Article By: Chris Callen Photos By: Heather Callen
Originally Published In The October 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine
After a brisk ride up from West Virginia where we closed out an incredible Big Mountain Run, we drove all night and headed into the New England States for the Grand Daddy of them all, Laconia. I say that despite the fact that Laconia is not the Biggest rally by numbers but because it is the very place where the American Motorcycle Rally started. This year signs and banners touted the 93rd anniversary of this historic event, but in all truth it is actually 100 years in the making. You see, in 1916 a few hundred motorcycles, by official account, began to gather in the Weirs Beach area of Laconia New Hampshire. It wasn’t for another seven years that the Federation Of Motorcyclists, or todays AMA, recognized the event as a gypsy tour and put a marker down on the timeline. It continued to grow through the fifties and sixties expanding into an entire week of motorcycle activities that included the Loudon Classic races and the Hill Climbs that it became famous for.
Now, what many of you may not know is that Laconia came under heavy scrutiny in its time. In 1965 there was a riot between bikers and police and the man came down hard. It almost drove the rally out of existence and the following years the local businesses saw hard times as the event was pruned down to a three-day deal. It wasn’t until the 1990’s that a group of local businesses formed the Laconia Motorcycle Rally and Race Association, and returned the Rally to a full nine-day event that either begins or ends on the weekend of Father’s Day. For us this is and will always be our second home; its where Heather lived for the past 20 years as she ran the day to day operations of the World Famous Broken Spoke Saloon. The Spoke would be our home base for the rally week but having pushed through all night we had some free time and we decided to do something crazy with it; ride motorcycles! My road dog, Zach Williams, was on this trip and as soon as we got our feet on the ground in New Hampshire we split on two wheels so we could meet up with our boy Doug from Sick Boy on his annual Mae West Pet Run. It was great to see so many bikes riding to raise some dough for the local Humane Society. From there we headed north into the White Mountains.
The most spectacular reason to attend Laconia has always been the riding and brother we got some in. We headed up to the Kancamagus, a notorious road through the mountains that leaves off into a beautiful water fall swimming area. It was raining on and off, not enough to spoil our time on the Kanc but just enough to keep them from opening the auto road up to Mt. Washington. I was so hoping to take Zach up there, but it would have to wait. Instead we hung around the falls for a bit, headed back down towards Laconia on Rt. 3 and properly wasted an entire day doing it.
I can tell you this with complete amazement, that was the last we saw of any rain for the entire time we were at Laconia Bike Week. It was so sunny and so beautiful I could see in an instant why people would want to live there. Riding around Lake Winnipesaukee on incredible overgrown forest roads from town to town was just a great spot to be. Our official events wouldn’t start until Tuesday with our Bike Show at the Broken Spoke, so we settled back and took in the Weirs for the night. If you have never been, Weirs Beach is like a board walk sort of town that sits at the edge of Lake Winnipesaukee and is the epicenter for the rally. There’s an old movie theater marquee style sign that alerts you to your destination but other than that it’s just a place to hang by the water. However, when bike week comes to town this little eight block strip is packed to the gills with vendors and artisans, everything the good little biker boy or girl could imagine. Across the street is the Weirs Drive In where so much history has come from and of course it was the location of our brother, Jack Schit for the week, the Laconia Roadhouse. Now, this was Monday night and the hustle was on for sure but nowhere near what I had come to know Laconia for. You could see the traffic was down, the rain I thought to myself, and explained to Zach how the coming days would see a mob roll in.
Bright and early the next day we set up our booth at the Broken Spoke Saloon and waited for the bikes to roll in. Not gonna lie, we were a bit nervous about this show, it was the first Cycle Source Bike Show to be held at the oldest motorcycle rally. Thankfully some of the local heavy hitters, like Larry Fredella of Old School Chopper, Old School School Fabrication, Choppahead, Nick from Forever Two Wheels Maine and our boy Jay Grimes of North East Choppers were all on hand to give awards to bikes in the show. Each of these cats came with amazing bikes and killer handmade trophies! You guys are the best. What happened next blew my mind as a hundred of the most incredible bikes rolled onto that property. Shovels and Pans and not only one or two man, they just kept coming. There were several old flatties, choppers, cut downs, vintage stockers; it was a scene. I could hardly keep up with painting the trophies, every time a new one hit the lot I had to go scope it out. One of them is in this issue, the Best Of Show from that day. It’s a bike called the Shit Shovel and it really struck a chord with us, hope you dig it too. We spent the whole day with the bike show, you’ll see several of the bikes from that day in upcoming issues and making new friends from the area. One such cat, Brian Carpentier, invited us up to Bentleys in Arundel Maine, another iconic spot in the area, to tour their new museum. With the crowd at the Spoke going at full tilt, I felt like Bike Week was under way, yet later that night there still wasn’t the over the top type of traffic we were used to. It didn’t matter much though, we had a long day and by the end of the night we had all we could manage from the day and decided to save some energy for the week ahead.
Wednesday morning, we were scheduled to hold bike games. This was going on in conjunction with another bike show, this one put on by a Laconia local, Dick Cartier. His bikes were filling up the lot and we decided to cut out a little swath at the bar. Now, we’ve been doing these games all over the country for the past bunch of years as old time motorcycle fun is in full swing. But I gotta tell you, with the exception of people in Texas, there are few as serious about their bike games as those who come to Laconia for the rally. We had every manner of motorcycle in line to do the slow race and the barrel roll. An original Indian, new street glides, a couple choppers, it was a blast. The weenie bite was a hoot but far less a display of passenger prowess than other games. In fact, we only had one successful bite of like three inches in over a dozen passes…. You’re gonna need to practice this at home for next year ladies! The best part of all this was the crowd favorite of the day, Chris Harkins, who not only piloted his Deuce to a win in the Slow race through the rigors of six other competitors but did it with little 2-year-old Elijah, our Grandson on the tank. The crowd went nuts, the kid never flinched during a single run. The whole day was a great experience, Bike Games right in front of the Spoke! Now, that night the Spoke had a killer line up and the party was on. I saw, what I have to tell you, was one of my all-time favorite rally acts, the Cold Hard Cash Show, and while these guys aren’t new to the rally scene, it was my first time. I swore to God that the sound man had a Johnny Cash iPod playing through their whole set, just amazing entertainers. Jarod Blake and the boys were on hand killing it as usual, the Jasmine Cain band and later in that week Big House Pete got to take the stage a couple of times. There wasn’t a bad night on the Spoke property and like I said, it will forever be our second home.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t bring up LaconiaFest in this little offering. Big House Pete was scheduled to play a spot or two ahead of Ted Nugent on Friday night but by mid-week we wondered if it would happen at all. The giant two stage complex at the Drive-In was coming off with reports of small crowds, overestimated need for resources and it looked like trouble was brewing. Still, they managed to pull off Brett Michaels, Steven Tyler and the likes all week, but by Friday it had come unglued. At this point no one could even find the promoters or any of the top management. The staff had taken control and the bands, like us, decided to play without pay to help them get home. Many of the workers had not even been given travel money ahead of time, let alone been paid. It was sad and a good lesson for people coming into this industry: what works everywhere else is not necessarily going to work at the motorcycle rally. I hope everyone involved in that property made it out ok.
We stopped by the Looney Bin a couple times to check in on our brother Hooligan who works the door there. It’s a great little place down the street from the Spoke with some killer food. Back at the Spoke on Saturday was the perfect way to end off the rally. There’s just nothing like the feel of being at the Spoke and I guess it’s that way for whatever your favorite spot is too, but man I just dig the vibe there. Now, the reason I brought up the troubles of the sixties in my introduction is that over the past ten years Laconia has begun a little decline again. Many people blame the weather, it’s been lovingly referred to as Rainconia, and this rally is known for it’s once every five years of sun filled schedule with rain as the norm. But, I think it’s simply a sign of the times. Things come and go and trends change. As a new generation comes in they look to find the things that are cool about our culture and Laconia is that place. The history is insane, the vintage racing at Loudon is off the hook, but for the typical rally goer that wants the typical carnival feel to a rally, this just isn’t it. Laconia is a place in time that has an antique look and feel. As much cool production that goes on at the big venues, there are only a few of them, and at the top of the list for things to do is ride great roads and eat great food. Which, if I had to guess what the original reason for the Gypsy Tours was to start with, would have been the exact reason those first motorcycle riders made the pilgrimage to Weirs Beach a hundred years ago. As for the crew, and me we’ll be back next year, even if we have to wait another four rallies to get up the Mount Washington Autoroad. I have unfinished business in Laconia!