Bike Week at Weirs Beach is for old leather and new friends

Carl Jordan of Henniker sits on his bike on Lakeside Ave. on Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Carl Jordan of Henniker sits on his bike on Lakeside Ave. on Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

John Ramos walks among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

John Ramos walks among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Mr. Brady dons a Harley-Davidson leather cap among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday.

Mr. Brady dons a Harley-Davidson leather cap among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday.

Bikers ride along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11.

Bikers ride along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Using a slow shutter speed to show motion, a bike rides on Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Using a slow shutter speed to show motion, a bike rides on Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Using a slow shutter speed to show motion, a bike rides on Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Using a slow shutter speed to show motion, a bike rides on Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Jim Peyser lights up his cigar among the bikes along Lakeside Avenue at Weirs Beach on Tuesday.

Jim Peyser lights up his cigar among the bikes along Lakeside Avenue at Weirs Beach on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

Jim Peyser stands next to his Harley-Davidson Freewheeler along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Jim Peyser stands next to his Harley-Davidson Freewheeler along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Jim Peyser stands next to his Harley-Davidson Freewheeler along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

Jim Peyser stands next to his Harley-Davidson Freewheeler along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

John Ramos stands among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

John Ramos stands among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

An American flag among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024.

An American flag among the bikes along Lakeside Ave. at Weirs Beach on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By SOPHIE LEVENSON

Monitor staff

Published: 06-12-2024 5:09 PM

Modified: 06-13-2024 12:27 PM


Nothing can keep Jim Peyser away from his motorcycle, not even a crash.

He doesn’t remember the accident, but he can piece it together: A nighttime ride, a run-in with the curb and $23,000 worth of repairs.

“He almost died,” said Diane Kline, Peyser’s ex-wife.

That was November, 2022. “Five months to the day”  after his accident, Peyser was back on his bike. His new nickname, now embroidered on a patch on his leather vest: “Crash Gordon.”

“Did you tell her about the coma?”

“It wasn’t a coma,” Peyser sighed.

“They told me you were in an induced coma,” Kline insisted.

“Well, that’s different,” Peyser said.

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The ex-couple had the conversation in the middle of Lakeside Avenue, the pulsing heart of Laconia Motorcycle Week. Peyser, his eyes hidden behind black sunglasses, stood confidently in the street, tugging at Mr. Brady’s leash with one hand with a Bandolero cigar dangling from the other. Mr. Brady, a Yorkie, wore his own leather biker vest and visor.

The trio fit right into the scene of men in thick boots and black leather, women in rhinestone-speckled blue jeans and V-neck Harley t-shirts. Bikes grumbled past in single-file behind Peyser and Kline, some of them rusted, proudly antique, some of them shiny enough to reflect the late-morning light of Laconia onto Lake Winnipesaukee. Cars are not welcome here.

A mile of tents sold work shirts, steel jewelry and tobacco grinders. Food trucks churned out fried cheesecake and deep-fried oreos. Hundreds of t-shirts faced the water, most of them straight to the point: “Laconia 101st Anniversary Motorcycle Week,” written in bold script around skeleton designs. Many vendors focused on merchandise for veterans. One tent had more of an agenda, selling tees with slogans like “Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president.”

Peyser’s vest was slightly faded and worn, the smell of leather mingling with the smoke from his cigar. He’s 71, but has only owned his motorcycle — the one that survived the crash with him — for about three years. Peyser had biked a little when he was young, but stopped riding until he got “the itch” again in his late sixties. Now he keeps his 2022 Harley Davidson Freewheeler polished and perfect; he gives it a quick detail every morning using a dusting wand and Turtle Wax polish to bring out the bike’s black exterior and its sterling-silver trim.

The Freewheeler has a passenger seat. It used to be for Kline, but now she’s recovering from surgery and can’t ride at all. She and Peyser were married 10 years, 2012 to 2022, and still see each other all the time. They share custody of Mr. Brady.

“We’re a hard habit to break,” Peyser said.

“He’s my ‘was-band,’” Kline said.

A few months before the accident, Peyser had joined the Widows Sons, a motorcycle riding association with thousands of members worldwide, all of whom have to be Masons. Based out of Billerica, Peyser belongs to a Massachusetts chapter. When he was in the hospital — a two-and-a-half-month stint — his brothers in the organization paid visits and made sure he was okay.

That camaraderie is why he came back for his third time at Bike Week. He loves to be around people who care about bikes. It’s even a little bit spiritual.

“Most of the time, everything hurts,” Peyser said. “But when I get on that motorcycle, everything is fine.”

A man named Rhino

They were dressed almost exactly the same, but apart from the bike thing, Peyser and John “Rhino” Ramos could not have been more different.

Rhino has never washed his bike. His Harley Road Glide is “nice and ratty lookin’.”

“I don’t buy bikes to wash them,” he said.

Rhino builds infrared and thermal imaging vision systems for the Department of Defense. He lives in Hudson, N.Y., and smokes Kentucky Cheroot cigars. Unlike Peyser, he is not in a riding association, and he doesn’t wear a helmet unless he has to — which means he often avoids driving through Vermont and Massachusetts, where helmets are required by law.

His nickname, which he got in the Marines, most likely has something to do with his tall, broad frame and pointy white beard, which erupts from his chin like a tusk.

He served in the Marine Corps between 1982 and 1988. Rhino is one of many former soldiers at Bike Week, as many motorcycle rallies were started by military veterans and their riding associations. He wears a silver bulldog pin, the mascot of the Marines, on his vest, next to a sewn American flag patch.

Rhino came to the event, for the 36th time, alone. He always rents a cottage at the 1918 Inn, and he often sees the same people. Bike Week is the kind of event where regulars tend to reconnect year after year, forming a community that remembers the raucous rallies of the 1980s and ‘90s.

Rhino isn’t particularly raucous, at least not now: His plan for the week is to sit by the pool at the inn with his cooler and his Bluetooth speaker blasting metal from Pandora (Five Finger Death Punch, Nine Inch Nails, but “not, like, death metal.”)

“We just watch the bikes go by,” he said. “People doing wheelies and burnouts … we have fun meeting new people.”

Sights of Bike Week

It used to be legal to do all that people watching from a tent pitched on the side of the avenue. It’s not, anymore. Lots of things have changed: When Rhino first started coming to Bike Week, there weren’t any children there. Now, he calls it “family week” because there are so many kids running around.

There are more women, too. Male bikers still outnumber their female counterparts tenfold, but there’s a tent dedicated to paraphernalia marketed for woman bikers — intricate steel rings, colored foxtails, a stun gun disguised as lipstick. A mannequin dressed in black leather lingerie leans provocatively under a t-shirt with bold pink lettering: “Suck it up buttercup.”

Lori Holmquist and Lisa Turnbull, ostensibly wearing none of those things, strolled down Lakeside Avenue to take in the sights of their first Bike Week. They were on the hunt for a bar, a couple of rum and Cokes, a good place to sit down and people-watch. Turnbull dressed well for that — she sported a pink V-neck with the lyrics to Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey” on it, tucked into an old pair of her husband’s jeans that hung low over her cowboy boots. Her pale blue eyes hid behind aviator sunglasses that matched her sister’s pair, mirrored lenses screening the sun so that it couldn’t get in the way of the show.

The sisters both made the trip to Laconia from Peru, Maine, where Holmquist works at a lumber mill and Turnbull looks after four kids. Turnbull does not own a bike, but she’s a frequent flier on her husband’s; Holmquist, however, does. She got her biking license 10 years ago, and just exchanged her Harley Sportster for a 2012 Switchback. She didn’t wear any leather on Lakeside Avenue, or anything with a skull decal, but Holmquist felt like she fit right in with the biking community; being a woman does not get in her way.

It’s a generally supportive community. Turnbull and Holquist walked by Biker Steel Jewelry, a tent owned by Sam Anty, originally from Egypt. Anty moved to the United States to be a pilot but quickly ditched that plan when he discovered that pilots were “snobs.” But he likes bikes, and he likes bikers.

“They’re very down to earth, very cool people,” he said as a man in an orange shirt, who sells leather in a neighboring tent, walked up. Anty nodded at him and offered up his open pack of cigarettes. The man took one, nodded and retreated to his own register.

Charity at Bike Week extends beyond shared cigarettes. Peyser, like many Widows Sons, is a Shriner, and works to raise money for children with medical needs. Laconia Motorcycle Week kicks off with the Peter Makris Memorial Race, a charity event that has raised well over half a million dollars for the New Hampshire Veterans Count and the Fire Department’s Life Savings fund in the 17 years since its inception, according to Jennifer Anderson, Bike Week’s deputy director. And right next to that tent selling t-shirts that advertise Trump’s “Revenge Tour” sits a volunteer group from the Rotary Club, selling raffle tickets to win a brand-new motorcycle.

If anything was alarming for Holmquist and Turnbull, it was not the people in Laconia, but the bike traffic. Their routes in Peru are quiet, empty, out in the wild. In their family, biking opens up the natural world.

“It’s just beautiful,” Turnbull said. “The mountains … Route 16, all of them there.”

Lakeside Avenue isn’t a mountain, and it doesn’t have much to look at in the way of nature. Bike Week overwhelms the senses, with its retro neon Weirs Beach sign and over-sloganed t-shirts, its miles-long rows of motorcycles, cluttered loudspeakers blasting Lynyrd Skynyrd at the same time as Iron Maiden, thick Bandolero smoke mixing with snakelike streams from Marlboro Reds and Golds, the smell of new leather, old leather, fake leather, the sound of Mr. Brady barking, the sound of Jim Peyser making his ex-wife laugh, of Rhino greeting old friends and meeting new ones, of motorcycles rolling down the road, the rumble of engines, the sight of life on two wheels…

Beautiful, too, in its way.

Sophie Levenson can be reached at slevenson@cmonitor.com.