The Hippo


Apr 18, 2019








Off to a good start

Motorcycle Week kicked off in Laconia on June 13 with a sunny weekend and no major problems. And organizer Jennifer Anderson says that bodes well for turnout for the rest of the week as people post pictures of the event on social media. Anderson is predicting the number of visitors to reach about 300,000 this year. Record turnout for the event was in 2004 when there were more than 400,000. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, so organizers are keeping their turnout estimates conservative, assuming that some bikers who can only attend one motorcycle event this year may choose that one over Laconia’s. 
Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams says other than a handful of alcohol-related arrests, it’s been fairly quiet. The chief counted two DWIs, five public intoxication cases, one disturbance, one stolen motorcycle and a vehicle accident over the first weekend. Other than that, the event has seen no major problems.

Less rowdy crowd
Aging biker population could be making Bike Week safer

By Ryan Lessard

Over the past two decades, the crowd at Bike Week has gotten older. It’s likely gotten richer. And the event — officially known as Laconia Motorcycle Week — has gotten safer. Officials say new rules and regulations, from a ban on camping out on the side of the road to prohibiting non-motorcycle vehicles from certain areas, have played a part in both the increased safety and the change in demographics.

Who bikes?
A 2012 study conducted to gauge the economic impact of Motorcycle Week and efforts by the state to market the event shed light on the demographics of the event. Of the roughly 3,500 attendees surveyed, 44.6 percent were between the ages of 36 and 50, while another 47.1 percent were older than 50. That’s a total of nearly 92 percent older than 36.  And most of them — 76.8 percent — were men.
“The image is that the motorcycle community is getting older,” said Charlie St. Clair, the longtime executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association.
While the average biker is an older male, the clubs that participate in Bike Week are diverse. Some are extensions of charity organizations and social clubs like the Elks Lodge, the Rotary Club or the Freemasons. Some are outlaw biker gangs like Hell’s Angels.
“I don’t refer to any of them as gangs, but other people do,” St. Clair said.
Laconia Police Chief Chris Adams says he tries to keep the peace with those groups by maintaining a working relationship with them. Still, Adams said, it helps that rivals to the Hell’s Angels typically don’t come to Motorcycle Week wearing full colors.
“Anybody who has motorcycling in their blood is welcome here,” St. Clair said.
Why the change?
Police and event organizers like St. Clair might disagree on what led to some of the riots of the mid to late 20th century, but they both agree times are changing.
“We have rules ... and for the most part, people abide by them,” St. Clair said.
But it wasn’t always like that. Captain William Clary of the Laconia police department said as recently as 20 years ago, disorderly conduct, public drinking and a high arrest rate were commonplace.
“In the late ’90s, we had several issues,” Clary said.
Clary credits city and state regulations for resolving some of those issues, like traffic and public drinking, but zoning rules might have played the biggest part.
“People would just pop a tent on the side of the road,” Clary said. “Over the years, that’s one of the reasons why this used to be a relatively inexpensive week.”
Now, if bikers want to stay for the festivities, they must pay for lodging, because it’s illegal to camp in areas not specifically designated for that purpose. That may have outpriced a younger crowd.
“The demographics have changed. Part of that is because of the economy,” Clary said. “It’s not a cheap vacation.”
St. Clair said the hobby itself isn’t cheap.
“It’s an expensive passion, so someone who is 19 years old ... [isn’t] likely to be able to take a week off from work,” St. Clair said. 
The 2012 study confirms this. It also looked at income. The majority of survey respondents reported incomes higher than $50,000. In the income range of $51,000 to $75,000, attendees counted 27.6 percent, while 48 percent of respondents received more than $75,000 in annual income.
Even changes as simple as traffic management have made it harder for younger people to participate.
“Lakeside Avenue is only open to motorcycles the whole week,” Clary said. “Once we removed the younger teenagers and 20[-somethings] arriving in pickup trucks, we’ve seen a decline [in arrests]. ... We still issue a few tickets for drinking in public, but those aren’t at the numbers they used to be.”
Clary said the city used to tow 100 to 150 vehicles over a weekend. That’s down to about 10 to 15. 
As seen in the June 18, 2015 issue of the Hippo.

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