GILFORD — Amateur and professional riders pitted their motorcycles against a formidable opponent on Wednesday, the 70-meter Torger Tokle Memorial Ski Jump hill.
Several thousand people lined the grassy lawn below to watch the riders roar off the starting line, get air off a large jump and then spray a steady rooster-tail of dirt as they chewed their way up the steep slope to cheers.
The professional riders were competing for a $20,000 cash prize and the title of King of the Hill.
Most of the bikes are equipped with elongated frames and special tires that help them get better traction on a steep grade.
Sean Vanassea who rides professionally for Libhart Brothers Racing based in East Petersburg, Pa., said the key to make a successful hillclimb “is getting the right line picked out and holding it wide open.”
“It’s a lot of fun and a great bunch of people,” he said.
Phil Libhart, who builds the bikes that his fellow teammates ride, said timing is key to being able to get safely to the top.
“It’s timing all the jumps just right and finding a smooth way up,” he said.
Libhart has placed second twice in American Motorcyclist Association hillclimb events in the extreme class this year and clinched second place on Wednesday despite having to pilot a borrowed bike when he blew the motor on his own.
For the Bacon family of Wales, Mass., motorcycles are a way of life.
Guy Bacon said he shared his passion for motorcycling with his daughters and it’s been a family affair ever since.
Chandele Bacon is the three-time national female champion in amateur verticross and a repeat New England women’s champion.
On Wednesday she was Queen of the Hill at Gunstock and roared her 450 cc Honda to the summit of the 70-meter hill in 9.201 seconds.
Asked the secret to her success, she responded, “the support of my family.” Her sister, Morgan, placed second with a time of 11.5 seconds aboard a YZ250.
Richie Razin of Salisbury, who was in the crowd that gathered to watch the action, said he took a couple of vacation days to come and enjoy Bike Week and the hillclimb.
“It’s a beautiful day and a really great atmosphere. I’ve been coming to Bike Week for over 20 years. It’s really good for the economy and the locals,” he said.
Greg Goddard, general manager at Gunstock, said the resort has signed a five-year agreement with Ridge Runner Promotions to keep the hillclimb event in Gilford for the next five years.
Cameron Mahoney, 13, of Wells, Maine, won the 125 cc class on his 85 cc Kawasaki. His mother, Maureen, said it’s the second time her son has ridden in the Gunstock hillclimb. He regularly competes in motocross.
“I’m glad he’s finished. Now I can enjoy it,” she said, conceding she was pretty nervous watching her son zoom up the steep hill at high speed.
No riders were injured during the competition, though several lost speed during the climb and ended up laying their bikes down. Safety crews posted along the course quickly helped them get their motorcycles back up on two wheels and headed toward the start line.
John Koester of Hornell, N.Y., won the unlimited class in a time of 6.540 seconds, riding a CBR.
Jay Sallstrom of Mankato, Minn., was the first place finisher in the extreme class with a time of 6.123 seconds.