'A banner week:' 100th Motorcycle rally draws to a close


A large crowd walks through the Weirs during the final day of the 100th Laconia Motorcycle Week on Sunday. (Jon Decker/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — The 100th chapter of Laconia Motorcycle Week officially entered the history books Sunday. With the end of the milestone rally, organizers and city officials heralded the energy it sparked, the new and repeat attendees it turned out, and excitement that comes with sharing the “City on the Lakes” with visiting motorcycle enthusiasts.

“It was really a banner week,” said Deputy Director Jennifer Anderson. “The positive energy was palpable to me. People were just so excited to be part of the 100th.”

“I thought the crowds were more robust this year than they have been in the last few years,” Mayor Andrew Hosmer told The Daily Sun, adding he was especially impressed by the number of first-time visitors he met during the week.

While pinpointing attendance figures is difficult, the historic nature of this year’s event proved a boon. Many visitors, according to interviews during the week and to organizers, made a point to participate in the historic celebration, or returned after not attending for some time.

Notably, the Peter Makris Memorial Ride on Saturday of the first weekend and the M/S Mount Washington cruise Tuesday broke their attendance records.

“The 100th anniversary generated a lot of goodwill with riders,” said Cynthia Makris, president of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association board of directors and owner of the Naswa Resort on Paugus Bay. “Everyone was really honored to be a part of the 100th anniversary and to see it go forward. They came from all over the country, all over the world.”

A Thursday media event featured a guest from Switzerland, who made a point of traveling to historic anniversaries of American rallies, including Sturgis and Daytona Beach, and made his way to Laconia for the 100th. A hometown pin-map on Lakeside Avenue showed visitors from as far away as Australia, India and the Seychelles Islands.

While larger crowds did increase the number of motor vehicle accidents and arrests from last year, according to Laconia Police Chief Matthew Canfield, there were overall fewer serious incidents. In the city, there were 57 arrests, including two for DUI, during Motorcycle Week, up from about 40 last year, Canfield said. There were 415 motor vehicle stops and 47 crashes, an increase of about 10.

“A few more motor vehicle crashes, a lot less serious motor vehicle crashes,” Canfield said. “Which, given the numbers and the crowds, I'm very pleased with.”

Canfield said police also noted a drop in “exhibitionist riding,” such as burnouts, compared to last year.

There were no crash fatalities officially during Motorcycle Week, but there were three serious crashes, including a hit-and-run early Friday morning that left two pedestrians with serious injuries. Additionally, a motorcyclist died Monday after veering over the centerline and striking an SUV head-on on North Main Street, police said. Photos from the scene show a Connecticut license plate on the motorcycle.

Organizers expressed gratitude to the city for its efforts supporting the event.

“It takes a whole lot — a whole lot of people — and a huge effort on the part, especially, of the city of Laconia,” Makris said.

A growing number of younger riders, whether young adults or the growing second- and third-generation enthusiasts joining their parents, at the event was encouraging, Anderson said.

“I have just seen way more younger riders, like people in their 20s, and that's great,” Anderson said. “That is what we want because that's quite literally the future of the rally. That's what's going to enable us to keep it sustainable.”

Reaching the 100th anniversary is a major landmark for organizers. The first rally was in 1916, but because of breaks taken during World War II, this was not technically the 100th annual event. In addition to the obstacles and attendance dips posed by the coronavirus pandemic, a fire destroyed the association’s headquarters in 2020.

“I'm really proud of this,” Anderson said. She also expressed joy that Executive Director Charlie St. Clair was at the helm for the historic year. St. Clair became the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association’s first-ever director at its inception in the early 1990s, and his lifelong love of motorcycles was inspired by this hometown rally in his youth.

“This has been his lifelong love, like even before he started the job,” she said. “For him to transition into that as a career and to be able to experience the 100th — I'm just really proud for him.”

There is also something bittersweet that comes with the arrival and passing of the 100th year.

“The No. 1 relief is that I lived to be here for this,” St. Clair said. “I know several people who have been waiting for this for years and years and years, and they didn't make it.” He recalled longtime City Councilor Bob Hamel, a lover of motorcycles and the rally, who died June 12. “Bob and I had been talking about this for 10 years. So that’s kind of sad.”

“I’m a little forlorn at the moment,” Anderson said. “It's something that we work toward all year long — and then it's here, and then it's over.” Driving through the Weirs as booths fold up and bikes pull away, she described it as "surreal.”

Nevertheless, preparations for 2024’s 101st rally are already underway — and have been since April, according to St. Clair.

“It's just business as always, I mean, until people say something to me, it's just another Motorcycle Week,” St. Clair said.

For the event, moving forward to the next 100 years also poses an opportunity.

“The challenge with so many legacy events is how do you keep it going? In the future, how do you put it in the best position possible to hand off to the next generation?” Hosmer said. “I think it's in a really good position right now, to the extent that it's got a really strong foundation.”

“You know, some people thought that it would end with 100 and I don't know why,” Makris said. “We plan on continuing being the oldest rally in the world, carrying on the legacy.”

St. Clair hopes the rally is able to expand its offerings throughout the region, to show off what cities across New Hampshire can offer visitors.

“One of the cool things about looking ahead to the future is we get to start off a new century,” Anderson said. “It’s like starting over again with the first.” Still recovering from this week’s events, Anderson admitted, she’s excited to explore exactly what the new chapter could bring.

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