Easy Riders

Don’t these people work?” This was the first thought that sprang to mind when Elliot Ettenberg gazed on the estimated 30,000 motorcycles at the annual Americade festivities one Tuesday in June four years ago. The main street was trimmed both sides as far as the eye could see with bikes. The air was filled with the hum of Hondas and the distinct “potato-potato-potato” of the mighty Harley.

This cruising bike rally in New York State’s pastoral Lake George area has been drawing Ettenberg and wife Debbie back ever since. The coming together of 50,000 like-minded souls has been attracting all ages and lifestyles for 15 years now.

Some are fully retired, others still deeply involved in careers – from New York City ad executives like the Ettenbergs to semi-retired chicken-farmer and Old Timer’s League goalie Ralf “Bushy” Bushenbaum from Mansonville, Quebec. All are drawn by the camaraderie. This was Bushy’s first trip to the week-long event. Despite 30 years of Harley-Davidson experience he’d never checked out this Adirondack resort area during Americade. He was initially struck by how much Canada Street was like the main street of Sturgis, North Dakota, home to anotr U.S. bike rally. But he agreed that this event is much more orderly, and free of the sudden outbursts of overly refreshed high spirits that have marred other meetings of mega-motorcyclists.

The secret to the order amidst the intense noise of roaring engines is great organization. The driving force behind Americade, Bill and Gini Dutcher, have put together a package of non-stop action. From the traditional Drill Team Competition and demo rides to the unexpected, a rodeo with motorbike calf roping. Add fashion shows, the Tour Expo shopping emporium plus fireworks and all you need is an Oldest and Youngest contest to make the week complete.

In past years the oldest male rider was Borden Fawcett, 83, from Victoria, B.C. – and he just missed picking up the added distinction of Farthest Distance Rider as well. Fawcett has been riding motorbikes for 63 years.

But before you let lack of previous experience deter you from attempting this new skill, meet the Oldest Female Rider. Emily Jackson, 85, revved her first bike just four years ago. She was turned into an instant celebrity and shared her passion for life with a local TV interviewer. “If you’re gonna run with the big dogs, you gotta get off the porch.”

Although seminars, light bedecked night bike shows and other motorcycle activities dominate the agenda, Lake George and the surrounding mountain villages offer much more. Lake cruises, para-sailing and excellent inns and restaurants provide a change of pace for those weary of endless bike chat.

Next June 7-9, the Lost Wheels Honda Gold Wing Group, the Ettenberg’s, Bushy and all the other 50,000 lovers of motorcycle madness will be back. They love Americade and will miss friends seen once a year but cherished for the sharing of a passion. But they also know what is really being celebrated here and at all rallies is what awaits the rider back on the highway. It is that golden moment when you and the bike are one with the road and you lift your gloved hand and high-five the wind.

Getting started

If you’re intrigued about taking up motorcycling but are not quite sure…

  • Take a course – most community colleges offer these every spring and summer, and bikes are supplied.

  • Visit Americade, or a local rally without a bike. You can register for events without having to show up in leathers!

  • Talk to bikers in person or on the Internet. You may have acquaintances who are involved but don’t mention it to a lot of people. It’s a hobby that’s still a little unexpected in the over 50 crowd.

  • A generally fit level of health is desirable, but trikes and sidecars solve mobility problems for those with arthritis or the disabled.

    How to join Americade

    Americade: How to Join the Fun, June 7-12, 1999. Americade P.O. Box 2205 Glens Falls, NY 12801. Fax: 518-656-9207; phone: 518-656-3696; website; http://www.tourexpo.com ; e-mail: [email protected] ; Accomodation: varied and vast in quality, but book early. Don’t fret about not being in the heart of things unless you really love the sound of engines revving; Bolton’s Landing offers great choice of digs only 10 charming miles away.