The Perfect Score award was given out to the winners of an "endurance run", which was a long-distance motorcycle course over public roads, typically 300 to 350 miles in length, that was run over two consecutive days, and that featured checkpoints (controls) about every 50 miles. Given the poor road conditions and general unreliability of motorycles at the time, this was clearly not an easy task! "An endurance run is a very complicated affair. The men have to pass certain points at a given time, and not before that time. On the run they are subjected to a hill-climbing test and also to a secret brake test. There is a score of 1000 points, from which various deductions are made. The great honor, of course, is to make a perfect score (1000 points). To achieve this reflects high credit on both the man and machine...What is most needed in a run of this sort is a cool head and plenty of nerve. It was the reckless riders who came to griefthe men who, instead of taking the affair calmly, rushed madly along the course, hoping to gain time for repairs between one control and another, if any were needed." Riders who arrived ahead of time at a control had committed as much of an offense as finishing behind time and were penalized accordingly.
A "secret" brake test would be conducted by a race official "...secreted in the bushes and with him was a green flag. As a rider would come up to this point, the official would wave the green flag, which was the signal for the rider to down brakes and come to a stop...Quite a few contestants succeeded in fulfilling all of the conditions of this test, although some of them failed because they had but one idea and that was to get to the next checkpoint as soon as possible......after a time some of the country boys got wise to the situation, and in the goodness of their hearts backed down the road a bit and notifed each approaching rider that there was danger ahead in the person of the official and his green flag...the result was that the official had to give it up at this point and try the secret brake test elsewhere.."
Typically, the "survivors", those who were able to complete the endurance run, received bronze medals; riders with high, but not perfect scores, received silver medals; while the riders achieving perfect scores received gold medals. The rider with not only a perfect score but also the "most consistent riding" and/or "neatest appearance" would receive the coveted diamond award.
Some endurance runs, such as the New York-Chicago, were as long as 1200 miles. With the typically absurdly low speed limits in effect at the time (20mph country and 10mph city) these runs could last for over a week! Clearly it was not just a race, but a skills challenge, with not only riding skills but maintenance skills involved as well!
Motorcycle manufacturers would tout their machines favorable finishes in these endurance runs as a sign of the high performance and reliability of their products.
In later years, "Merit" or "Tour" awards supplanted the Perfect Score award. The newer awards were given out for some other reason than points in an endurance run - perhaps, some combination of attendance at the individual Gypsy Tours, ridership skills, and appearance. In 1952, the award - a glass ashtray - was simply given away to anyone who registered at the AMA booth at any Gypsy Tour and showed their AMA membership card. As the amount of metal and workmanship in the award declined, from elaborate belt buckles and watch fobs, to simpler, less expensive items like patches and pins, the awards became souvenirs, sold to anyone with the cash.
The FAM logo sported the FAM initials surrounding a 4-pointed star at the hub of a winged, flying wheel, and topped by a cylinder head. The FAM, which had been organized on September 7, 1903, disbanded early in 1919, as a result of a sharp decline in membership caused by World War I.
Here's a beautiful, ornate FAM watch fob from a 1912 rally in Columbus, Ohio.
An August, 1910 FAM medal.
1919 An article from the March 13, 1919 issue of the Motorcycle and Bicycle Illustrated magazine detailed the objectives and rules for the Gypsy Tours. The objectives were first, "to provide a good time for the riders, and theirs wives, sisters, and sweet-hearts"; and second, "to create a more favorable public opinion of the motorcycle and motorcycle riders."
These early Gypsy Tours were quite organized, almost in military fashion, with a "Tour Master" and two aides leading a large group of riders sectioned into "companies" of 10 riders and a captain; and "pathfinders" scouting out and marking the route up ahead. The riders wore visible numbers and were supposed to ride in numerical order, with the sidecars taking up the rear of the company. The riders were also required to carry documentation; these "checking cards" were reviewed each morning by the Tour Master or his aides.
It is interesting to note that in 1919, a good day's ride was considered to be between 75 and 100 miles; today, that same distance can be covered in a little less than two hours.
1919 In 1919, following the demise of the FAM, the sponsorship of the Gypsy Tours changed from the FAM to the M&ATA (the Motorcycle and Allied Trades Association), a manufacturer's group that had been formed on November 15, 1916, and which had begun organizing riders in 1919. Below are the National Motorcycle Gypsy Tour watch fob "Perfect Score" awards which were given by the M&ATA's Riders Division for the six years from 1919-1924. A complete collection of these medals would consist of three versions for each year: bronze, silver and gold.
Above is seen the silver, below, the gold, versions of the 1923 medal.
On August 1, 1924, the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) was officially established. The following year, in 1925, the AMA took over from the M&ATA the sponsorship of the Gypsy Tours, and greatly expanded them, from perhaps a few events to over 200 separate ones. With the exception of the World War II period, the Gypsy Tours were yearly events that continued until the early 1960's. At that time, even though many of the gatherings that they were based on continued, the term "Gypsy Tour" fell out of favor, and was replaced by the term "Tour and Rally", as in "New England Tour & Rally".
In 1991, the term Gypsy Tour was officially revived by the AMA. However, by that time the individual events had all gone their own way in naming themselves. In 1953, or perhaps even earlier, Laconia first called its event " Motorcycle Week", and that term has stuck to the current day.
The various Motorcycle organizations, and vendors who came to these events, have been selling souvenirs since the earliest years of the Laconia rally. Souvenirs specifically marked "Laconia" can be seen here. Many other souvenirs were marked "Gypsy Tour" but were not tagged with the Laconia name. These generic souvenirs were sold not only at the Laconia rally but at other Gypsy Tours as well. For a historical look at many more generic AMA Gypsy Tour souvenirs, dating from the 1925 watch fob seen below to the present, please click here. For more about the history of the AMA, please click here.
1928 In 1928 the AMA renamed the Gypsy Tour the Gypsy Jaunt. The name did not catch on, thankfully, and in 1929 the Gypsy Tour was back.
1929 Be Sure to Take in the Big National Gypsy Tour
1931 In 1931, Gypsy Tour Time was Good Fellow Time
1932 For the Season's Biggest Fun on Your Harley-Davidson
1935 Everybody's Going --Are You? "SURE--LET''S GO!
1936 It's Gypsy Tour Time!
1937 In 1937, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, held a Gypsy Tour, in conjunction with its annual motorcycle race. The area had been running motorcycle races for many years prior to 1937, but the 1937 race was the first to include an officially sanctioned Gypsy Tour. (While the souvenir program advertises this Gypsy Tour as the 21st, it was referring to the National series of Gypsy Tours.)
100-Mile National Championship motorcycle racers on the beach at Old Orchard. The Hotel Vesper (1907-1984) is seen in the background. 1937 was the last year of National Championship racing at Old Orchard, as the race moved to Laconia the following year. Also, a list of 1937 racers from the above program.
An undated ad, possibly from 1937. On to the Gypsy Tour and Rally for a wonderful time!
1938 In 1938 motorcycle racing began at the Belknap Mountain Recreation area in Gilford. Fritzie Baer, who was instrumental in bringing the race to Laconia from Old Orchard, stands hidden, 3rd from the left. The 1938 National Championship race was unusual in several respects. It was the first official Laconia race. It was the only 200 mile race ever held at Laconia. And it was held in September rather than the usual June. The "TT", captioned in the photo, literally means Tourist Trophy and was based on the Isle of Man TT race, an annual road course motorcycle race that began in 1907, and which is still the most well-known and challenging road race held in Europe..
The first TT racing in New Hampshire had occured only a few years earlier, in 1935 and 1936 in Keene, NH. The 1935 race was a 200 miler, held at Keene's Safford Park the weekend of July 13-14, the same weekend as the Keene Gypsy Tour. The Keene races were sponsored by the NEMDA and by Fritzie's Roamers (Baer's Springfield, MA motorcycle club). This medal was given to the entrants in the 1936 race.
Fritzie's Roamers official club patch.
1939 Official 1939 program cover and (incomplete) list of racers.
1939 Below are the winners of the first 100 mile race, and second National Championship race, to be held at Laconia. Sam Davis was the runner-up.
Before the advent of motorcycle racing at the Belknap Mountain Recreation area in Gilford in 1938, the New England Gypsy Tour officially took place in Laconia. During the first three years of racing, from 1938-1940, Laconia (or Weirs, as seen on the cover of the 1940 program below) was still the official center of the rally. In 1941, for the first time, Gilford became an official part of the rally, when the program advertised the rally location as "Weirs, N.H.-Gilford, N.H.". After WWII, from 1946-1949, official programs referred to the "Laconia-Gilford" rally. The 1950-1951 program covers mention only Gilford. However, from 1952 onward, the official program covers dropped Gilford, proclaiming the rally as the "Laconia" rally.
The rally became tightly associated with the racing in Gilford because of the many non-race activities that took place at the Belknap Recreation Area in the late 40's and 50's. Now, only a very small percentage of motorcyclists who visit Laconia for the rally actually attend the races, now located in Loudon.
1941 (Official program and list of racers)
1941 Laconia held its 25th annual Gypsy Tour and National Championship Road Race in 1941. But for Old Orchard Beach, the pre-1938 site of the race, 1941 was only its 2nd annual Gypsy Tour. (The first had been held in 1937.) The Old Orchard Beach rally was permanently discontinued during World War II. All Gypsy Tours were suspended during World War II; while Laconia revived its rally after the War, other locales did not.
1941 (a Harley Davidson press release and poster)
1942: World War II. There was no Gypsy Tour in Laconia.
1943-1945: World War II. There were no Gypsy Tours anywhere in the USA.
1948 (a pin)
1950 A July, 1950 article in Motorcycling Digest described the 1950 N.E. Gypsy Tour as the greatest in the United States. It was the "biggest such event held anywhere in the United States...Registrations at the AMA booth at the Belknap Recreation Area prove this...this NEMDA-sponsored big undertaking attracted a larger number of motorcyclists than any other tour in the United States or Canada."
1951 Vol. 16, No. 8, May issue of the Motorcycling Digest, the "Official Organ of the New England Motorcycle Dealers' Association."
1951 (a pin)
1951 (A press pass ribbon. It reads: 31st Annual N.E. Gypsy Tour and 100-Mile National Championship Motorcycle Road Race, Laconia-Gilford N.H. June 15-16-17, 1951)
1952 Vol. 17, No. 2, May issue of the Motorcycling Digest.
1952 (Not the official guidebook but a great cover nonetheless. The article on Laconia was titled "Cycle Vacationland Calls Throttle Twisters".)
1952 (a decal)
1952 (a decal)
1952 (a Harley-Davidson pennant)
1952 A list of Gypsy Tours in 1952, from the May 1952 issue of American Motorcycling, see cover above. The Black Hills Classic in Sturgis, which eventually became the largest Motorcycle rally in the USA, overtaking the Laconia rally in the 1970's-1980's, started in 1938 as a Gypsy Tour, 22 years after Laconia's first Gypsy Tour. The second largest USA rally, in Daytona, which began in 1937, was always associated with racing, not a Gypsy Tour. Laconia is now the third largest rally in the USA.
Note: There is some disagreement between the cover of the official program (above) and the Mayor's proclamation on page 1 of the program (below) whether the 1953 event lasted for just the three days of June 19-21, or for the whole week of June 15-21. The 1953 guidebook listed only 3 days of official events, but clearly, the city of Laconia sought to entice Motorcycle visitors to stay over for the whole week.
1953 (a 3rd place ribbon)
In the foreword of the 1955 program, Fritzie Baer boasted, "There is no doubt in the minds of any motorcycle rider in the United States that Laconia today is synomonous with the greatest Gypsy Tour and motorcycle race to be held anyplace in the country." Unlike today's racing, limited only to professionals, Fritzie pointed out that "...This is a beautiful set up whereby the racing fraternity from the novice rider through the amateur and into the expert class all have an opportunity of racing on this world famous mountain track."
Note: Once again, there was some disagreement between the cover of the official program (above) and the Mayor's proclamation on page 1 of the program (below) whether the 1955 event lasted for just the three days of June 17-19, or for the whole week of June 13-19. We will go with the Mayor's proclamation! Actually, the official guidebook tended to list only the days when actual racing was going on, even though the festivities stretched over a whole week. (In 1959, and then again in 1960, the Mayor's official proclamation and the cover finally agreed.)
Some color photos from the 1955-1956 events.
1956 (In 1956, at a cost of $16,000, the five-sided race course at Belknap was newly paved, thus providing the nationally known motorcycle racers and the AMA "a track that has no equal in the United States" -Fritzie Baer)
1956 (A poster)
1957 (The 1957 program featured on its front cover a poster child for the March of Dimes charity. The charity's purpose was to raise money for polio research and to care for those suffering from the disease. The organizers of the 1957 rally hoped to raise a "Mile of Dimes", equal to $7,392, for the charity. Even today, many charities raise funds during Motorcycle Week.)
An interesting photo from the above 1957 program shows a five foot chain link fence seperating spectators from racers. This, the only safety barrier between the crowds and the high speed motorcycle racing, was expanded prior to the 1957 race to extend around the entire race course, leading Fritzie Baer to exclaim, "Laconia again leads the United States in its safety precaution."
1957(A Harley Davidson ashtray)
An interesting photo from the 1958 program shows hill climbers at the bottom of the Phelps ski slope. Most hill climbs have been held on the far more challenging 60 meter ski jump hill. There were no hill climbs from 1963-1992. From 1993-2006, hill climbs were held at the ski jump hill. In 2007-2008, the hill climbs were held at the Phelps slope. Many feel the move to the Phelps slope has diminished the challenge and excitement of the hill climb.
1960 (not the official guidebook but a great cover nonetheless)
1960 (Harley Davidson Motorcycle Drill Team Cycle Kings vs Belknap Rangers, at Weirs Beach. A dressing contest was always part of the schedule of events during the Rally's earlier years.)
Note: an "auxiliary" is a term that has fallen out of favor in contemporary times. An auxiliary was an all-woman's sub-group that was associated with an all-men's main group.
Above, an undated photo, probably from the early 1950's, showing a well-dressed motorcycle club parked on the boardwalk just outside of Irwin's Winnipesaukee Gardens in Weirs Beach. Fritzie Baer is seen shaking the hand of a member of the club. A similar photo could not be taken today, as motorcycles are not allowed on the boardwalk.
1961 (not the official guidebook but a great cover nonetheless)
1962 (With the term Gypsy Tour falling out of official favor in the early 1960's, this pennant, probably dating from around 1962, renames the rally as the New England Motorcycle Tour)
1963 (Despite this being the 43rd annual rally, rally organizers called this year the Silver Anniversary, as it had been 25 years since the first National Championship road race had been held at Belknap, in 1938. However, the organizers couldn't count. If the annual race had been held continuously beginning in 1938, the 1962 race would have been the 25th. And, since no racing had occured for the four years of World War II, in reality this was 22nd anniversary of the race.
Apparently, in 1964, there was no motorcycle rally, at least from an official point of view. There was definitely no motorycle race. The 1963 guide, above, was for the 43rd annual tour, while the 1965 guide, below, was for the 44th annual tour. Perhaps the reason was the lack of a race course.
Racing had begun in 1938 at the Belknap Recreation Area with a 200-mile course. From 1939-1963, a 100-mile National Championship road race was held every year at Belknap (except during the war years from 1942-1945, when racing was suspended.) In 1965, the first motorcycle race at the Bryar Motorsports Park in Loudon, NH took place. Racing has continued at this location until the present day. In 1990, when the old Bryar racetrack was replaced by the New Hampshire International Speedway, the first professional race held at the newly opened facility was the 67th Annual Loudon Classic, held on June 17 of that year. On November 2, 2007 the track was purchased by Speedway Motorsports Inc. and renamed the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The Loudon Classic now occurs on the first Sunday of Motorcycle Week.
Little did the rally organizers know what was in store for them during 1965, the year of the infamous Weirs Beach riot. Or perhaps they did. Anticipating trouble that year, a week before the rally, two state laws were enacted. One allowed police to arrest riders loitering in groups of 3 or more, while another provided for fines up to $1000 and imprisonment up to 3 years for persons who led a disturbance or caused property damage during a riot. Also, a contingent of 200 National Guardsmen were stationed nearby the downtown Weirs Beach area. This set the stage for such a tinderbox atmosphere that perhaps the 1965 riot was inevitable.
In the UPI file photo below, dated 6/20/1965, "Laconia Police and NH State Troopers, wearing steel riot helmets and gas masks, escort arrested rioters to trucks as some 2,000 motorcycle drag race fans threw rocks, burned cars and damaged buildings during night of rioting in this resort area 6/19. More than 100 persons were arrested and more than 60 persons were treated at hospitals."
The year following the riot, in 1966, the webmaster remembers there were so many National Guardsmen and so much military equipment concentrated in Weirs Beach that the area seemed like a closed military zone. In addition, on June 6, 1966, the Laconia city council passed an ordinance prohibiting drinking in public. The ordinance stated that "No person shall drink any alcoholic beverage....on any public street, or public highway, public sidewalk, municipal parking lot, or municipal park within the limits of the City of Laconia." To get the idea across, the City made up a poster, and posted them all over downtown Weirs Beach.
Predictably, this killed the celebratory atmosphere that year, and the rally began a long, slow decline. In 1975, a law banned camping along Route 106, the highway which led to the Loudon race track, and racing was cancelled that year. In 1981, a "mini-riot" occurred, led entirely by local youths, which was handled easily by the local police.
Bumper sticker (year unknown) for a "Laconia 100 Mile National" race at Bryar Motorsport Park.
1969 (an article from Motorcyclist magazine - not from the official guidebook)
1992 (In 1992, the vintage race was called the "Belknap Cup" and did not coincide with Motorcycle Week. It is now called the "U.S. Vintage Motorcycle Grand Prix" and occurs on Monday of Motorcycle Week.)
This collection of old race tickets shows that from 1947 through June 1952 the Gypsy Tour races were billed as taking place at the Belknap Recreation Area in Gilford, but from September 1952 through 1957 the races were billed as taking place at the Recreation Area in Laconia. Apparently, for bikers, the Gypsy Tour took place in Laconia, so the race organizers decided for marketing purposes to associate the race with Laconia, even though the race actually took place in Gilford.
After reaching a low point in the mid 1970's, the rally gradually rebounded in the 1980's as memories of the earlier troubles began to fade and the economy turned upward. But the rally was nowhere near its potential, perhaps due to the lack of an official organizer. In 1991, a new organized effort began, spearheaded by Charlie St. Clair, currently executive director of the Laconia Motorycycle Week Association.
The effort included several bold moves. Among them were restricting traffic and parking on Lakeside Avenue to Motorcycles only, which began in 1993; new traffic patterns to smooth the traffic flow; lengthening the rally from a weekend-only event back to a full week (the length the rally had been in the 1950's); scheduling many new events; and reviving the publication of an official guidebook and widely increasing its distribution. The bold moves paid off, increasing rally attendance from around 50,000 Motorcyclists in 1990 to over 350,000 today.
Below is a partial list of Gypsy Tours, based on available information. **Note that in 1953 and in 1955, there was a disparity between the Mayor of Laconia's proclamation of Motorcycle Week on page 1 of the official program, and the dates as listed on the cover of the program.
|1916||Year "Zero" - The annual Laconia Rally begins.
An informal gathering of about 150 riders at Weirs Beach precedes the 1st officially sanctioned "Gypsy Tour"
*In 1918, the National Gypsy Tour occurred on Saturday & Sunday, June 15-16; but in Laconia, the Bay State Motorcycle Club (see the photo above), did not drive up until Sunday, and returned on Monday.
|*The 1938 rally was the only year the rally was not officially held in June. This was a result of the National Championship race being moved from Old Orchard Beach, where they had taken place in July the previous year.|
|1942-1945||World War II, No Rallies|
|1953||June 19-21||33rd||3 (or 7**)||Fri-Sun|
|1955||June 17-19||35th||3 (or 7**)||Fri-Sun|
|1964||No Race at Belknap; No Official Rally|
|1966||Aftermath of Riot; No Official Rally|
|1975||No Race at Loudon; No Official Rally|
1989 (Gypsy Tour). In 1989 the Laconia Rally was known as Motorcycle Weekend. This was the next to last year before the Rally resumed to a full week-long event.
1991 (Gypsy Tour). The first year that the Rally was re-expanded to a week long event, this patch noted the change.
1992 (Gypsy Tour). A metal, 12" x 8" sign.
1997 (National Gypsy Tours)
1998 (National Gypsy Tour)
1998 This 75th anniversary buckle reads "LACONIA - Among America's longest running motorcycle events, the Laconia Rally celebrates its 75th running in 1998. The original social gathering of Bay State MC riders and New Hampshire Motorcyclists in 1916 and their destination of Weir Beach on Lake Winnipesaukee near Laconia was complemented later by motorcycle racing at various nearby locations. Frizie Baer and the New Hampshire Motorcycle Dealers Association brought the racing to Belknap Recreation Area in 1938. In 1965 Bryar Motorsports Park, known today as New Hampshire Motor Speedway, hosted its first AMA Grand National Road Race. And that tradition continues today as Motorcyclists gather annually to take in the eclectic collage of AMA Superbike Series and the legendary Laconia rally, hosted by the AMA Chartered Lakeside Sharks Motorcycle Club."
2001 (National Gypsy Tour)
2002 (National Gypsy Tour)
2004 (National Gypsy Tour)
2006 (National Gypsy Tour)
2007 (National Gypsy Tour)
2008 (National Gypsy Tour)
2009 (Gypsy Tours) The 1925 AMA fob continues to be a popular souvenir design. This is at least the third reproduction.
2010 (Gypsy Tour) A reproduction of the 1941/1948 AMA pin design
2011 (Gypsy Tour) A reproduction of the 1941/1948 AMA pin design