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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Bike Week: A tamer time, sprinkled with yesteryear

  • The iconic Weirs Beach sign at dusk.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    The iconic Weirs Beach sign at dusk.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • Two telltale signs that Bike Week has changed: police officers and families.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    Two telltale signs that Bike Week has changed: police officers and families.

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • The bikers are still present along Lakeside Ave at Weirs Beach in Laconia.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    The bikers are still present along Lakeside Ave at Weirs Beach in Laconia.


    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • at Weirs Beach in Laconia<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    at Weirs Beach in Laconia

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • at Weirs Beach in Laconia<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

    at Weirs Beach in Laconia

    (GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

  • The iconic Weirs Beach sign at dusk.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • Two telltale signs that Bike Week has changed: police officers and families.<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • The bikers are still present along Lakeside Ave at Weirs Beach in Laconia.<br/><br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • at Weirs Beach in Laconia<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)
  • at Weirs Beach in Laconia<br/><br/>(GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor staff)

Bike Week in Laconia, once edgy, weatherbeaten and rated R, features a softer, gentler side these days.

Walk along Lakeside Avenue, into the teeth of the chrome and exhaust and leather, and you’ll find order, with heavy police presence and families sightseeing – or people-watching – along Weirs Beach.

“It’s dead,” remarked Melissa Sieradski, a 46-year-old Loudon resident. “You can’t have fun anymore. It’s an adult event, but now there are kids.”

Sieradski, clad in leather and accompanied by her husband, Dan, has been coming to Bike Week for 30 years. The couple remember a grittier time, when bikes drag raced down the strip, women pulled up their shirts on command, beer was sold and cops stayed out of the fray.

“I wouldn’t have brought my 15-year-old son here,” said a Massachusetts man, who gave only his first name, Jose. “I’d bring him now, today, but not back then.”

The madness reached its height on June 19, 1965, when club-wielding police and National Guardsmen fought chain-wearing bikers.

When the smoke and fired cleared, at least 150 people had been arrested, nearly 100 were treated at local hospitals and snapshots of the police, rioters and burning cars had been transmitted across the country.

“Come to the riot. See Weirs Beach burn,” read the headline in Life magazine.

“Laconia’s streets have been full of long-haired, inarticulate young men,” the New York Times reported, “riding cycles bearing such names as ‘Cold Turkey’ and ‘Bad News.’ ”

In later years, Bike Week maintained a certain reputation for wildness, some earned, some not. But there’s no doubt things have calmed down since beer tents were outlawed 12 years ago, a measure championed by the governor at the time, Jeanne Shaheen, who’s since moved to the U.S. Senate.

“Jeanne Shaheen wanted to turn this into a family event,” Dan Sieradski said, shaking his head. “That’s when things began to change.”

The changes were evident on a perfect night two days ago. Near the front of the main strip, with the famous neon Weirs Beach sign in the background, three police officers straddled their bikes and stood guard, watching the parking slots down the line fill up, one by one.

One biker got pulled over, apparently because he had no front directional signal. The officer wrote a ticket while standing 15 yards behind the biker, whose glare could have rusted an exhaust pipe.

“Whose idea was it to come here?” he growled to his buddy up ahead.

Other officers on foot patrolled the avenue and beach, and a family-friendly fireworks show above Lake Winnipesaukee thumped your chest and blinked the landscape like a disco in the late 1970s.

That’s when things heated to a boil in Laconia, for one week each summer. Jules Staines, 62, has ridden for 40 years, but he missed those crazy days, having first come to Bike Week eight years ago.

Still, he was a biker through and through, bragging about the 1958 bike he had back home in Canada and the one he brought to Laconia, featuring a half windshield with flames on it.

A skinny version of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia, Staines has a long white beard, long white hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Hunched over, he walks with a limp and speaks in a soft, non-threatening voice.

“I rode all night to get to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert,” Staines said. “No way I was missing that. I had seventh-row seats.”

At that moment, Staines’s tired eyes widened at the sight of two young women, reminders that the past had not completely vanished.

Alyssa Roy of Boscawen, 19, and 21-year-old Ellaine Stott worked their way down the sidewalk, handing out fliers to promote a nearby club featuring nearly naked dancers.

They wore low-cut tank tops and bikini bottoms that were too small. Asked why, before the fliers had made it obvious, Roy said, “We had to cover ourselves up a little bit. There are police around here watching.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

One of my three favorite times(along with the two Loudon race weekends) to leave the Concord area and venture elsewhere.

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