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As Motorcycle Week in Laconia gets older, so does its bikers

  • Governor Chris Sununu (left) speaks with Executive Director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association Charlie St. Clair (right) before the start of a press conference at Gunstock Mountain Resort Thursday. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • Governor Chris Sununu address the crowd at a press conference ahead of the 95th anniversary of the Laconia Motorcycle Week. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • Director for the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association Jennifer Anderson (right) and Executive Director Charlie St. Clair (left) speak about the 95th Motorcycle Week. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • State Trooper First Rank J. Lapointe, commander of the motorcycle unit, listens to a speech from Executive Major Matthew Shapiro from New Hampshire State Police. Jacob Dawson—Monitor staff

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)

  • Laconia Bike Week 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff)



Monitor staff
Thursday, June 07, 2018

It’s pretty obvious who is participating in Laconia Motorcycle Week. It’s no longer the rough-and-tumble riders of yesteryear.

“We tend to get older people,” said Charlie St. Clair, executive director for the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association.

Bike Week, a time-honored tradition, returns for the 95th year, starting Saturday and running through June 17.

Bike Week officials expect about 250,000 enthusiasts from New England and beyond to travel through New Hampshire during the week.

With no registration required for the events, Bike Week organizer Jennifer Anderson said it’s hard to pinpoint a head count, but officials try to get attendance estimates using data on the number of riders passing through tollbooths.

Bike Week is the largest and oldest rally in the country, with the first rally being held in 1916. Even though this is the 95th year, it hasn’t always been an annual event, Anderson said. In the past, the week was scuttled during times of war or economic hardship.

Historically, Bike Week was met with some resistance from residents around Lake Winnipesaukee, but Anderson said those complaints have died down over the years.

“I remember those days very well,” she said. “I would say that it is different now. We work so closely with the towns; we have such a good working relationship. But anything of this size ... is burdensome to local residents and businesses.”

Anderson said the event brings huge economic opportunity to the state. More than $100 million is expected to be spent on hotels, restaurants, tolls and liquor sales, while hundreds of thousands more are expected to be raised for various charitable organizations, according to Anderson.

“The city of Laconia is able to purchase additional cruisers from the money that they raised during the week that taxpayers don’t have to pay for,” Anderson said.

St. Clair emphasized the opportunities available throughout the week with all the different events planned.

“Some complaints I hear are that is isn’t a family event,” St. Clair said. “But it is. It’s a motorcycle family event. They can come up with their moms and dads.”

Even if people don’t want to partake in the events, St. Clair said the week is really about the beauty of the state.

“Obviously this gives them a wide-open door to the whole state of New Hampshire,” he said. “It’s a beautiful ride.”

Older riders

Lately, motorcycle ownership has been leaning toward an older crowd, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

In a 20-year span, the median age of motorcycle owners increased from 27 years old to 41 years old, according to data from 1985 to 2003. The largest age group to see a jump in ownership was the 50-and-up crowd, increasing from 8.1 to 25.1 percent in that time span. The same data shows that 90 percent of owners are male and generally white.

This data has spurred companies like Harley-Davidson to rebrand themselves to focus more on younger people and women. Harley-Davidson motorcycles are not cheap, but they’re often seen as masculinity at its finest, thus catering to the older, baby-boomer aged crowd. The report claims that older riders prefer Harley-Davidson-type bikes, while younger riders tend toward sport- and racing-style bikes.

The types of bikes that roll into Laconia – and the types of riders on them – can vary.

“It depends on the day. ... The weekends we will see more young people because they are technically off work,” he said. St. Clair said noting that that comes with an influx of younger riders at Bike Week events and at bars.

St. Clair recognized the struggle younger people have when trying to buy a motorcycle. He said he didn’t but his first brand new bike until he was 41.

“The price of motorcycles can be so high, you kind of see people that are more comfortable with their incomes,” he said.

But St. Clair gave credit to Harley-Davidson on its efforts to attract younger people to the motorcycling world.

“I go to trade shows in the winter, and I see the established riders, but I also see kids going to these shows, and you can see the looks on their faces,” St. Clair said as he told the story of a teenager revving the engine of a new Harley on a treadmill.

St. Clair said he talks with a lot of older riders who come for the week and will often ride around New England after the events wrap up. On Thursday, he said, he met three couples from Florida who were in their 50s but are here early for Bike Week.

Traditions and safety

In an effort to attract a wider age range, Bike Week is bringing back one of the founding traditions – a “hillclimb.” On Tower Street, riders will use vintage bikes to try to climb the steep terrain on Tuesday.

“Which is going to be, really, a hillclimb expo,” Anderson said. “It’s going to pay tribute to our roots, which is really stemming from 1916 through the ’20s, which is where the hillclimb really started.”

Gunstock Mountain Resort will also be hosting a hillclimb on one of its ski jumps Wednesday. Anderson said she’s hoping that both hillclimbs on back-to-back days will bring an economic boom for the early part of the week. She said she expected riders and spectators to stay overnight Tuesday to watch the hillclimb at Gunstock.

With 250,000 expected to be using New Hampshire roadways, state and local police are taking an active role in ensuring everyone’s safety.

State Trooper Jay Lapointe is the commander of the 10-man motorcycle unit. The unit will be escorting riders as they kick off the week on Saturday while also watching for excessive speed and impaired driving throughout Bike Week.

“We did have one change, where, instead of always being down in the center of the event, we tend to spread out more,” Lapointe said.

He said they will be monitoring more of the roads that come in and out of the Weirs Beach area because “that’s where some of our more egregious accidents were happening.”

Lapointe said Bike Week is a great opportunity for his whole unit to come together, which rarely happens, he said, and ride around with countless other motorcycle enthusiasts.

Gov. Chris Sununu spoke at a press conference Thursday at Gunstock to kick off Bike Week.

“We know what this week is all about,” Sununu said. “But it’s not just a tradition of New Hampshire; it’s really a big part of who we are here in the ‘Live Free or Die’ state. It’s really an opportunity to showcase who we are.”

Those interested in more information about Laconia Motorcycle Week are encouraged to visit laconiamcweek.com.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 369-3325, jdawson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @jaked156.)