Laconia 2007: Come for the Maple Syrup, Stay for the Bikers

“Bellying up to the bar” took on new meaning at Laconia Bike Week 2007. I knew prices got jacked up at bike rallies, be it Sturgis, Daytona, whatever, but $13,000 to take a seat on a bar stool? What’s up with that? (Stay tuned for answer.)

Maybe it had something to do with me being a newbie to the annual New Hampshire mass migration of motorcycles now aiming for its 85th Anniversary next year. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I had to park my carcass some 20 miles south of the event just in order to get a motel room since the cost of accommodations in Laconia itself was something Trump’s accountant would have been proud of.

Center for Laconia Bike Week action is Weirs Beach.
Vintage racer sports tattoo of Dell’Orto carburetor.
Greg Nichols has earned eight National Championships at Daytona.
  Sandy has been racing sidecars for 11 years. At 55 she's still going strong.
In any case, I was an L.A. West Coaster in town to take on the “Live Free or Die” state’s biggest bike party. I was locked and loaded. Got my press pass, got my funny hat to block the East Coast humidity (wishful thinking) and I had a ton of gigabyte SD cards my new Pentax digital SLR. Soon as I got within 50 miles of the place, I heard Gabriel’s trumpets calling. My pulse quickened, or was that my iPod vibrating on stun in my photog vest? Nope, the streets were alive with the sound of music… open pipe organs cranking out tunes Bach never dreamt of.

For me Laconia became a Spockian melding of minds. Kindred spirits and a few deranged ones to add spice to the mix, riders bee-lining from all points of the compass for the western New Hampshire area known for the splendors of the 780,000 square-acre White Mountain National Forest and at least a half dozen area state parks offering unlimited hiking, camping, fishing, biking and Kodak moment-ing.

Yeah, come to Laconia to ogle its 200,000-400,000 bikes, take in the hill-climb events, the vintage racing at Loudon Speedway, the poker runs, the watering holes and music, and stay for the surrounding fauna and flora. New Hampshire must have a patent on waterfalls, covered bridges, river rafting, not to mention its maple syrup. It’s even got its own “Stonehenge,” a nice pile of rocks apparently 4,000 years-old used for astronomical purposes, the site located in Salem, NH, but not the one with witches since that’s in nearby Massachusetts.

It’s always good to get a handle on the history of a new placing you’re visiting. And I’ve got my sources down pat. Make that with a pat of butter.

I found a great greasy spoon somewhere between Concord and Laconia with a tasty maple sugar pie and a placemat with all kinds of factoids and even a map. I like to eat and learn whenever possible.

In any case, I discovered that the first potato planted in the U.S. was planted in New Hampshire in 1719; a woman concealing an illegitimate child way back in 1739 was the last woman executed in the state; and one of the country’s oldest and still existing newspapers, the <i>New Hampshire Gazette</i> was first published in 1756 and the Ivy League famous Dartmouth College was founded in 1769. (Someone in New Hampshire please forward this story to Dartmouth, as I’m doing everything short of funding a new dormitory to get my son into that school so I figure a little PR couldn’t hurt.)

As I scraped away some pie crust from the café’s dinner mat, I learned one of the reason’s NH is called the “Live Free or Die State.” It was the first colony/state to declare itself independent of England. They really place an emphasis on having nobody, as in the Feds, telling them what to do. In fact, NH is a helmet-free state if you’re 18. And that goes for wearing a seatbelt in a car, too. Your choice.

Jumping forward into the 20th century, it seems that in 1945 a skipper of a German U-boat thought it a good idea to surrender his submarine to the people at Portsmouth, NH. The state also started the first legal lottery in the U.S. back in 1963. And to cap things off, in 1997 Portsmouth was chosen by Money magazine as the fifth best place in the nation to live. Obviously that U-boat skipper knew a good thing when he saw it.

As for the history of the Laconia Bike Week itself, it wasn’t always a week, so explained the nice lady selling the raffle tickets for the Harley the Laconia Kiwanis was auctioning off (and which I better win since I used half my rent buying the tickets).

Laconia is held every year in June, but expect some rain. Apparently it rains in all four seasons in New Hampshire.

Bring a poncho and for sure wet weather riding gear. And plastic baggies for your raffle tickets. I learned the hard way. Fortunately, this year the drizzles started early and left quickly followed by sunshine was abundant.

The whole deal started like a lot of bike rallies when a few guys found a spot to stop for some brew and grub with a nice view to ride through on their bikes. This was back in 1916, just a tad past a dozen years since Milwaukee produced its first marvel. In this case it was fairly large number of bikes, several hundred that showed up on a spit of land called Weirs Beach located on Lake Winnipesaukee, today still the center point of the event where the bikes line up <i>a la</i> Main Street in Daytona or Sturgis but in a downsized version. Call it cozier. Vendors also congregate along Weirs Beach hawking T-shirts, doodads, tattoos, giant turkey legs, and motorcycle parts.

The famous $13,000 350-hp Bar Stool!
  Close enough to a motorcycle, a 427 Cobra made an appearance.
Back to the history. In 1923, Laconia Bike Week got legal, officially recognized by what was to become the AMA. Part of the famous Gypsy Tour, it started featuring races and hill-climbs, both of which still take place albeit at different locations, the hill-climb now at a county-run campground/resort/ski area called Gunstock, but minus the bullets. The racing with an emphasis on vintage bikes, once held through Laconia’s city streets, now takes place at the modern mile-oval facility at the New Hampshire International Speedway in nearby Loudon.

Like all great events, Laconia Bike Week had its darker days, such as the ’65 Riot. Some call it a police riot, some call it a hardcore biker feeding frenzy, but everybody agrees it gave the event some seriously bad press. The law came down hard as the city began to think the event wasn’t such a good idea. Bike Week collapsed into a Bike three-Day Week, and for while the attendance figures dropped like a 15 lb. bowling ball after eating a handful of cheese nachos.

The picture flip-flopped again when the city realized the event was a money maker. In the 1990s the Federation of American Motorcyclists was asked for assistance in getting Laconia back on its feet, rather wheels. When the dust settled, local Laconia businesses and local biker groups formulated the Laconia Motorcycle Rally and Race Association and the event took off again, gaining momentum, popularity and a much more positive image. Make that very positive image. And make that images. Here’s a bunch I snapped, the best way to tell the story.

Oh, yeah, that $13,000 bar stool?

That was the real deal. Designed and built by Bruce Vetti, Stomford Boss Hoss dealer, you got yourself one very special conversation piece. The bar stool is strapped to a 350-horsepower V-8 Chevy engine as powers the Boss Hoss motorcycle. In this case, the bar stool is aptly called “Hoss Fly.” Sounds just right the thing for cruising around Laconia Bike Week.

The author ducking for cover. (Gary Williams, my friend who shot it)

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