As Mother Nature brings her wrath to the Finger Lakes each winter, motorcycle enthusiasts often make plans to travel to warmer climates for at least a week to put in some much-sought-after time on their machines. But others, like Scott Dysart who relocated from Rochester to Milan, Pennsylvania, several years ago, return to the Finger Lakes Region to enjoy a ride from time to time during even the coldest winter months – as Mother Nature will allow.
Dysart, who is a member of the Finger Lakes Harley Owners Group (HOG) Chapter based out of Ithaca Harley Davidson, rides whenever the temperature rises above 40 degrees.
The owner of a 2000 Road King Classic, Dysart is also one of many who plans day trips and scheduled rides along the many scenic highways and byways that traverse the Finger Lakes.
A favorite ride for Dysart is Route 34 north from Waverly to Auburn, then Routes 5&20 west to Waterloo to Route 96 south until it turns into 414, which he takes all the way back into Watkins Glen at the south end of Seneca Lake.
Another favorite route is Route 34 from Waverly to Route 224 north, to Route 14 in Montour Falls. From there, he can take 14 north to all the way to Geneva, to the intersection of Routes 5&20, which he follows east to Route 96 south in Waterloo before returning south to Watkins Glen via 96 south to 414.
A typical ride, said Dysart, is approximately four to six hours in length, depending on the stops. “I’ll stop at diners along the way, or I’ll make a stop at the small fruit stands along the roads,” he said. And although he rides as late into the fall as possible, briefly in the winter (if warmer weather arrives), and starts out early in the spring, the bulk of his time on the highways comes in the summer.
He plans to attend an upcoming New York State HOG Rally in Geneva scheduled for July 7, 8 and 9. A cruisin’ night and block party, with live music downtown will be held in conjunction with the event.
The rally offers a large number of options for bikers to take part in self-guided or guided rides around the region, with wine tours and more. Most of the events center around the Ramada Geneva Lakefront and the lakefront park. It is expected to draw 2,000 to 3,000 motorcycle enthusiasts to the region. For a full schedule, visit www.nystatehogrally.com.
The road less traveled
Despite the many scheduled rides around the Finger Lakes and the abundant opportunities for solo day trips, many motorcyclists, like Dysart, have heard of one destination that they haven’t yet seen for themselves – a place known to many as “Spook Hill.”
On Newell Hill Road overlooking Canandaigua Lake, the hill is rumored to be near a Native American burial ground. It has been dubbed Spook Hill because cars and motorcycles (while in neutral), appear to roll uphill.
Although Dysart hasn’t taken his motorcycle there yet, he recalled traveling on that road as a child. “I remember we were in the car when I was young,” he said, “and I thought we were going back up the hill.”
Another motorcyclist, Bill Chandler, had never heard of Spook Hill and remained skeptical. As a member of the Blue Knights, Chandler has put many miles on his Honda Gold Wing – escorting rides and participating in various poker runs and the annual Wine Country Weekend (which is planned for September 23, 24, and 25 this year).
Chandler is more inclined to believe it is merely an optical illusion. “There has to be a reason for it,” he said.
Many who ride put a great deal of time, money and effort into maintaining and customizing their motorcycles. For them, it is all about the machine.
Jim Holtkamp is one such rider. He owns Empire Motorcycles, a small custom motorcycle shop on Route 96 in Trumansburg. Walking down to the lower level of his house, visitors discover a shop filled with custom motorcycles and parts. He’s been building and modifying motorcycles for the past 15 years, and he’s seen a lot of “basket cases.”
“A lot of people took their motorcycles apart and then never put them back together,” he said. “I’d like to pull them all out and see them back on the road.”
Holtkamp specializes in vintage motorcycles, and does most of his work on Harley Davidsons, Triumphs and BSAs. His 1947 Harley WL, a motorcycle similar to those used in World War II, sits in the center of the shop. “I can still buy the parts for these things,” he said, adding, “It’s crazy.”
As a motorcycle mechanic, Holtkamp has a special appreciation for newly resurfaced roads. He identified several that have been repaved in whole or part within the last year – routes 89, 96 and 34.
An admirer of vintage motorcycles, Holtkamp is a member of the Antique Motorcycle Club of America and participates in events each year in Oley and York, Pennsylvania, and in Rhinebeck, New York.
He has been more involved in building custom bikes in recent years. He acquired some equipment from several Harley dealers about 10 years ago when they built new shops, moved and no longer needed it. “These were parts for knuckleheads and some of the older built motorcycles,” explained Holtkamp.
“I always tell people, the only difference between me and Orange County Choppers is that they have a website,” he added.
Even without a website Holtkamp remains very connected with riders and keeps a good stock of spare parts, including tires and plugs, for motorcyclists in need of assistance as they travel around the region. Empire Motorcycles can be reached at 607-387-4466.
Both Holtkamp and Bill Chandler talk highly of the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport – a favorite destination for motorcycle enthusiasts who live in or are visiting the Finger Lakes.
Glenn Curtiss opened a bike shop in 1900. A mechanical genius, he started putting engines on modified bicycles to make some of the first motorcycles. In 1907, Curtiss built a motorcycle with an 8-cylinder engine and drove it a record 136 miles per hour at Ormond Beach, Florida. He held the title, “Fastest Man on Earth” on a motorcycle until 1930. Today, many of these items are on exhibit at the museum.
A Curtiss fan, Holtkamp visits often and said that every motorcyclist should see the collection. “That’s a great place to ride to,” he added.
Chandler agrees: “He built one of the first Boss Hoss Motorcycles, and it’s on display.”
To learn more, visit www.glennhcurtissmuseum.org.
Rolling Hills and Scenic Views
Many motorcycle enthusiasts agree that the Finger Lakes is one of the most scenic regions in which to ride. Various waterfalls, such as Taughannock Falls in Ulysses, Buttermilk Falls in Ithaca, and several in the gorge at Watkins Glen are all popular attractions.
Chandler noted that a lot of motorcyclists gather in Skaneateles during the summer. The village, with its shops, eateries, and quaint small-town appeal, welcomes them.
Scott Dysart particularly enjoys the roughly 35-mile stretch that runs between Watkins Glen and Geneva. “If you look east,” he said, “the scenery is spectacular.”
But the most emotion-provoking ride, according to those who have traveled it, is the recently designated “Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Highway of Valor” that spans the entire length of Route 38. The 98-mile route runs from Owego in the south, passing through towns such as Dryden, Freeville and Groton on the way to Fair Haven near Lake Ontario in the north.
Each year, a ride that organizes in Owego welcomes not only motorcyclists, but automobiles and airplanes as well. In its first year, two years ago, planes met the motorcycle formation and offered a tribute flight overhead until the riders reached Fair Haven.
This year’s tribute ride is scheduled to depart from Marvin Park in Owego on July 16 at 10 a.m. To learn more, contact Blue Knights member Bill Chandler, 607-222-6357.
Riders are also encouraged to contact local chapters of active motorcycle groups to learn more about upcoming events. A good resource for finding clubs is the American Motorcyclist website at www.americanmotorcyclist.com, or simply inquire at any local dealer.
story and photos by Wendy Post