Laconia 2019: Good times to remember

By Tom McCarthy

2019 was the 96th year of the Laconia Classic, aka Bike Week Laconia, New Hampshire. The event was held June 8th through the 16th in the ‘Cow Hampshire’ town of Laconia, as the ground zero of where the primary celebrations unfold on a daily basis.

The roots of this event going back over nine decades show that the basis of this motorcycling rally center around “The Gypsy Tour.” A year after the Gypsy Tour’s first stop at Laconia, the Federation of American Motorcyclists made it official and in 1917, the first annual Gypsy Tour was hosted at Weirs Beach, Laconia. This pre-Father’s Day weekend annual gathering generally includes racing for entertainment and in 2019, the format for touring entertainment remains much the same.

For example the Hill Climbs at Gunstock Mountain and the formal racing at Loudon have become must-see stops during rally week. As things were once during days of yore, so they are once again in 2019. On Wednesday, June 12, the New England motorcycling brotherhood known as “The Ridge Runners” out of Canaan, NH hosted the 2019 AMA Pro Hill Climb as part of their eight-race series this year.

Some very wild and fast machines zipped up the old Gunstock Ski Jump site as throngs of spectators looked on. The grounds began filling up fast at 9:30am when the first young racers took to the hill. Then at 12:00 noon, the AMA Pro classes of Unlimited Hill Climb and Xtreme Hill Climb took center stage. Josh Koester was the winner in the Unlimited class of competition and Jay Sallstrom won the Xtreme event. Other classes were also run during the event including the “over – 40” racers featuring this nice H-D Sportster still run by Walter Zawalich Jr. of central Massachusetts. This is one of the few remaining Harley-Davidson Hill Climb bikes still in competition with the AMA.

New to the Laconia Classic event (in recent years) is the return of flat track racing with the American Flat Track (AFT) racing sanction series. AFT, working in conjunction with the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) have brought flat track racing back into the annual Laconia Bike Week attractions. Flat track racing ran during the Laconia Classic back in the pre-war years and it’s been decades since V-Twins were out there ripping up the dirt while the fans cheered them on at Loudon. The Vintage classes and Road Racing classes have been active at NHMS for quite some time, much to the delight of the fans, but not true flat-track, at least not until now.

Now that NHMS has sunk thousands of dollars into creating a first class quarter-mile dirt oval that meets the standards of the AFT series, I think we will see more of this in years to come as the AFT Twins and Singles classes are very fast and wildly popular with the fans and racers. 24 racers from across the country entered the premier class of AFT Pro Twins and 38 racers entered AFT Pro Singles. The Twins class was won by #37 Bronson Bauman of Salinas, California on a FTR 750 Indian during the main event. The AFT Singles class was won by #15 Mikey Rush of San Jose, California, on his CRF Honda 450 R.

Aside from the racing action, the touring was brisk all across the lakes region of NH, due to the thousands of motorcycles that flooded the Granite State. More than one regional publication noted that motorcyclists from everywhere were spotted throughout the White Mountains region of NH just touring, taking in the sights. From what I witnessed this year, I’d say attendance was well up from 2018.

For example, on Saturday afternoon, June 15th, my jaunt from the base of the hill by the Broken Spoke Saloon beginning at 4:02Pm took me 46 minutes to get from the Spoke to the entry of Lakeside Ave. which is the beginning of the Boardwalk adjacent to Weirs Beach. That’s a 3-4-minute ride any other time of year. Traffic was just jammed, the thickest I’ve seen in recent years.

Weather was a big factor for this year too. Only three days of the event were impacted by rain, the other five days of Bike Week were mostly blue skies, 70’s and 80’s, great riding weather.

According to some pundits, the crowd estimate overall for this year was close to 250,000 bikes. In my opinion, for whatever that’s worth, I’d say that is a low number. I traveled the Broken Spoke to Lakeside Ave route, up past “The Fun Spot” in just a few minutes on Saturday evening on 2018. I was shocked at the lack of traffic last year. This year – bam, just like the old days; bikes resting by the side of the road in the shade, cooling off from traffic delays. Hey, some still ride air-cooled bikes: treat em right!

All in all, 2019 Laconia Bike Week was a good time. The racing was hot, so were some of the women, cool bikes and good times.