99 Years of History: Gypsy Tour Day to New Hampshire Motorcycle Week to Laconia Motorcycle Week

A 1915 Manchester City (NH) Directory advertisement for an Indian motorcycle

A 1915 Manchester City (NH) Directory advertisement for an Indian motorcycle

New Hampshire is home to America’s Original Motorcycle Rally. Its a 99th year anniversary in New Hampshire in 2015, if you count sequentially from 1916when some 150 motorcyclists unofficially gathered at Weirs Beach.

By the following year (1917) the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association’s Lacy Crolius, who was chairman of their education committee announced a first national two-day motorcycle “Gypsy Tour” (aka Gypsy Day Tours, aka National Gypsy Holiday Tour) predicting that it would “bring out at least 20,000 enthusiasts of the two and three-wheeled sport.”

[Editor’s Note: The Laconia Bike Week web site is touting their event as the 92nd. They are either 1) basing it on the starting date of 1918, and subtracting several years when the event was either cancelled or not held, or 2) they started counting when the national championship was first brought to Laconia (it was held at Old Orchard Beach Maine and also in Keene a few years prior to the venue transfer).  See the extensive chart of historical dates here. I prefer to call it 99 years, since, for example, even if someone does not have a birthday party, they still gain a year in age.]

Sample of the 1918 fob that was awarded to Gypsy Tour participants the first year. From The Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond VA) of February 25, 1917.

Sample of the 1917 fob that was awarded to Gypsy Tour participants the first year. From The Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond VA) of February 25, 1917.

The Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond VA) of February 25, 1917 announced that a tentative date in June on a Saturday and Sunday had been picked for the Gypsy Tour, with a conservative estimate of 200 tours to be organized all over the country, with a local manager. The Federation of American Motorcyclists were in direct charge of the competition committee, and a trophy “in the shape of a fob or medal” would be awarded to each person finishing the tour. One of the rules of the tours limited the amount of mileage for one day to 100 miles, “making it a sociable run.” It was also predicted that at least half of the motorcycles taking part would have sidecars attached and carry woman passengers.

June 16 and 17 were the dates chosen that first year in 1917, with motorcyclists registered with local clubs who would coordinate the event with a local motorcycle dealer. The clubs started from their home town or city, making a run to another location of interest over the two days. In Richmond Virginia, for example, that first year the motorcyclists made the run to Washington, D.C. to see the beautiful parks and other attractions. By the day of the event, there was such a spectacular response that event planners were talking about making it an annual event (which they did), and to arrange for “bars” to be made each year, to be added to the original medal or fob given out at the inaugural event. It was estimated that first year that 22,000 motorcycle riders took part in the Gypsy Tour.

New England’s first Gypsy Tour was a muddy one. The Boston Herald newspaper of 24 June 1917 touted headlines and subtitles: MOTORCYCLISTS TOUR IN RAIN. Drivers, Passengers and Machines Prove Their Endurance. “to the hardy riders and side-car passengers who braved our ‘beautiful New England spring weather’ it developed into an endurance run.” The motorcyclists’ goal that year was to reach the Weirs despite “driving rain, oily state roads and muddy detours.” The article goes on to talk about the Boston motorcyclists who made the trip, many with wives riding as side-car passengers.

Advertisement in the Transportation Problem Solved Ad March 31, 1918, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle WA) page 39 proclaiming that motorcycles are the best form of transporation.

Advertisement in the March 31, 1918, Seattle Daily Times (Seattle WA) page 39 proclaiming that motorcycles are the best form of transportation.

By 1918 a two day event was already evolving into a week-long event. In March of 1918 the Seattle Daily Times presented it as “National Motorcycle Week,” saying that it originated in the east, and that the movement has spread like wildfire. Motorcycle and tire companies were actively promoting the events in the hope of selling more of their products. Bicyclists were included in some of the events. June 22 and June 23 were chosen for the two-day Gypsy Tour, and several newspapers mentioned how with the Untied States having entered the war (World War 1), that many soldiers would be participating.

The May 25, 1918 edition of the Wyoming State Tribune (Cheyenne, WY), page 125 called the event the National Gypsy Tour and predicted 30,000 riders for that year [about 26,000 actually participated). They announced that The Federation of American Motorcycles would award a “handsome bronze medal” to each rider completing the tour. They went on to state that the average length of the tours in 1917 was 150 miles, or about 75 miles riding per day. The event was open to all riders, whether they were members of the FAM or not. The Saginaw News of 15 June 1918 stressed that with the war effort, and railroad and other transportation companies burdened, that the Gypsy Tour “offers a splendid opportunity for riders to take a patriotic vacation.”

In February of 1919, the event dates of June 14 and 15 were announced for the THIRD year event now called the National Motorcycle Gypsy Tour. World War 1 was over, and so again it was predicted that 30,000 riders would take in the tours, and that medals would again be awarded to all riders completing the tours on schedule.

In 1922 the Gypsy Tour National Championship Races were held at Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

In 1924 the Gypsy Tour National Championship Races were held at Keene, New Hampshire.  The Hill Climbing contests was held at Cole’s Pasture on Beech Hill.

Main Street, Keene NH in July 1935 during the Gypsy Tour National Motorcycle Race.

Main Street, Keene NH in July 1935 during the Gypsy Tour National Motorcycle Race. Photograph taken by Berwin H. Webster. Photograph owned by Janice W. Brown (watermarked version here).

 

In 1935 and 1936 the national racing portion of the Gypsy Tour was held in Keene, New Hampshire. On July 14, 1935 the 200-mile TT was held here.

According to “Laconia Motorcycle Week,” by Charlie St. Clair and Jennifer Anderson, “In 1938 the AMA-sanctioned 200-Mile National Championship Races were brought to Belknap Recreation Area located in Gilford, near Laconia. [Gunstock Mountain]. The next year in 1939, the National Championship Road Race was changed from a 200 mile to a 100 miles race because of the length of time the 200 mile race took. Belknap Recreation Area held the hill climbs, drag races, scrambles and many other motorcycle-related contests.”

On August 2, and 3, 1941, the “second annual” Gypsy Tour national championship races  were held at the Kite Track, Old Orchard Beach, Maine. A 50-mile event was the featured race.

In 1942, due to World War II, there was no Gypsy Tour in Laconia.

From 1943-1945 due to World War II, there were no Gypsy Tours anywhere in the United States.

The 26th Annual Gypsy Tour was held in 1946. It was a landmark year as it was the first post-war (World War 2) championship event. Buddy Acker was president of the New England Motorcycle Dealers’ association, and Fritzie Baer was chairman of the gypsy tour committee. Laconia, New Hampshire became the focal point for all motorcycle riders on the northeastern seaboard.

1955 Races were held in Laconia. This view is of Number 9 who spilled and is trying to right himself and his motorcycle.

In 1955 the National Races were held in Laconia. This view is of Number 9 who spilled and is trying to right himself and his motorcycle. Property of Janice W. Brown (watermarked version here)

In 1955 William Schietinger of Bridgeport CT, race chairman for the N.E. Motorcycle Dealers’ Association, sponsors of the 35th annual gypsy tour and 100-mile national championship motorcycle road race to be held at the Million Dollar county-owned Belknap Mt. Recreation area on June 17-19. $5,000 in prizes were to be awarded.

In June of 1958 the Springfield Union (Springfield MA) reported on the annual Motorcycle Gypsy Tour and national championship races held at the Belknap Mountains Recreational Area at Gilford, New Hampshire.

In June of 1961 the Springfield (MA) Union newspaper reported that Fritzie Baer, formerly president of Fritzie’s Roamers (motorcycle club) of Springfield, then living in Laconia, was helping to organize the New England Gypsy Tour that opened on June 12th that year–the 40th Annual. He also reported the biggest list of entries with more than 250 rider competitors to compete in “hill climb, drag races, lightweight race and novice race.” Then on Sunday 150 riders would compete at a track at Belknap Recreation Area in Gilford for the 50-mile and 100-mile national championship road races. Brad Andres of San Diego, Cal, 4x winner of the national 100-miler was expected to be on hand to defend his record.

In 1961 the Baton Rouge “Advocate” highlights that the “Laconia Motorcycle Races,” the annual event which draws upwards of 20,000 cycle enthusiasts to scenic Laconia N.H., to witness the country’s top riders compete over the tortuous five-sided Belknap course, takes the spotlight on television: “The Summer Sports Spectacular,” Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on WAFB.”

In 1964 authorities cancelled a scheduled road race at Belknap Mountain, where it had been held since 1938. Property damage was given as the reason.

1965 was a difficult year for the Gypsy Tour. The Boston Herald of June 20 reported that rioting by some 5,000 persons occurred resulting in more than 70 persons being treated at Laconia Hospital. “Twelve were admitted, nine reported seriously hurt, suffering broken bones, fractured skulls and wounds from rock salt fired from National Guard riot guns. Of those arrested, four were girls. Charles varied from participating in a riot to breaking and entering and attempted arson. A Laconia free land photographer, Robert St. Louis, 29, shot in the face by a riot gun blast was reported in critical condition. New Hampshire Governor John W. King arrived at the scene, and personally questioned many of those [30 people] arrested.” A car was overturned and set on fire, and the roof of Tarlson’s Arcade was also set on fire in addition to a bowling alley, a boardwalk, and a restaurant.

In June of 1967 the Boston Herald reported that motorcycle events the previous year had been uneventful and the same was expected for this year. The national championship races of the American Motorcycle Association were to be run on Sunday with more than 150 cyclists having entered the competition.

In 1976 The “Duckworth Laconia Motorcycle Classic” was its 53rd running in Loudon, New Hampshire on June 19 and 20th. The race was sponsored by the Roller Chain Division of Rexnord, who made Duckworth motorcycle chain. The race was on a 1.6 mile course. Frank E. Bauchierio, marketing manager for the Roller Chain Division called the event “the ‘granddaddy’ of all motorcycle races.” [Springfield Union, Springfield MA, April 26, 1976, page 11]. The Boston Sunday Herald of June 6, 1976 called it the Laconia Motorcycle Road Racing Classic, noting it would be held at the Bryar Motor Sports Park in Loudon, N.H. [as the 11th event in the 28-race Camel Pro road racing series]. The story goes on to note that there was a recent New Hampshire law that would be enforced to prohibit roadside camping, which had often proved unruly in the past.

In 1977 the Boston Herald newspaper touted that “America’s oldest National Championship motorcycle race, the Laconia Classic,” is set for 54th annual running next Saturday and Sunday, June 18 and 19, at Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, New Hampshire.” The story goes on to say that “the event got its start in 1923 at Old Orchard Beach, Me. and was moved to the Laconia-Gilford, N.H. area by the New England Motorcycle Dealer Association in 1933. Its current home at the 1.6-mile Bryer road course is widely recognized as the best spectator track in the country…”

In 1978 there was much stirring in the newspapers about Gina Bovaird who was one of three women among the 400 competitors in the 55th Laconia Motorcycle Classic in Loudon, N.H. The year before Bovaird had been the first woman to ever finish an AMA (American Motorcycle Association) race, and she placed 60 among 80 starters in the prestigious Daytona road race.

In 1979 the 56th annual classic was again touted as America’s oldest national mortorcycle racing event — the Laconia Motorcycle Classic. It took place at Loudon’s Bryar Motorcycle Park on a unique European style 1.6 mile paved course. The weekend’s activities featured road riders’ parades, contests, and antique demonstrations. Each of the two days of racing included Grand Prix, Side Car and Superbike racing classes.

July 14, 1935 Keene NH Hill Climb, part of the 1935 Gypsy Tour competitions. Photograph by Berwin H. Webster, owned by Janice W. Brown (watermarked version here)

July 14, 1935 Keene NH Hill Climb, part of the 1935 Gypsy Tour competitions. Photograph by Berwin H. Webster, owned by Janice W. Brown (watermarked version here)

The Boston Herald of 1985 wrote about soaring real estate values that put pressure on owners of several oval tracks in southern New England to sell their venues to make condo developments. The 5/8 mile oval at Bryar Motorsports Park could be leased for the ’87 season as it was reported that Track promoter Don Brymer would not continue with the Saturday night stockcar events but would be back with the Laconia Motorcycle Classic and Mud Bog racing at an adjacent course. That year the winners of the Laconia Motorcycle Classic were: Dale Quarterly, Abbington: Endurance Race; Kevin Schwartz, Houston TX: Super Bike Feature and The Camel Pro Challenge; Doug Polen of Houston TX: Super Sport Final; and John Cochkochinski, of Little Rock Ark, the Grand Prix Race.

Celebrating 92nd Anniversary of Laconia Motorcycle Week
2015: Laconia Motorcycle Week
Saturday June 13, 2015 to Sunday June 21, 2015
Schedule of Bike Week Events

[Editor’s Notes: there are several web sites with links to the 2015 events, so I am posting several here. I am also posting a separate link to the History of Laconia Motorcycle Week (just below) that is amazing.  I tried to present ENTIRELY different information and photographs here than what they show].

*****ADDITIONAL READING*****

Weirsbeach.com: History of Laconia Motorcycle Week (awesome and inspiring)

Cow Hampshire Blog: Francestown New Hampshire Motorcycle Inventor: Sylvester H. Roper (1823-1896)

Laconia Motorcycle Week on FaceBook

Laconia Train Schedule for Bike Week

CycleFish.com: Laconia Motorcycle Week 2015

 

 

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2 Responses to 99 Years of History: Gypsy Tour Day to New Hampshire Motorcycle Week to Laconia Motorcycle Week

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