can see and listen to seminars on everything from suspension setup to what riding gear to wear in what situation, and every topic in between. Americade is a different kind of rally. It's one for the motorcyclist who enjoys riding more than anything else. With the next best thing he enjoys being the camaraderie of those like himself for one great week out of the year, in an area rich with history and more events than he can possibly finish in a week.
But there's always next year.