Thursday, June 13, 2013

Motorcycle Week in The Lakes Region

Watching Over the Bikers

Motorcycle Week in The Lakes Region
by Wayne D. King

Time was in New Hampshire, that mothers warned their children not to go out during motorcyle weekend in New Hampshire. Now the event spans nine full days and mothers take the children along for the adventure. 

These two sentences sums up the changes that have come to Motocycle week in the Lakes Region. Now one of the most important economic events to the region, and still a nine day party, Motorcycle week has been transformed from an event, dogged by controversy, into a family event that draws nearly one half million people to the state, provides events for people of all ages, raises thousands of dollars for charity and creates a set of unforgettable experiences for everyone from the most die hard race fan to vicarious gawkers.
Blow Up Passenger

NH's Annual Motorcycle week now includes races - from vintage to state-of-the-art, rallies, vendor booths with great deals, charity events, demonstrations and much more.

And if you think that the economic impact of this event is limited to the Lakes Region, think again. Ask one of the many businesses that finds themselves filled with bikers on their way to or from the event, or on one of the many “Gypsy Tours” scheduled during the week that take people into the North Country or to the Seacoast. Event the Mount Washington Auto Road gets into the action by closing the road to four wheeled vehicles and sponsoring a motorcycle day to the top of the world.

The Beginnings

In 1916 a group of about 400 motorcyclists spent several days at Weirs Beach in Laconia enjoying the sights of Lake Winnipesauke and the White Mountains. Motorcyclists had been gathering at the Weirs for a number of years informally but this year is acknowledged as the first official year. In 1917 the first sanctioned Gypsy Tour was held in Laconia at Weirs Beach. Hill Climbs were held on Tower Hill Street and other races took place anywhere they could be held.

The event continued through the 20’s into the 30’s, missing a few years due to unforeseen events. In 1938 a motorcycle hill climber named Fritzie Baer was instrumental in bringing road races to Belknap Recreation Area (now called Gunstock). For the next 30 plus years Fritzie worked hard at keeping the Laconia Motorcycle Rally at full steam. He had his supporters called The Red Hat Brigade and the support and affection of motorcyclists from around the country.

The 1960’s

The 1960’s were a time of upheaval for Motorcycle events around the country and Motorcycle Week in the Lakes Region was no exception. What had started out as a week long event became a weekend event, avoided by the vast majority of local folks and characterized by strained relations between bikers, local police and town and state officials.

1963 saw the last road races. In 1964 the races were moved to the track in Loudon, 15 miles South of Laconia, and now called the Laconia Classic. In 1965 a law was passed by the state that people in groups larger than 3 had to move on or would be arrested. The law precipitated what has come to be called a riot between bikers and local and state police. Motorcycle Week became Motorcycle Weekend and all events except for the races in Loudon were canceled. By the late 70’s even the races were called the Loudon Classic instead of the Laconia Classic.

The 70’s and 80’s had high and low points. In 1975 all camping along State Highway 106 was outlawed and the number of visiting motorcyclists dropped to 25,000-35,000 each year. The future of the event was threatened.

Meanwhile,  the other two National Rallies, Sturgis and Daytona were growing in size and popularity and enjoyed considerable support among local residents and local and state officials.

A Wake Up Call from Sturgis

The1990 50th Anniversary of Sturgis, with 400,000 motorcyclists in attendance was a wake up call as well as a model of what could be. A local businessperson from the Weirs, Bob Lawton, contacted the local A.M.A. Motorcycle Club, the Lakeside Sharks, and asked what could be done to bring back Motorcycle Week to the way it was before 1965.

The Cool Side of Hell
In 1991 the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association was formed and Laconia was once again called Motorcycle Week with a Rally Headquarters being set up at the Weirs business of Lawton. In 1992 the A.M.A. brought back the term Gypsy Tour.  The Hill Climbs returned to Gunstock (Belknap) in 1993.

The Nation's Oldest Rally Rebounds

Today Laconia has now regained its popularity and place in the world of motorcycles. 1997 saw 225,000 motorcyclists attend Motorcycle Week. 2001 was another record breaking year with over 375,000 people coming in and out of the State of New Hampshire.

Laconia Motorcycle Week is the oldest of the Three National Rallies and has grown to a World Class Rally being featured on the Travel Channel, Discovery, and many other national and International media outlets.

With hundreds of events spanning the nine days of the Rally and spreading to surrounding towns outside of Laconia. Laconia is no longer the outcast among great New Hampshire events.  And its easy to see why when one considers that the average family attending the rally, spends about $700 per person and tax revenues exceed 250 million dollars.


The Laconia Motorcycle Week Association
PO Box 5399, Laconia, NH 03247, 603-366-2000

The Laconia Motorcycle Week Association is a non-profit Association made up of a board of Directors and two employees.  The Association gains its revenue through Corporate Sponsors, Rally Patrons, and other small fund raisers.  The mission of this Association is to promote Motorcycle Week, the Lakes Region, and the State of New Hampshire to potential visitors from all around the country and world!


Official Event Site

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