Forever Young: Laconia Motorcycle Weeks Turns 100
The Lakes Region's beloved bikefest becomes a centenarian this year, but still brings out the kid in bikers of all ages
Motorcycle Week in Laconia has evolved over the past century, growing a bit mellower as the average age of participants has increased along with demands for creature comforts and family-friendly entertainment.
This year a lot of the guests at Motorcycle Week will be contemplating the past as the event embraces its status as a centenarian. But some things are fundamental. This 100th year’s event will still offer thousands of guests a chance to contemplate the crazy world from a seat atop a huge metal machine that roars to life at the touch of the starter, and roams effortlessly on New Hampshire pitched and rolling backroads in search of scenery and camaraderie.
Regarding the past, Charlie St. Clair has a lot of it to contemplate. He’s been executive director of the organization since 1991. He says his first Motorcycle Week memory dates back to the 1950s when the annual parade passed just a couple of blocks from his house. Bikers who might have traveled from hundreds of miles to get there early would wind up congregating in the downtown area.
“The night before the parade, a number of motorcyclists would end up crashing on our front yard,” recalls St. Clair. “My mother would look out to see how many were there and would end up making coffee for them all — which they greatly appreciated.”
St. Clair recalls the bikers were so tidy that no one would have known they were there once they left. He also remembers his older brother taking him to the races. “You could taste the excitement as you stood trackside,” he says.
But not all his memories are so fond. He recalls a Motorcycle Week bike wash hosted by his Boy Scouts troop in 1961. “Trying to speed up the wash, I used an SOS pad to help get the bugs off a windshield,” says St. Clair. “Not the right thing to do, but the rider was very understanding. I think.”
At 13, St. Clair would sometimes stand on Union Avenue and hitchhike, hoping for a ride on one of the big motorcycles to the Weirs. “Always a thrill when it happened,” he recalls. Now he says one of his biggest pleasures is reuniting with friends from around the country that he only sees during Motorcycle Week. “That, and watching so many visitors have a wonderful time in Laconia and around the state,” he adds.
St. Clair’s partner, Deputy Director Jennifer Anderson, has her own favorite memories.
“Years ago, probably 1999 or the early 2000s, Charlie and I were leading a tour and it was a rain-or-shine event. Right before we were about to leave, the skies opened up,” she recalls. Anderson hadn’t brought rain gear. “I ended up duct-taping garbage bags around my entire body! I still have people come up to me during the rally and laugh about watching me do that.”
She’s witnessed many of the changes that have taken place in the rally over the years. “People who attended in the heydays throughout the 1990s were in their prime, probably between their 20s and 30s. Those same people still come, but they are now almost 30 years older,” she says. “I think people are now more engaged in actually riding and discovering new roads and places to stop.” So is the image of rowdy partying all a thing of the past? “People still like to party,” she says. “but I think it’s less of a priority.”
So a lot has changed and a lot remains the same, but what does she hope never changes? “People’s admiration of the legacy of this rally and the commitment to its sustainability,” says Anderson. “Residents and visitors alike have treated Laconia Motorcycle Week with the same respect and adoration as their own homes and I hope that never changes.”
For more information on schedules and events at this year’s Motorcycle Week, visit laconiamcweek.com.
Top 10 Must-do Events for Motorcycle Week 2023
When asked for a top 10 list of things people should seek out, Anderson says, “It’s one of the hardest questions because we love all elements of the rally, so picking a few is tough.” Still, when pressured, Anderson came up with her own short list which we share with our readers:
1. First of all, RIDE! It is easy to get caught up in the normal routes (around the lake, the Kanc or up to the White Mountains) and those rides certainly don’t disappoint. New Hampshire has so many other amazing features and quintessential towns and I think those tend to be best-kept secrets. Ride the western routes through towns like Newport and Keene, or the southern White Mountains through Plymouth, Campton and Waterville Valley.
2. Book a cruise on the M/S Mount Washington (it cruises only on Tuesday of the rally). Seeing the waterfront of Lake Winnipesaukee is unmatched and can’t be fully appreciated from the road-side.
3. Take a chairlift ride to the top of a mountain, like Gunstock. The views are incredible and its something totally different from most “rally experiences.” While you’re there, take a ride on the mountain coaster or zip line at tree level. It’s a different kind of exhilaration.
4. Check out any of the races at NH Motor Speedway. The races are unbelievable: vintage races, superbike and sidecar. The sights and sounds of the live action are intense and far too underrated. NHMS knows how to host big events; they have everything on-site to keep you engaged and entertained.
5. The Hill Climbs. A vintage expo with bikes as old as 1916 (or older) race for time up Tower Street right in Weirs Beach on Tuesday and you can stand right at the action. Gunstock hosts the amateur and pro hill climb on Wednesday and it’s a favorite event for the locals and visitors.
6. Join any of the guided rides. People love the Peter Makris Memorial Ride on the first Saturday because it is fully guided by the NH State Police and, once you leave, your feet don’t touch the ground until you return back to the NASWA Resort (where the ride begins).
7. In Wolfeboro, the Wright Museum of World War II is a must see!
8. Castle in the Clouds is always a great stop too, and many people don’t even realize it’s there.
9. I would also recommend riding to the Flume to check out the beautiful waterfalls.
10. Another little gem is the TwinDesigns Gift Shop in Bristol, where people can visit Diane the Turtle. The store is owned by twin brothers, who have co-authored and illustrated their own books.