Americade Collage

Text: Ken Aiken • Photography: Ken Aiken

Tens of thousands of motorcyclists were on the street. Here and there a car or truck sat as if caught in a flash flood of motorcycles as four lanes of traffic flowed and roared like a spring torrent moving in two opposing directions.

A seemingly endless row of bikes parked with headlights facing inward, lined the curbs, and leather-clad pedestrians strolled the sidewalks. It wasn't Daytona, nor was it Sturgis, it was the 20th annual Americade at Lake George in upper New York state, and it was only Thursday.

I arrived on Tuesday to present three seminars - two on "Touring Vermont's Scenic Roads" and one on "Photo-Moto Journalism." Staged in partitioned rooms at the Roaring Brook Conference Center, these seminars are one of the central features of Americade. Here's where the experts in the industry share their knowledge on a wide range of topics: tires, batteries, suspension, ergonomics, first aid, braking techniques, group riding, trikes, trailers, and places to ride. In the lobby people are lounging on overstuffed couches watching videos of past Americade rallies on a large-screen TV. Just outside, judges work through category after competitive category for all makes and models of bikes, plus trailers, sidecars, loony license plates, stuffed animals, decorative and functional lighting. It's a busy place - even more so during days when the weather is wet and cold. The prime lodging, the daily activities at the conference center, the sponsored evening three-course dinners in the lodge, the numerous bike demos staged from the various parking areas, all staged around the central pond with its resident swan at Roaring Brook Ranch, remains as the spiritual and traditional core of Americade.

Unlike other rallies, Americaders come to spend money and Tour Expo is the place to buy anything related to motorcycles. Often people make appointments months in advance to have their bikes detailed by airbrush artists or dressed up with fancy lights. This year, as always, vendors busily installed new sound systems, seats, exhausts, luggage, and tires. Those without the magic work slips necessary to grant their wheels entry to Million Dollar Beach placed their steeds among thousands of others on the grassy expanse of Lake George Park and walked into Tour Expo.

It's a carnival atmosphere with small tents surrounding the big top and over three hundred vendors waiting to sell everything from key chains and T-shirts to $ 40,000 trikes and motorcycles complete with matching sidecars and trailers. Here you can find the things you've always been looking for: chrome billet parts, communication systems, bike covers, luggage, and special items you never knew existed. I passed on the red-leather, thigh-high boots, but came away with new valve-stem caps that indicate when my tire pressure is correct. Paul at GIVI took time to find a set of lock cylinders for my hard cases (a necessity), I ordered the newest Nolan helmet from CIMA International (a luxury), and found myself with four packages of spicy hot beef jerky (something I really didn't want). I ended up with bags of stuff and, like most, put off thinking about how I was going to fit it all on an already overloaded bike.

The smell of fine food, probably the best selection and quality of this genre to be found at any rally, reminded me that my bike wasn't the only thing that needed something. As at every Americade, I had to have the curly fries, but then the choices became difficult. Should I have the fresh fish or a huge taco salad? Perhaps a large deep-fried, batter-covered Spanish onion cut to resemble a blooming flower with dipping sauce in the center, or the BBQ ribs? In the end I opted for seasoned chicken with sweet red peppers and onions rolled up in pita bread and a cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade.

Biker economics; usually we're not aware of the impact we have as motorcyclists. By the time the first motorcycle rolls into Lake George for Americade a fully functioning resort town greets us. In fact, signs reading WELCOME AMERICADE and WELCOME BIKERS are everywhere and "Biker Special" banners and signs hang from restaurants, motels, and stores of all descriptions. In the local library I discovered Americade described as occurring during the "shoulder" season, but in reality the rally is the shoulder season. Furthermore, the financial survival of many of the smaller hotels and motels in the region depends upon this one week at the beginning of June. This single week will result in just over $ 80 million being pumped into the local economy. Most of what is seen upon arrival, gas stations included, has been closed for months. With only 392 year-round residents (the population of the entire township is approximately 3,200) the arrival of 50,000-plus motorcyclists requires that businesses be open, stocked, and fully staffed in the days before Americade. To residents we may seem like Mongol hordes; but for small business owners we're the cavalry.

What would you like to ride? A new Harley-Davidson Heritage Classic? How about the new ZZ-R1200 or a Triumph Four? There was something for almost everyone. Some wanted to be on the new Honda Silver Wing or Aprilia Reflex scooters, while others could be satisfied with nothing less than mounting a 502-cubic-inch (that's 8,226cc for you metric folks) V-8 Boss Hoss. Conspicuous in their absence was Ducati (World Ducati Week was taking place in Italy), while I question whether three bikes in front of a small trailer qualifies Moto Guzzi as having a presence at all. Still, this is the place to try before you buy, and there were long lines for all makes and models. What interested me were the converted police bikes being ridden by as the outriders for BMW's demo rides. Unfortunately, they were for staff only, and even BMW had to wait and purchase them back from the California Highway Patrol before they could convert them to civilian use.

I camped in the mountains on the banks of the Schroon River - lot 66 at the Lake George Schroon Valley Resort to be precise - along with many other rally goers. It was like a dream come true: riding to Lake George every morning I saw diners and restaurants whose parking lots were filled with motorcycles. Every motel, both large and small, had a motorcycle parked in front of each room or cabin. Lines of two-wheeled vehicles stretched up the street from small gas stations in towns like Bolton Landing and signs like PLENTY OF FLAT PAVED PARKING and WELCOME BIKERS were everywhere. Groups containing a mix of brand rides - Harleys and Hondas and BMWs combined with Japanese sport bikes and dual sport machines - passed me, headed out for a day of touring the Adirondacks. Motorcycles commanded the roads, cars were scarce, and trucks went about their business delivering the goods and services we all depend on. It was my kind of world.

One of the great pastimes at Americade is viewing the diversity of bikes and trikes. Some people prefer sitting along Canada Street where they can watch them roll by. Others prefer strolling the parking areas where they can pause to examine interesting motorcycles at their leisure. Seeing how someone else has solved a particular setup problem can be enlightening, but I'm always searching for the best in paint. This year my vote goes to Bert Barlowe's depiction of foxes in winter; last year it was the Gold Wing with a "Gone With The Wind" theme. In contrast to the radical work seen at rallies like Daytona and Laconia, those at Americade tend to be classic styles. To each their own.

Americade is about touring and Lake George is the gateway to some of the best roads in the eastern United States. This year there were seven guided tours offered (each with an elaborate lunch at some fine inn or restaurant), three un-guided tours (again, with lunch), and ten mapped self-guided mini-tours (no charge, no schedule, no lunch, no pin), but many folks just headed for personal destinations by themselves or in small groups. Three different Poker Runs and the various demo rides also took people out of town to explore Warren and Washington counties. As busy and crowded as the village often seemed, I always had to remind myself that thousands of riders were not in Lake George, but were out enjoying the roads in the Adirondacks and Green Mountains even on the wettest of days.

The popularity of this rally has caused growing pains. More events are being offered and, because of the numbers of people attending, new venues for sponsored events have had to be found. Once the top of Prospect Mountain was far more than what was needed; this year the closing ceremonies had to be moved to the Great Escape Amusement Park. I once felt that I could sample a little bit of everything Americade had to offer - after all, it is a weeklong rally. However, the last three years I've had to treat it much like a patchwork quilt, taking a little here and there, but with blank spots left between. This year the rally was bigger than ever and I was unable to get a sense of the whole event. It became a collage of images and experiences. Nevertheless, it somehow retains the feeling of a family get-together and remains my favorite rally in North America.