An Inside Look at the Bikers Reunion

Every summer thousands of passionate motorcycle enthusiasts flock to the vibrant city of New Liskeard (Temiskaming Shores) in celebration of Bikers Reunion, a family-friendly event like no other. It’s grown into the premiere two-wheel festival in Northern Ontario, drawing an average attendance of 25,000 spectators and 6,000 motorcycles over the Canada Day long weekend and, like many popular events, its origins are rooted in humbler beginnings.

It all started back in 1999 when a local business owner (founder of Bikers Reunion), Barry Phippen, was holding a 20th anniversary party for his company, Phippen Signs. Barry wanted to create both a fundraiser for cancer and a community event celebrating the thrill of riding motorcycles. It started out as a one-day event held on his business’ property, but the feedback from the public—and riders in attendance—was so positive that it clearly needed to evolve into a larger, more scalable event.

By 2004, Bikers Reunion had become an annual event and, due to the growing crowds, a decision was made to move it to the New Liskeard Fair Grounds. After morphing through several expansions, it’s become a staple event on the calendar, drawing bikers and non-bikers alike from North America, Europe and beyond. Charity is a big part of the event and, in 2015, $128,000 was raised to the community Cancer Care Program. Even more impressive is the total donation amount to date of $1,063,000! Having attended Bikers Reunion several times myself, I wanted to share my experiences and offer an insider’s look at this one-of-a kind event.

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Over the years most of my trips to New Liskeard have involved covering Bikers Reunion as a journalist. The most memorable was in 2013, when our media crew rented a motor home and stayed on-site for the weekend so we could be in the heart of the action. Sure, it was a bit cramped, but waking up to the thunderous roars of Harleys cruising by was music to my ears. The other big advantage to having a motor home on site was it acted as a home base.  A cold beverage with friends or a nap was only a few minutes walk away, all without leaving the venue. That being said, renting hotels in the area has its own advantages as well (more space, comfort, full washrooms and privacy). To get the lowdown on this, I turned to some local operators who have been welcoming riders and their families in the area for years.

There’s Nicole and Jocelyn Guertin who run The Presidents’ Suites located in Haileybury, situated steps from Lake Temiskaming and just minutes from the Bikers Reunion grounds. I asked them to share some pertinent info with potential newcomers, like when to book hotels, what some good day trips are in the area and any other information that would be handy to make travel plans for this upcoming summer.

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“Visitors need to book their hotels a few months ahead of the events. We still have a few houses available, although three of our houses have been booked by guests from last year. Regulars to the Reunion often return to the same hotel room, the same camping site, etc every year. There's always room in Tent City if people can't find a place,” Nicole says. Tent City is the designated camping area where attendees can pitch a tent and stay on the grounds with their family and bikes at a lesser cost then traditional hotels.

Sean Mackey is the President of M&M Hospitality, which operates multiple hotels in the area, including a popular venue among attendees, Waterfront Inn. He echoed Nicole and Jocelyn's advice. “Book rooms as early as possible. The sooner you book, the better the selection of hotels and the closer you can stay to the action. We typically see many of our guests return year after year because they enjoy the event so much.  That being said, people shouldn't be afraid to call around to see if rooms become available a few weeks before the event.  But your best bet is at least four to six months before.”

Bikers Reunion 2016 is offering a wide array of activities and entertainment—in fact, more then I’ve ever seen in my years in attendance. Monster Truck rides, a basketball stunt show, Trials Bike demo, human cannon balls, para sailing, side show acts, strong man competition, and all kinds of live bands both original and tribute. In addition, all the big O.E.M manufacturers will have units on display. One lucky attendee will even walk away with a new Harley Davidson, via a contest run by a local dealer.

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"Bikers Reunion is different from traditional motorcycle festivals," explained Mackey. “Bring your family! There are few Biker gatherings that are family-friendly, so why not take advantage of the Biker's Reunion and bring the kids.  There are family-friendly attractions going on all weekend long.  Kids love the Biker's Reunion!”

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If you’re looking to get off the grounds and explore, try some of the popular day rides. New Liskeard to Charlton to Elk Lake and back is a popular trip. Another is a ride through Haileybury along the shore of Lake Temiskaming, to Cobalt, up to Latchford or Temagami, then come back into town on Highway 11. Some good stops along the way are in Cobalt, like the Bunker Military Museum with its impressive collection and interesting stories.  Nicole of The President’s Suites informed me that the train station has been renovated and the interpretative center should be open, after a large injection of financing from the city to upgrade it. I was told if it’s ready, it’s a must-see.

Also, if biker's don't mind parking their machines, the underground mining tour is worth a look. If you’re looking for a longer ride, Nicole recommends venturing into neighboring province of Quebec through Ville-Marie or Rouyn-Noranda. I’ve taken the trip to Ville-Marie and it also boasts a fantastic list of activities including a historic fort, chocolate factory and a delicious restaurant located on beautiful scenic lakefront property.

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Without a doubt the premier event of the weekend is held on Sunday, as thousands of bikes take to the open road for "The Freedom Ride." Participants form a continuous line as they exit New Liskeard and hit the open road for a 120-km scenic tour of the beautiful Northern Countryside and its towns, with a stop at the Temiskaming Hospital, where bikers hand out roses and care packages to every patient, nurse and cancer survivor.

In 2013 I documented all this from the roof of the hospital with my camera and I’ll admit it, was a pretty emotional moment, even for a hardened motorsports journalist. Police strategically block off all the highways so everyone can stay together as one unit. The ride takes roughly three hours to complete, ending up back at the fairgrounds. The endless line of bikes is really a sight to be seen and in all my years covering motorcycle events (including "Bike Week" in Daytona, FL), I've never witnesses anything quite like it. Local residents stand along the route waving Canadian flags or just cheering for their favorite bikes. The riders show their appreciation by beeping horns, waving or banging their motors off rev limiter, all to the approving cheers of spectators.

Motorcycles, endless entertainment options, good food and raising money for a worthy cause—it doesn’t get much better then that. If you’re looking to plan a memorable trip for this summer, whether you’re a rider or spectator, consider spending Canada’s birthday in New Liskeard at Bikers Reunion 2016.

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About Virgil Knapp

Virgil Knapp is a freelance motorsports photographer and writer.

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