LACONIA — It’s Motorcycle Week in New Hampshire, and the good times will roll on two wheels in the Lakes Region through next Sunday.
Against a backdrop of vintage motorcycle and automobile racing memorabilia inside the North East Motor Sports Museum on Thursday, Gov. Chris Sununu said Motorcycle Week has become a source of pride in New Hampshire and is a boon to the economy.
“Don’t take it for granted. A lot of pieces have to come together to make it all happen standing on decades of success.”
Many of those responsible for helping to lay the foundation for the event’s progress were on hand.
Laconia Mayor Ed Engler presiding over his sixth and last Bike Week as a city leader, offered his thanks to the many people “who have kept the rally alive and thriving.” The addition of the flat track will give race fans a new reason to enjoy the thrill of racing in Loudon, he said.
This is the 96th Annual Laconia Motorcycle Rally and Race Week. It’s the oldest motorcycle rally in America, with roots stretching back to the summer of 1916, when a so-called “Gypsy Tour” gathered for several days at Weirs Beach on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee.
The ride got its name because those early riders would travel long distances, often sleeping in tents along the way much like the Hollywood stereotypes of the nomadic Gypsies. Organized for riders to gather and enjoy other related activities including racing and hill climbing, the event continues that tradition today, although for the most part tents have been replaced by hotel rooms.
Jennifer Anderson of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association says the event is not just about the races, shows, live music and parades of bikes as far as the eye can see. The rally part centers around riding, and much of that activity is organized for the benefit of local charities.
The 13th Annual Peter Makris Memorial Run on Saturday honors the life of a community leader and patriarch of the NASWA Resort. It has raised more than $430,000 since its inception to benefit the Laconia Fire Department’s Water Rescue Team, Easter Seals NH and the Veterans Count program among others.
Those who enjoy the allure of the open road and the wind in their faces make the annual pilgrimage to meet other like-minded folks and to take in all that the spectacle offers, including demo rides, vendor displays, live music, bike shows, swap meets, tattoo contests, on-track racing, stunt shows and hill climbs.
Although Weirs Beach remains the epicenter of Bike Week, the state Department of Travel and Tourism Development estimates the event will generate some $100 million in spending statewide. Solid attendance numbers are hard to come by, but in years past the event has drawn as many as 300,000 to the state based on highway toll data.
Crowds have been smaller in recent years, a fact often attributed to the advancing age of Baby Boomer bikers. Owner surveys conducted by the Motorcycle Industry Council late last year show statistics for American riders experienced some telling changes, including more college-educated and female riders, and a record number of motorcycles in households.
“Demographics are changing for Americans across the country and it’s no different for motorcycle owners,” said MIC President and CEO Tim Buche. U.S. motorcycle ownership is more than 13.1 million, an increase of 2.5 million since the last ownership survey was taken in 2014.
The median age of riders is 50, and increase of three years since 2014. Sixty-eight percent of riders are married, 24 percent are college educated and the have a median household income of $62,500.
Harley-Davidson reported that last year in the U.S. 278,000 new riders hit the road, the most diverse group by age, ethnicity and gender in all the years they’ve tracked this data.
Events all week
One recently revived Bike Week event is the Hill Climb on Tower Street in the heart of Weirs Beach. It will be held on Tuesday, June 11 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Organized by the U.S. Classic Racing Association, it’s a historical exhibition of the original Tower Street Hill Climb, dating back to 1916. Some of the vintage machinery competing last year included Vincent, Velocette and tank-shift Indians.
Among those most popular Bike Week activities is the Gunstock Hill Climb, which will be held on the 70-meter ski jump hill at Gunstock Mountain Resort on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Also on Wednesday, Bike Week’s 96th anniversary will be marked with a celebration at the Naswa Resort at 5:30 p.m., followed by a tattoo contest at the Broken Spoke Saloon at 8 p.m.
A custom motorcycle show will be held at the downtown Laconia train station in Veterans Square from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bikers will gather at the Lowe’s parking lot in Gilford at 5:45 p.m. for a 6 p.m. departure to join the annual Freedom Ride to Hesky Park in Meredith. Retired Army Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc will be the keynote speaker at the park.
A swap meet will take place at Opechee Park from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Bikers will head north to ride up the Mountain Washington Auto Road to the top of the highest peak in the Northeast.
The inaugural Laconia Short Track race will be held at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on a newly completed 0.25-mile flat track.
Organized events for the week wrap up with the the 96th annual Loudon Classic motorcycle race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.