Laconia Bike Week 2016

Conclusion.

I had travelled up to Laconia Bike Week in New Hampshire with my friend Matt. I wasn’t able to stay for the full week because of other commitments at home. We headed back down the Interstate towards Blackstone, where Matt lived about an hour out of Boston. DSC04776There was so much we hadn’t got to do up at Laconia. So many essential activities that are a traditional part of Bike Week that I suppose I should have been disappointed. Bike Week wasn’t popular with locals for many years, due in part to a riot by motorcycle gangs in 1965. Because of the problems caused by trouble at the rally, it gradually declined to a three day event. It was revived with the help and support of local business exploiting it’s potential to attract large numbers of visitors to the area. Bike Week is actually nine days long now, and is organised around the traditional bike racing and hill climbing events. Guess what? We never even managed to get to one of these events. I am not disappointed though, because I will go back for another visit and when I do, there will be plenty of new events to experience as well as re-visiting the sites and sights I have already seen.

Matt couldn’t resist stopping to take a closer look of a 60s’ Chevrolet Camaro that we had seen displayed on a grassy bank overlooking the road. We had passed it a number of times and DSC04494I knew we would eventually stop to see it and enquire into the terms of sale. It looked really great and I was glad Matt wanted to see it up close. The owner confirmed it was for sale and was more than happy to show us the car, and tell us all we needed to know about it. It turned out to have a few features that made it less desirable. It had only six cylinders instead of eight, and didn’t have the right kind of roof, as I understood, so apparently we weren’t going to be looking for transport back to Blackstone for a new purchase. We continued on our journey South towards Boston.

At a rest stop, where we were resting our weary old arthritic bones in the shade, on a particularly hot day, adam1I noticed the driver of an articulated lorry or semi-trailer  truck, visiting the drivers of the other trucks. I had seen him trying to make some repairs on the trailer so he was obviously in some difficulty. He was returning to his truck, unsuccessful in his mission it seemed, when as an afterthought, he came over to us, sitting in the shade close to our bikes. His air suspension had sprung a leak and as a result, his trailer was dragging a bit. Did we have any duct tape? Matt rummaged in the saddle bags on his Harley and while he did I asked the driver about himself. Adam was from Poland, and he and his family moved over 12 years before to Chicago, and he was driving big rigs out of Illinois since then. Matt had a roll of duct tape and was glad to help out. We saddled up and headed back out on the highway, leaving the duct tape with Adam.

I reflected on the trip that was so close to coming to an end as we rode the rest of the journey to MOMMS motorbikes in Foxboro. I was really glad I had made the decision to come over to the U.S. to meet Matt and his family and take the trip up to Laconia Bike Week. This year, 2016, is the 93rd bike week and I intend to attend at least a few more between now and the 100th anniversary. Maybe the one to be at will be the 100th anniversary bike week, and that’s fine by me. There are too many highlights of the trip to dwell on, but the most significant one was meeting and enjoying the hospitality of Matt, his beautiful wife and daughters. I hope we can repay the hospitality when they visit Ireland. Warmth and friendliness was a common theme throughout the whole visit. Everyone we met on the trip was so friendly and just a note to demonstrate that: on one occasion that we pulled over to enjoy the view of the White Mountains I had parked the Lincoln Town Car in a depression of the ground on a hill. Matt said he would give me a hand to push it backwards out of the depression (as I couldn’t go forward because of a big rock just in front of the front wheel). As he was just about to push, a guy stopped his truck, jumped out, and asked were we in trouble and did we need help. He was probably a biker as that is “the biker code”, but he may have been just a random passer-by. Either way it is indicative of the easy, friendly and helpful attitude we met as a constant on this trip.

After returning The Lincoln Town Car to MOMMS Motorbikes in Foxboro I had one more opportunity to admire Matt’s pride and joy, a beauty of a vintage Harley, and then it was time to pack for the journey to Logan Airport in Boston for the flight back to Ireland. Having been surprisingly abstemious during the whole trip, there was time to blow the froth off a few cold ones before the call to board came, and then off back to the old sod. I wonder did the guy that coined the phrase “the old sod” actually mean “the old sog”, because of course it was teaming down rain in Dublin, and that is never a surprise. At home I was trying to give “Herself” an account of the trip but she had other things on her mind. She was too busy thinking about her impending holiday in Northern Spain. She was going on a walking holiday with her two friends, Camino (Spanish for Kevin) and Santiago (Spanish for Seamus). They intended to go for long walks in the lovely hills in Northern Spain. Yeah right. If I declared my intention to go travelling anywhere with my two” bestie” female biker buddies it would go down like the proverbial lead balloon. And anyway, who do you think you are kidding? Everyone knows that Santander is a bank, not a place. Walk 800 kilometres? Yeah right. Public transport hasn’t made it’s way to Spain yet? moto guzziWhatever about public transport, motorcycles have been there since at least the fifties. How do I know that? She brought back a picture of a motorbike hanging in a Café in Colunga, Asturias, Northern Spain. A Moto Guzzi Hispania (circa 1953). So I am not fooled. Nobody has to walk that far, even in Spain. Next year, she and I will do Northern Spain, French Way, Northern Way and Portuguese Way and anyway she would like, but the proper way: on a motorcycle. Kevin and Seamus can find their own way around. I think a ramble around Spain would be just the ticket, and we won’t even have to carry a rucksack or worry about “Pedamed” for our feet either.

So, just a final word about The Lincoln Town Car. The Lincoln Town Car was the Harley I hired. The bike was a full dress Electra Glide from 2013 with a 103 cubic inch engine (1670cc), in an attractive black and silver livery, with the full tour pack, weighing in at 857 lbs (398 kgs) which is massive. Initially, I had thought it was just a beast, with weather and wind protection being it’s saving grace. As I became accustomed to this bike I have to admit it really grew on me. I really enjoyed throwing it into the twisties and loved the way it soaked up bad road conditions without a murmur of complaint. Compared to Matt’s older Heritage Softail, it was much easier to start in the mornings, positively frugal with fuel, and laden down with creature comforts and incredible passenger accommodation. I know the arguments in favour of a sporty Japanese or a sophisticated BMW for example, but this bike is not aimed at that market. Harley seem to intentionally made it an experience that is reminiscent of an older era. Harley have been a successful marque for many, many decades. It would appear that they know their demographic intimately. If it’s power and comfort, and engineering ingenuity that’s required for their customer base, they appear to have it in spades. They may have lost a little ground to Polaris, with their Indian and Victory brands, but Harley are still the heavyweights in this market.

Laconia Bike Week 2016

Part 5. Trump, Mount Washington and The Kanc.

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I was travelling with Matt, a buddy of mine, in the Laconia area of New Hampshire, driving a 2013 Harley Electra Glide. We were visiting to get a flavour of Laconia Bike Week 2016. It is a truly beautiful part of the world. I had known from the outset that this trip was going to have to be cut short because of other commitments back home, but the few days we had up there flew by and it was almost time to set a course back towards Boston. I had hired a Harley Electra Glide at MOMS Motorcycles in Foxboro, and initially I had found it very heavy and unwieldy, especially as we were hitting some seriously challenging roads. Roads that would be really great for enduro or adventure style bikes, but not for the Lincoln Town Car, as I had christened the Harley. I have to acknowledge though that this bike was definitely growing on me. In fact it didn’t put a foot wrong, and even when the conditions became demanding, I was getting a kick out of leaning it into the corners and it behaved absolutely impeccably no matter what I or the roads threw at it. It had great weather protection and even when it rained, hardly a drop got by the big fairing. I am very accustomed to changing weather conditions so rain and wind don’t deter me from completing a motorcycle trip. Harley screenIt is undeniable though that weather imposes additional problems and even danger for the rider. The Harley was totally sure footed and the screen, which is big, totally negated the problem that riders usually face. Reduced visibility in the rain. Normally rain causes helmet visors or goggles / glasses to become very difficult to see through. The big windscreen which sits on top of the fairing worked extremely well for me. Riders who are taller might not have the same protection, but I think a rider would have to be much taller than I am before they would have problems.

During our stay in the area we found the people to be very friendly. This was not just a biker thing because everybody from store assistants to security staff at the event, fellow diners in restaurants, and anybody we interacted with were very friendly and talkative. I noticed a regular topic of conversation was the Trump campaign. I intentionally didn’t say the Presidential Race. The topic was whether Donald Trump was to be supported or opposed. There was almost never a mention of Hilary Clinton. We met a lovely, older couple who had differing views on the matter. We met the woman first in the absence of her husband. She told us how her husband was a big Trump supporter and he had put a Trump banner up at the front of their house. He didn’t even consult her, even though he knew she was no Trump supporter. So, when he was gone to town, she took it down and threw it behind a hedge where he wouldn’t find it. When he replaced it, she did the same again. A little time later we meet her husband and he told us he was a big Trump supporter. Trump was going to clean up America and as soon as he was elected, which was a forgone conclusion. Things would begin to improve and America would be great again. Crime is a big issue and did we know that you can’t even put up a sign or a banner outside your property without some low life coming along and stealing it?

One of the “must do” activities when you are at Laconia Bike Week is to visit Mount Washington and the Mount Washington State Park. It is the highest mountain in the North Eastern U.S. at 6,288 feet (1917 m.) and has a very erratic and dangerous climate. The highest wind speed ever recorded, other than in a cyclone, at 231 mph (372 km/h) makes this a place to be taken seriously if you want to make a bike trip. In fact there is a visitors centre on the way up on the Mount Washington Auto Road and when conditions are bad you are not permitted to go beyond the visitors centre. There are many activities on the mountain every year, gliding, hiking and running as well as a day where the road is closed to all but motorbikes, during Laconia Bike Week. When we arrived up there we were disappointed to learn that the road to the summit was closed. It had snowed about three inches earlier with wind speed recorded at over 100 mph. The snow ploughs were out even though it was June, and it wasn’t going to be possible to ride to the top. We weren’t going to be there on Thursday when the bike ride was taking place. The parking lot would usually be packed at this time but because the road was closed with temperatures at the summit between 15 and 34 Fahrenheit ( -9 to +1 Celsius), taking the wind chill into consideration, and winds too high, there were just a few visitors in the souvenir shop and the restaurant. The Mount Washington Auto Road is just one of the many attractions that will just have to wait until my next visit to Laconia.

Another attraction well worth visiting in the Laconia area is the “Kanc”. The two major highways in the area go North/South and the Kancamagus highway, or Kancamagus Scenic Byway, connects these roads East to West. The Kanc is very popular in the Autumn for “leaf-peeping” tourists that visit to see the beautiful foliage while it’s turning it’s fall or autumn colours. It is open most of the year, except for during really heavy snow, unlike some other roads in the area. It is a 32 mile or 52 km stretch through the White Mountains, connecting the towns of Lincoln and Conway, that is also a favourite with bikers because it is a winding mountain road, that seems to go from one left hand to right hand sweeping bend, interspersed with hairpins and continuous inclines or declines. The views are spectacular with some great viewing points to look out over the beautiful mountainous scenery. It you travel east from Lincoln, you enter the White Mountain National Forest following a branch of the Pemigewasset River, ascending until you reach the summit at Kancamagus Pass where there is a viewing point. bridgeThen you start down by the Swift river, all the while enjoying some great riding because of the sweeping bends which sometimes tighten into hairpins. Eventually the terrain begins to flatten until you find yourself on the Main Street in Conway. I cannot emphasis enough how beautiful this whole area is with fantastic viewing points to pull over, rest the weary bodies and enjoy the spectacular forest, mountain and valley views. Quaint small towns, river crossings with covered bridges and many other quintessentially American attractions abound.

Back at Weirs Bridge, after the “Kanc”, we went across the street from the Boulevard to an area know as “The Funspot” or Funspot Family Fun Centre, which was originally a huge gaming arcade with ten-pin bowling, video gaming and pinball machines. DSC04628During Laconia Bike Week it was filled with vendors and stalls selling biker stuff, clothing and food, as well as an enclosure for many other activities including a big stage for the live music which is an important part of Bike Week. Steven Tyler from Aerosmith was the biggest name on the board for 2016 and for a lot of visitors the live music is the biggest attraction. At the entrance to the enclosure there were security barriers, with security personnel searching everyone going in. A number of police officers were close-by keeping an eye on proceedings. As I was in the queue to be searched, a young guy in front of me muttered something about his knife, and when he wasn’t willing to hand it over, he was refused entry. He, and his bemused looking female companion, had to turn around and walk away.  hiThe highlight for me was Keith Sayers freestyle motocross show. There was a nice crowd of people watching the show of top class motorbike aerial acrobatics, where Keith Sayers with Todd Potter and James Carter wowed the crowd, jumping from very steep ramps and doing amazing somersaults and other aerobatics. The show started off with one bike in the air, and culminated with all three bikes spinning through the air at the same time. At the end of the show the guys came and spoke to the audience and I noticed Matt having a long conversation with James Carter. Matt and his family are big fans and Carter regularly comes to speak to them after the performance. Before we left we had a look at the fantastic custom bikes at the Infocus Mobile Audio Stand and let me tell you they were so impressive. These custom bikes have massive speakers built in behind the fairing and in the side boxes. The sound systems are integrated so seamlessly that they enhance the appearance of the bikes.

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Infocus Mobile Audio Stand; Music for your custom bike

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Laconia Bike Week 2016

Part 4. Lake Ossipee and Weirs Beach.

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I was in the Laconia area of New Hampshire with my buddy Matt, driving a 2013 Harley Electra Glide that I had christened The Lincoln Town Car. We had just visited a property, owned by a friend of Matt’s, with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, in The White Mountain Range. The road up to the property was a challenge for the Town Car and our next stop was a continuation of similar road conditions. DSC04547We visited Cathedral Ledge which is a 700 foot high granite ledge with breathtaking views over Conway Valley and Echo Lake. The view across the Saco River Valley to the White Mountains is spectacular.DSC04541 It is very popular with hikers and there are marked trails up to Cathedral Ledge and some of the other viewing points. It is also a favourite with rock climbers and when we walked out on to the ledge there was a climber about a hundred feet below, working his ropes and gear, slowly progressing upwards on the rock face. Cathedral ledge is very popular at this time of year when the steep auto road is passable and there were plenty of couples and families enjoying the view. It is a very popular picnic area and the path from the parking / auto road has been improved recently to make it more accessible and safer. The ledge itself is safely fenced and large enough to accommodate many visitors at once.

Our next stop was our accommodation for our stay in the area at Ossipee Lake which is a popular holiday area. The land surrounding the lake is home to many cottages, cabins, and lake houses, some of which can be rented for holidays. The cottage we were staying at was a beauty and owned by a friend of Matt’s family. DSC04482The family have rented the same cottage for many years and the whole family spend weeks or months there every year. The cottage is about 150 yards from the lake front and there is a beautiful beach and launching area for their pontoon boat from which they swim and fish. The owner, Frank has become a close family friend, and he was more than happy to have us visit for a few days. DSC04665We went for something to eat in Conway and as it was cooler, dark and raining lightly when we rode back up to the cottage, I was glad of the heated grips on the bike and while I had been critical of the amount of heat coming off the right side of the bike, I was glad of it now. The light rain was no match for the massive fairing and it was great to have the chance to give Matt a ribbing about my hands being too hot until I got the setting just right on the heated grips. After a good nights sleep it was great to sit out on the deck, the following morning, and look over lake Ossipee and plan the day ahead. A trip Weirs Beach was a must, but there is so much more to see in this area that it was hard to know what to prioritise. Matt said, quite correctly, that a trip to Rosie’s had to be our first priority.

In America, breakfast is an institution, but when you’re in New Hampshire for Bike Week, Rosie’s is the epitome of that institution. The restaurant is on White Mountain Highway and when we arrived there we parked beside the many other bikes and some trucks in the parking lot. The booths were full and mainly the occupants were Bikers, as well as some local regulars.  Rosie’s is famous for pancakes and Matt ordered one. One? I had never witnessed him order just one before. I had bacon and eggs. How do you like your eggs? What kind of bread? The coffee cups were filled and re-filled with amazing regularity and soon I understood why a man, who is a multiple pancake consumer, would order only one pancake in a restaurant where he professes them to be amongst the best he has ever eaten. This offering was big. Really big. A size or two bigger than the dinner plate it was served on and probably an inch thick.

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Some specialise in breakfast only.

Syrup, cream and strawberries were applied in short shift and then it was time to tuck in. The staff were very  busy but this didn’t hinder them from friendly chit-chat with the customers and had greetings for all new comers, calling the locals by name and a special word for a child here and an older customer there. I have always enjoyed the breakfast experience in the States, and Rosie’s is one restaurant that’s worth a visit if you are over for Bike Week, or passing through Tamworth for any other reason. While many breakfast places open in the morning only, Rosie’s is an all day restaurant and I reckoned the older woman I could see through the open kitchen door toiling over a stove was probably the woman herself, but I could be wrong. If you visit the States you will see early morning queues in the franchise outlets, such as McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts. I much prefer to find an independent business, such as Rosie’s and experience the home made food and warm service from friendly staff that appear to have maintained their personalities, rather than the automaton you can sometimes meet in the franchise stores.

 

Weirs Beach, Laconia is the place to be during Bike Week. When I say the place to be, read: the place to be seen. The Weirs is a large sandy beach on the south shore of Lake Winnipesaukee, with a boardwalk and a wide boulevard that is taken over every year by vendors and arcades for the summer visitors. During bike week the boulevard is host to thousands of bikers. A one way system is in place to allow parking on both sides, and the centre, for the huge number of bikes. The biggest difficulty is just finding a spot to park your bike. We cruised down to the Weirs and started our search for parking. A few hundred feet down I spotted a gap, and Matt found one a little further down, and we carefully backed our bikes in. The space for the Lincoln Town Car was just abouDSC04554t big enough and after a few moments I successfully navigated the back wheel to the footpath. No tug boats or barges were required in this manoeuvre. Jackets, helmets gloves and the kitchen sink disappeared into the cavernous top box and we were ready to wander around. The vendor stalls and larger stores are mainly stocked with clothing and biker stuff. Tee-shirts, leathers, luggage and general bike equipment are the staples. The best part of the visit was the chance to view the fantastic customised bikes and I was delighted with the quality and variety of what was on view on the boulevard. Of course we checked out all the merchandise that the vendors had on display and I got a few Laconia Bike Week 2016 Tee-shirts and Matt got a really nice shirt for himself, and Tee-shirts as presents for some of his biker buddies back home. The hours rolled by and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the cottage. We stopped at the Harte’s Turkey Farm Restaurant. Harte’s started as a small family farm business in the 1940s, delivering chickens, eggs and turkeys in a small truck. In 1954 they opened a family restaurant that grew into a successful business even after they stopped raising their own turkeys. It is now a 500 seat restaurant, and a catering business, about five miles from Weirs Beach. It is well worth a visit and the food we were served was very tasty and there was plenty of it.

It had started raining hard just as we reached Harte’s restaurant and it was dark and blustery. When we set off back to the cottage the rain had lightened but it was still very windy. I really appreciated the protection I had on Electra Glide. I had put on my rain jacket for this trip but I need not have bothered. The rain didn’t seem to come in contact with the jacket and my boots and trousers were not affected at all. Visibility had remained relatively good because the screen on the fairing mostly prevents the rain from obscuring the view through your helmet visor or glasses.

Laconia Bike Week 2016

Part 3. Road Trip to New Hampshire.

I collected the Electra Glide from MOMS motorbikes in Foxboro and Matt and I set off on our road-trip to Laconia. Its a couple of hours trip on I-95 or I-495 up to The White Mountain Range where I-93 becomes the most important highway. I have to admit that I was a little worried about how I would get on riding the Harley. I had tried Harleys a couple of years ago and while friends had told me about how comfortable these big cruisers are, I had had a different experience. When I had tried Harleys I had found it hard to get comfortable riding cruiser-style bikes, and Lenny in Waterford Harley, had noted my disappointment when I returned, having tried some of the finest in the shop. In an effort to console me he had said the riding style “is not for everybody”, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that I was going to have no problem on this trip. Matt stopped after a short time in a gas station and I was grateful that I wasn’t the first one to start bemoaning the onset of old age, joint pain, arthritis, and old injuries. Furthermore, I discovered that the older Harley, that Matt was riding, a Heritage Softail, didn’t have a sixth gear and didn’t have electronic ignition so we were going to have very regular refuelling stops. Matt’s bike only had soft bags and the Electra Glide I was riding had the full tour pack with hard cases and a massive top box. Plenty of space to accommodate luggage, helmets and everything else that might be needed for a long touring  holiday.

Matt and I were born the same year, long before 6th gears, electronic ignition, World Wide Web or mobile/cell phones were known to the world. So to apportion all the responsibility for sore hips and backs on the bikes would be unfair.  At least we could laugh about our age and injury related issues, which we did quite regularly on the trip. When we got back on the Interstate I concentrated on getting comfortable and getting used to this big girl. At 854lbs (398kgs) it takes a bit of getting used to and even when you are getting it upright from the side-stand you really feel the weight. The front of the bike seemed to carry a lot of the weight and that’s no surprise when you take into consideration what’s going on up there. There is a very large fairing which shelters the rider and a massive amount of equipment. There is a radio and large speakers housed in the fairing and lots of clocks and a considerable amount of chrome. The handlebars also have lots of stuff going on, including buttons for lights, cruise control and an indicator switch on both bars, as opposed to just one switch that controls indicators for both sides on most other make of bike. It wasn’t long before I started referring to it as the Lincoln Town Car because of it’s size and weight. A Lincoln Town Car is a full sized luxury sedan or saloon car, made by Lincoln up to about five years ago, and it was the longest, and one of the biggest even in terms of American cars, often used as the basis for stretch limousines.

When you get on the Interstate on this bike the weight becomes irrelevant and I began to relax and try to find a comfortable seating position. I set the cruise control and with Matt taking the lead, I began to become accustomed to the vibrations from this big machine and enjoyed the journey. I was glad of the regular stops even though the Lincoln Town Car didn’t need to refuel anywhere nearly as often as Matt’s Heritage Softail. In fact it was positively frugal, taking only tiny little sips of gas. Gas or petrol costs a little more than two dollars for a gallon. Although an American gallon is a little smaller than the imperial one we used before the change to litres, it is still so much cheaper than what we pay in Europe. A few more stops for fuel and coffee and to stretch the limbs, and we were close to our destination. Or so I thought.

 

Matt had other ideas and on one of our stops he announced that he would like to visit a property belonging to a friend of his. His friend had a building firm at his property that were undertaking a big expansion to his house and Matt wanted to see how the project was turning out. The property is close to a town called Bartlett and we started looking for it. We turned off up mountain roads and started searching for some familiar landmarks so Matt could navigate to the house. The Lincoln Town Car was not built for these steep roads. The road surface must have been put there back in President Eisenhower time in the 1950s’, and built in his honour, so nobody wanted to interfere with the monument to the great man since. Straight up steep inclines with high trees on both sides with the finest switchbacks, hairpins, loose surface and subsidence known to man. Matt is an avid Motocross man and if we had the motocross bikes I had seen in his garage this would be a great place to motorcycle. The Lincoln Town car on the other hand was far from its preferred stomping ground. After a number of  attempts to find what we were looking for, we came across a work crew and they set us straight. Back to thDSC04505e highway and a few miles further on, we again turned off up a mountain road and did some more practically vertical motocross manoeuvres until we found the property.  Let me tell you it was worth it. Matt’s friend’s property was on a high crest with a view to die for. In the middle of the White Mountain Range, there was a mountain peak in every direction you looked. The extension on the house was three stories, with picture windows facing in every direction, and a mountain to look at from each one. Over the next few days I hecropped 1ard about so many mountains that I can’t remember for sure which mountains I was looking at from the house. Mount Washington for sure, but there were many more. This whole area is known for it’s views and famous worldwide for fabulous scenery and the mountains and mountain highways and lakes. These are what make New England synonymous with Autumn beauty and winter holidays as well as summer visitors. It’s a backpacker, snowboarder and skier’s paradise in the winter and the summer visitors include mountaineers, hikers, water sports enthusiasts as well as a huge influx of motorcyclists for Laconia Bike Week.