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At 90, NH bike week a mellower event but huge draw

  • In this photo taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Laconia, N.H. venders set up at Weirs Beach getting ready for the thousands of motorcyclists who will visit the area for "Bike Week" starting this weekend. The 90th year of the annual event has mellowed from the riots, raunch and public drinking of decades past to a family affair. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    In this photo taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Laconia, N.H. venders set up at Weirs Beach getting ready for the thousands of motorcyclists who will visit the area for "Bike Week" starting this weekend. The 90th year of the annual event has mellowed from the riots, raunch and public drinking of decades past to a family affair. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • In this photo taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Laconia, N.H. venders set up at Weirs Beach getting ready for the thousands of motorcyclists who will visit the area for "Bike Week" starting this weekend.  The 90th year of the annual event has mellowed from the riots, raunch and public drinking of decades past to a family affair.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    In this photo taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Laconia, N.H. venders set up at Weirs Beach getting ready for the thousands of motorcyclists who will visit the area for "Bike Week" starting this weekend. The 90th year of the annual event has mellowed from the riots, raunch and public drinking of decades past to a family affair. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • In this photo taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Laconia, N.H. venders set up at Weirs Beach getting ready for the thousands of motorcyclists who will visit the area for "Bike Week" starting this weekend. The 90th year of the annual event has mellowed from the riots, raunch and public drinking of decades past to a family affair. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • In this photo taken Thursday, June 6, 2013 in Laconia, N.H. venders set up at Weirs Beach getting ready for the thousands of motorcyclists who will visit the area for "Bike Week" starting this weekend.  The 90th year of the annual event has mellowed from the riots, raunch and public drinking of decades past to a family affair.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Laconia Motorcycle Week at age 90 has mellowed from the riots, raunchiness and public drinking of decades past to a family affair that attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers and big bucks to New Hampshire.

Gone – at least from public view – are the coolers of beer, women flashing breasts, motorcycle gang turf wars and campers lining Route 106 that pours into the Lakes Region.

“Route 106 used to be decadence, debauchery and mayhem,” said David “Hoop” Hooper of Plymouth. “It was just a big ole party.”

Laconia police Chief Chris Adams makes no apologies for what he describes as a “drastic change” in the culture of what many dub “bike week.”

“Maybe 15 or 20 years ago, in one night we’d have up to 200 arrests,” Adams said. “Last motorcycle week we had 90 in nine days.”

The event began in 1916 with a “Gypsy Tour” sanctioned by the Federation of American Motorcyclists, with Laconia being the destination for a weekend of hill climbs, tours and races.

“By 1935 it was a weeklong event,” said Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association. “It stayed a weeklong event until 1965.”

That was the year bike week suffered a serious setback. Bikers flipped and torched a car, and a riot ensued. The National Guard was called in. So were the police, clad in tactical gear. Photographs of the melee made front pages of newspapers throughout the Northeast, including The New York Times. St. Clair said it reverted to a weekend rally the following year, in part because most activities were canceled.

St. Clair said the rally wasn’t held during World War II, and other sporadic cancellations factored in to make this the 90th Laconia Motorcycle Week – one marked by charity rides, an effort to set a Guinness World Record for most motorcycles in a single place and the advent of an app for smart phones to guide bikers to events and scenic destinations throughout the state.

Attendance at bike week peaked in 2004 at 430,000 people, St. Clair said. Last year about 330,000 attended, substantially swelling Laconia’s year-round population of 20,000.

Yesterday, St. Clair said he was impressed with the turnout so far this year in spite of Friday’s rain. He’d come across bikers from California, Delaware and even the small European country of Luxembourg.

Last year, bike week brought about $100 million into the state, Gov. Maggie Hassan said.

The infusion of cash into the state’s economy is spread among gas stations, restaurants, motels and retail shops, but it’s rooted in Weirs Beach – where hundreds of vendors set up shop.

Victor Paquette, a New Hampshire native who retired to Florida, is coming up on 50 years of attending bike week. He said it used to be a lot more “notorious.”

“There used to be some pretty outrageous parties – some you could talk about, some you probably shouldn’t,” Paquette said. “All in all, it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.”

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