‘Starting off a new century’: Laconia Bike Week motors into 101st year

Winnisquam Country Store & Deli in Tilton is stocking up for the arrival of Bike Week and thousands of motorcyclists.

Winnisquam Country Store & Deli in Tilton is stocking up for the arrival of Bike Week and thousands of motorcyclists. By Sophie Levenson—Monitor staff


 Monitor staff

Published: 06-06-2024 4:36 PM

Modified: 06-06-2024 5:04 PM

“First in the nation” is a meaningful phrase in New Hampshire. For the leather-clad owners of Harley Davidsons, the Granite State makes its mark as the first-ever host of a motorcycle rally in the United States.

For the last 101 years, Laconia has played host to Motorcycle Week, a nine-day bonanza that will kick off Saturday with the 101st-annual Loudon Classic at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Excitement around “Bike Week” thunders as it approaches — not only from motorcycle fanatics, but also from Laconian business owners.

Craig Weisman, one of the owners of Winnisquam Country Store & Deli in Tilton, happens to be both of those things. His red-brick and log establishment, which boasts the “best sandwiches in the Lakes Region,” sits on the side of Laconia Road with a black Budweiser sign welcoming bikers to the store. Twelve miles from Weirs Beach, where the rally is headquartered, Weisman provides all the essentials: Sandwiches, coffee, ice cream and beer.

According to Jennifer Anderson, deputy director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, Bike Week is the “boom” that kicks off the Laconia summer economy before summer really gets going. School’s not out yet, but bikers are.

This year looks to be just as successful as the past, save for last year’s centennial celebration, which drew in more than 400,000 people. With less excitement than that warranted by a 100-year anniversary, Anderson estimates 300,000 participants for Bike Week 2024.

“We’re starting off a new century,” Anderson told The Monitor. “We’re the first ones to go into a second century of riding.”

Though the demographic of American motorcyclists has certainly changed in the last century — and especially in the last decade — they have not gone away. Motorcyclists are a diverse tribe, and increasingly so, but they love to come together. “Bikers are great people,” Weisman said. “They’re super caring … They’re just really nice people.”

In the more-than-20 years that she has worked for LMWA, Anderson has seen the old generation of bikers — she called them the “Dads … the traditional middle-aged guy who rode a Harley and polished all the chrome and then went to his nine-to-five job during the week” — change, replaced by their own children and grandchildren. She has watched it become “normal” for women to be bikers, and she has seen a recent influx of 20-somethings join the scene, too.

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“There’s definitely been a trend in the last decade or so where we’ve seen the next generation of riders really coming up,” she said.

There’s no way to know specific numbers or demographics, however, because Laconia Bike Week is not a ticketed event. So how does LMWA pay for it all?

Mostly, it’s corporate sponsorships, but the association also reaps the benefits of being a state nonprofit. Because Bike Week does so much for state tourism, New Hampshire meets its needs with a Join Promotional Program grant, which reimburses 50% of its expenditures on marketing.

“We’re not a charitable organization, but we’re not here to make money,” Anderson said. “Our mission is to promote the rally and to get people to come to New Hampshire.”

They have done well with that mission. According to Anderson, New Hampshire earns about $100 million a year from Bike Week, much of which comes from state lodging and service tax charges. Visitors stay all over the state, finding lodging wherever they can.

“We get people from every state in the Union,” Anderson said. Last year, Bike Week even drew in 25 bikers from New Zealand.

Winnisquam Country Store will be popping with business all week. They’re stocking up and staying open, for sure. Weisman’s hoping to sell a lot of Bliss Creamery ice cream. But when he isn’t busy running his store, he and his wife Cindy will coast down to Weirs on his Harley Davidson Road King and watch what he calls “the show” — by which he means Bike Week.

Sophie Levenson can be reached at slevenson@cmonitor.com.