America’s Oldest Motorcycle Rally Holds Special Significance For This New Hampshire Rider
Lloyd Clement is Road Dirt Associate Editor Phil Gauthier’s cousin, and lives up in beautiful New Hampshire. He recounts a day of riding to Laconia Motorcycle Week last month, and the breathtaking routes found up in the White Mountains of New England. We hope you enjoy his recollections here.
It’s early summer here in New Hampshire, the brutal winter has passed and the snow has finally melted. Today’s forecast is perfect for my ride up to the annual Laconia Motorcycle Week. The Everett Turnpike is roughly one mile from my Manchester home and I can already hear the roar of hundreds of bikes in the distance heading north.
I am retired Air Force, Law Enforcement and a recent empty nester, and I picked up my street bike back in 2015 – 20 years after we started our family and I had to sell my Honda Shadow. I’ve grown to love the freedom enjoyed while riding my Harley-Davidson Softail, and look forward to Laconia every year. I’ve recently rediscovered that motorcycle riding is truly in my blood and in fact, in our family tree. In addition to a few cousins that enjoy riding (nod to Phil), we had a great uncle, Louis Clement, who was a well-known and much-respected New Hampshire Motorcycle State Trooper. The image below is Uncle Louis on his trusty steed, which by the way he used to ride famed actress Betty Davis around the state to help sell war bonds during WWII.
Fathers Day weekend is the most active time to enjoy Laconia, and each year riders from all over the continent make the journey to New England for this historic event. This marks the 96th year for Laconia, which continues to maintain its position as the oldest U.S. motorcycle rally on the calendar. Started in 1916 as the “Gypsy Tour”, the event was officially recognized in 1917 (incorporated in 1923) and involved a large group of motorcyclists every year from across the northeast, with racing and hill climbing events as well. In the years that followed, competition and attendance grew and eventually manifested into a gathering of riders fulfilling their desire to become “one with the machine”. Camaraderie within the biker community came natural and the annual tradition was solidified.
Following my “T-CLOCS” inspection of the bike, I peck the Mrs. on the cheek as she shoots her “Be Careful” look at me, and questions my thoughts around a return in time for dinner. She knows the question is rhetorical, as once I get rolling any formal itinerary goes flying in the wind. An array of attractions await as I roll north along Route 3 towards the beautiful White Mountains. I begin catching the first few twistys rolling towards the final sections of the Appalachian Trail, and my mind wanders back to what it might have been like for old Uncle Louie, riding a Hollywood starlet around our beautiful state to promote the financing of a major world conflict.
Interesting note– At my swearing in as a NH state trooper, Uncle Louie gave me a very special gift- an antique “one way swing” set of handcuffs he utilized years ago, on the war bonds tours. As he told it, if a bond buyer purchased a bond of a certain value, they were granted the opportunity of handcuffing Betty Davis with the cuffs!
Navigating the traffic rotary and onto Lakeside Ave. brings me into what is widely considered the heart of the Laconia Rally at Weirs Beach, AKA “The Weirs.” Traffic slows to a crawl and finding a parking spot on the strip here can be difficult. I luck out and score an open space near the tourist train entrance at the Boardwalk, next to a couple parking and speaking French. Following a greeting I discover they are from Quebec. Between our immediate biker bond and the fact that my own heritage is French Canadian, I instantly get the feeling of being at home within this massive community of riders. It’s amazing how motorcycles can do that for people; a language that need not be spoken, but is certainly understood.
As with any rally, walking the main boulevard is the best way to check out bikes and people. I pass the VA booth and score a t-shirt with other veteran swag right as a Harley decked out in olive drab Army theme rolls past. More bikes such as an early 70’s vintage BSA in mint condition is beside an M&M Peanuts theme bike with a trailer. Across the street a bike with a sidecar backs into a space. It’s a 2015 replica of a 1939 Russian Ural, owned by Tom Kibby of Connecticut. Not far from the Weirs Beach entrance is a “Three Stooges” themed Harley, owned by David Dionne. A wide variety of motorbikes is always a visual pleasure at Laconia Bike Week.
I cross Route 3 and enter Hawg Hill to check out more vendors. Several are already getting their refreshment on at the beer tent, where wristbands deliver a cold brew and live music – always popular late in the day. Following a trek up Hawg Hill I buy a cigar and bump into some friends of mine. While catching up I sense a whiff of my favorite grub at Laconia, those massive smoked turkey legs. From cigars to lobster you can find just about anything you want here, and after lunch I decide I’d really rather ride the spectacular roads in this region of the state.
Choosing what to buy or eat at the Weirs is tough, as is deciding which routes to ride. Some like to go further north, deep into the White Mountains, to experience hairpin turns and steep, mountain passes that offer incredible vistas. Plenty of lakes offer great circuits like Lake Winnipesaukee, Newfound, Winnisquam and Squam. If the salt and sand is your desire, heading to the coastline to ride Route 1 on the Atlantic shore is the ticket. So much incredible riding up here. Before I head out I take a quick detour to Boot Hill Saloon, about 2 miles from the Weirs.
Much like Boot Hill in down in Daytona, this “Saloon” takes up two parcels on both sides of the main road and is usually packed with bikes and people hanging out, barbecuing, camping or just enjoying plenty of live music in the open fields. Stands of hardwoods provide welcome shade. After checking the scene I mount back up to continue riding. I decide to hit the lakes region and see where the roads take me. The feeling of freedom only adds to the delight of the beautiful scenery as I take Rt. 25 to Rt. 109, to Rt.11 and check in at the Hawg Pen. Short glimpses of the lakes poke through on the road from time to time. Zig-zagging through marsh lands and over short bridges past “Moose Crossing” signs takes me back to my old State Trooper relative from yesteryear, and I wonder if Betty Davis had this much fun while riding with my Uncle Louis. I’m sure he did!
After topping off my gas tank and downing some water I scrap the Hawg Pen notion and choose to ride out to the coast to smoke my cigar. After turning onto coastal Route 1-A I can feel the difference of temperature and decide to pull over and layer up with my leather jacket. Cool ocean breezes are accompanied by an easterly wind as I enjoy the coastal route’s quick sharp curves. The smell of salt air fills my senses as the Atlantic soon opens up before me. Once parked at my favorite vantage point, I climb a large group of rocks to recline and enjoy my cigar.
As the waves crash at low tide I hear the continual roar of bikes behind me, assuming most have enjoyed their day as I have. I again think back to many years prior and speculate if Uncle Louis had cruised to the shore in search of some peace and quiet himself while enjoying a cigar. My day at Laconia Bike Week 2019 was another moment in time that will bring a smile to my face for many years. The bikes, riders, experiences, and the beautiful riding itself has been not only fulfilling, but deeply soul-relaxing in ways that only bikers can understand. My mental batteries are now fully recharged and I’m ready for reentering life. I finish my cigar and follow Route 101 back to Manchester. It was a very good day, to be alive and to be riding.
Sadly, I did not make it home for dinner.
Thanks Lloyd, for your musings and passion for riding in the great Northeast! Might need to make a Road Dirt road trip….