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Glorious, Exciting Vintage Bikes!

The Laker - June 10, 2017

Story by Barbara Neville Wilson

Photo courtesy NHMS

Here’s my little secret: I binge watched Amazon Prime’s Harley & the Davidsons this past winter. I loved peering over the show’s stars’ – Walter, Arthur and Bill – shoulders while they figured out how to mount engines on factory bike frames. I freeze-framed schematics, trying to decipher how plans leapt from paper to machine. I held my breath on the racecourse when other riders just didn’t play fair.

Yeah, the series does not appeal to everyone with its “this is history, let’s make it fun for today” way, but it piqued my interest. How can I learn more? Well, I live in the state with the second largest per capita ownership of motorcycles, and it’s also the state that’s home to the nation’s oldest motorcycle rally. Where better to learn more about vintage motorcycles than at Laconia Motorcycle Week®?

First, I turn to the Laconia Motorcycle Week® Rally News. The official program of Bike Week, it lists all the events happening from June 9 to 18. There, on page 2, I learn that the first weekend at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway is devoted to vintage bikes and sidecar racing, in a series of events put on by the American Classic Racing Association.

Wait a minute. “Vintage,” “classic?” Does that mean “antique,” too?

Knowing insurance companies are notorious for being picky when defining terms, I go to an insurance company’s blog to find out the definitions of the three terms. And what do I learn? That the difference is largely in the eye of the beholder.

“Classic” motorcycles have a certain look to them. Their sleek design and modern-to-the-time technology take the eye immediately. Some people say a classic must be at least 25 years of age, yet there are plenty of designs that are considered “instant classics” the minute they roll off the assembly line.

As for “vintage” and “antique,” the American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) divides “vintage” motorcycles into two categories for racing: pre-1975 for motocross, and after 1975 for road racing. “Antique” motorcycles must be 35 years or older, according to the AHRMA, but motor vehicle registration rules differ from state to state. Some bikes can be registered as antiques when they are just 20 years old. Overall, it seems the three terms are used almost interchangeably.

Thus, whether you own a classic, a vintage or antique motorcycle—or you simply enjoy gawking—the Laconia Bike Week has plenty of opportunities for you in in its 93rd year. Starting Friday, June 9, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) in Loudon is the place to be.

Actually, the Loudon Speedway has been the place to be for vintage motorcycling since its early days. Way back in 1981, the old Bryar Motorsports Park, forerunner to NHMS, was the site of the July 4 Belknap Cup Summer Vintage Festival. A celebration of classic motos and autos, it quickly became a fixture on the summer circuit, and when Bryar was sold in 1990, the new owners contracted the United States Classic Race Association (USCRA) to run it, and by 1992, it had become so successful, it was the centerpiece of a full season of racing.

This year, the fun starts Friday, June 9 at NHMS in Loudon with the opening of the USCRA Vintage Race School. There, adult, licensed motorcycle riders bring their bikes and are taught “basic racing philosophy, technique, terminology as well as proper safety and race procedures,” in the evening, and the following morning, participants get out on the track with instructors to put lessons into action. “This initial track time is critical for helping new racers get their bearing in a race setting, and provides them the opportunity to develop a feel of the course and the experience of riding on a track at speed, with other racers,” says the USCRA. Afterwards, instructors review and evaluate students’ performance before a “Rookie Race.” Safe and successful completion of the race is mandatory to receive a USCRA license required to participate in any USCRA road races.

Can’t make it to class Friday night? It’s offered Saturday evening, too. While students who have completed the course and get their license are cleared to participate in any USCRA races run over the weekend or throughout the summer, discretion is strongly encouraged. Vintage machines may not be as fast as the newest innovators, but there is plenty of speed and skill necessary to compete safely. Classic bike forums and social media are full of safety reminders and requests to help injured motorcyclists.

Once credentialed, students are cleared to participate in USCRA races run over the weekend or throughout the summer. This year’s FIM North American Vintage Road Race Championships, where 1980 Laconia Classic winner and AMA Formula One Grand Champion Rich Schlachter will be Grand Marshal, runs Saturday and Sunday, June 10 and 11.

Not limited to the expected speed events, the program also features sidecar races. “Sidecar races?” The phrase immediately brings a smirk to my face as I remember mid-century cartoons where grandma sits sedately in a sidecar, is disconnected from the bike by some freak occurrence, has a wild ride, then is returned to her original place to return safely home. “How sweet,” I think. Hardly!

“Sidecar outfits,” I learn online from bmwmotorcycletech, “do NOT handle like cars, do NOT handle like motorcycles, do NOT handle like trikes, and CAN BE dangerous for the novice” and so successful racing demands even more from the driver and passenger. Did you take note? While motorcycle racers ride their bikes, racers with sidecars drive their rigs. And driving a sidecar involves a whole different perspective on physics, as well as strength. There are points where both driver and passenger are balancing the bike using weight, weight placement and sheer strength, according to what I read. Reading isn’t enough, though; I need to get to NHMS to see these racers in action.

I’m learning, too, that vintage motorcyclists belie the gruff, biker stereotype. Another race is titled “The Big Fish Little Pond 3-ish Hour Endurance Race” Starting at 2 pm on Saturday, the race is described by one fan in the Concord Patch as “not only a great way to get track time, but the fun of scrambling to get the bike in, fuel it up, change riders and get back on the track in the shortest time possible is something you have to experience only once to get hooked.”

While a full schedule was not available from ASCRA at press time, there will be plenty of opportunity to see vintage bikes, talk antique bikes, and learn about classics throughout the first weekend at NHMS. Outside the Speedway gates, Makris Lobster and Steak House is hosting an Antique Bike Rally on Sunday, with special guests Houly from Grateful Sleds, David Gamlin of Wayback Wheels and John Reardon of JR’s Cycles.

Tuesday, June 13 sees a Vintage Bike Show sponsored by Haymond Law Firm at the Broken Spoke Saloon in Laconia/Weirs Beach, and antique Indians, Harleys and go-karts are pitted on the Wall of Death at the Wild Wheels Thrill Arena from Thursday to Sunday, June 15-18 at NHMS from 10 am to 5 pm. And if that’s not enough vintage for you, the ASCRA hosts a series of New Hampshire events throughout the summer at Canaan Speedway and Loudon, culminating in the Granite State Championships at NHMS in September.

Harley & The Davidsons may have started me on this path. Now I’m hanging on for the ride.

(If you have any questions or would like further information about the USCRA Vintage Race School, please contact Doug Donelan at 516-851-7508 or email: 

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