Laconia Bike Week 2007 –

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Video Laconia bike week flashing

Maybe you’ve heard of the Triple Crown of racing, horses that is, hooves flashing, nostrils flaring, heading down the last stretch to glory and the big purse. In the United States, the Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky; the Preakness Stakes, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland; the Belmont Stakes, at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York. Take all three and you’re in the history books forever, but people only remember the horse’s name, not the rider’s.

Some say there’s also a Triple Crown of bike rallies for bikers, and that would be Sturgis in South Dakota about to have its 67th event, Daytona Beach in Florida about to celebrate its 66th, and Laconia in New Hampshire, the three locations forming sort of a triangle or jewels on the crown so to speak. (Okay, we’re not slamming Laughlin or Myrtle Beach or even the Honda Hoot so no letters please.)

You don’t win a cash prize or some extra hay but you do gain those indelible images and sometimes enduring friendship born of the many miles ridden and challenges met. They don’t call them rallies for nothing. Laconia, now nearing its 85th Anniversary, beating out the two other events by almost 20 years, leaves its own set of impressions. It doesn’t have those long, wide open vistas you see in the Dakotas or the ocean glinting gold over Daytona’s beaches. But Laconia does have New Hampshire, a green swath of creation whose great forests pump oxygen into the atmosphere we breathe and whose meandering roads seem custom bred for motorcycles. And they didn’t adopt the state motto of “Live Free or Die” for nothing.

It goes way back to the peal of that first liberty bell more than 200 years ago; some New Hampshire residents take it very seriously. It even extends to what Federal rules they consider worth taking seriously. That can be seen in the choice they offer bikers. If you’re 18 or over, it’s your decision to wear a helmet or not. And that’s not the end of it. If you’re 18 or over, you can also decide to snap that car safety belt on or not. They call it freedom of choice. And that’s cast in stone, so to speak, since the state is also called the Granite State. Yeah, they got a lot of rock. And other minerals as well, like back in 1803 the Ruggles Mine near Laconia first started digging out a mother lode of mica used it appears in the little windows of stoves, something everybody needed since the winters can get damn cold. By the time the mine closed down it had cashed in on $30,000,000. You learn this kind of factoids when do Laconia. But the real “gold” is not dug out of Mother Earth but found on a rather short stretch of pavement at Weirs Beach.

Compared to the miles of Daytona beach front or Sturgis Main Street, Weirs is a bit weird in that it takes about two beers and a burger to walk its entire length. But if you choose to make the trek to Laconia, maybe after doing Sturgis and Daytona, you won’t be disappointed. Something like 200-350,000 people show up each year, so they must know something. Like the Lakes Region in which Laconia finds itself, an amalgam of mountains and forests and of course lakes. Lakes with names like Squam, Ossipee and Winnipesaukee, the last vestiges of the indigenous peoples that once hunted and fished the area until Wal-Mart made those occupations obsolete.

Like any bike event, it’s an opportunity to buy even more t-shirts and Laconia has nice ones including ones with a picture of a moose. Moose tend to walk through the neighborhoods on a regular basis. I didn’t see one the whole time I was there. But I did buy three moose t-shirts. Yeah, we don’t see much moose in L.A. In any case, you can load up on Laconia Bike Week t-shirts and not have to worry about paying state tax on the stuff, a point made by Governor John Lynch in his “welcome to Bike Week” statement.

Laconia Motorcycle Week started back in the summer of 1916, basically in the middle of WWI, in what might be called a simpler time, and the New Hampshire scenery was pristine and already a magnet for riders on spindly Harleys and Indians belt-driving themselves to the area. It became a part of the “Gypsy Tour,” sanctioned by the Federation of American Motorcyclists, (F.A.M.), predecessor to the present American Motorcyclist Association (A.M.A.), founded in 1924. Back then they started a hill climb literally in Weirs, but now you’ll find it a county run recreation area called Gunstock. The “hill” is actually a 300 ft. ski jump area when the snows fall.

Racing entered the picture in 1939 with a road race and up until this year vintage bikes used to race through the city streets of Laconia, but now it’s shifted to the famous New Hampshire International Speedway in nearby Loudon. Returning WWII veterans swelled the ranks of Laconia bike week attendees, as did the release of such biker films as “The Wild Ones” and “Easy Rider.”

In the 1960s bikers began pitching tents along Route 106 leading to the track, but still Weirs Beach was the events main stomping grounds. There was serious stomping between some bikers and the local constabulary around this time, particularly what became known as the “Riot of 65” which got Laconia some bad press. As result the length of the event fluctuated from three days to a week and the roadside camping was banned in 1975. It was not until 1990 and several years of mellowing that the AMA got the ball rolling back to a pre-65 weeklong event, the idea pushed by the local business community who would be happy to have the big crowds back buying stuff. By 1992, it was an A.M.A. sanctioned event again and a year later, the Hill Climbs cranked up again.

In 2000, the days of week were officially changed to nine when Laconia Bike Week became a nine-day party beginning on the second Friday in June and ending at midnight on Father’s Day.

That said, the reason to head for Laconia is three simple words: bikes, people, fun. It’s been working for nearly 85 years so the formula must be right. So the rest of this report is nonverbal, snapshots that hopefully leave the indelible impressions that left on us. And now you’ve got time to gear up for next year and the Big 85.

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