LACONIA — When the city's Special Events/Licensing Board invited comment on the 92nd running of Motorcycle Week yesterday several speakers said that the intimidating presence of state police, dearth of popular activities and spare mix of vendors have diminished attendance at the rally.
Michelle Watson, who owns and operates the Looney Bin restaurant and bar, said that she made a list of "complaints" she heard from her patrons, which included "there are too many cops," "not enough to do," and "too many T-shirt vendors." One person told her, "it's not meant to be a family event. There are 51 other weeks for that." She conceded that her business did well during the rally, but added "it was not what it should be" and, echoing her customer, remarked "after 10 o'clock the streets rolled up and it got quieter."
Stanley White complained of "muffler stops, high (handle) bar stops and taillight stops" by the state police and asked what they were charged with doing during the rally. "Something has to be done before we lose it," he warned, "and we're on the way to losing it."
White was echoed by Jay Lewis, a persistent critic of the rally, who said "we no longer have Bike Week up here. There are cops at every bar," he continued. Bikers are not bums. You people are running people off."
Bob Wilson of the Laconia Roadhouse at Faro's Italian Grille, said that the property owners who rent space to vendors should seek more diversity and make better use of their property.
Craig Finnerty of CFO Cycles, a service shop in Meredith, questioned the prohibition of so-called "burnt out pits," where bikers spin their rear wheels raising billows of smoke and making lots of noise. He described the rally as "tame," claiming that attendance is largely confined to the New England states and eastern Canada. "The stigma of the whole event is really poor."
Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, said he has heard that the rally "is not what it used to be." The mission of the association, he explained, has always been to make Motorcycle Week a statewide event" and "to get as many people here as we can is our job."
"The competition is fierce," St. Clair stressed, noting that there are some 650 motorcycle events, including many major rallies, across the country each year. He acknowledged there are fewer "motorcycle events" at the rally, particularly since Gunstock Mountain Resort ceased hosting the Wednesday hill climb competition. He also noted that both the other major rallies — Sturgis in South Dakota and Daytona in Florida — offered more entertainment venues. And he shared misgivings about the conduct of the state police, suggesting they would be more effectively deployed patrolling those roads where accidents are most likely to occur than at The Weirs rather than writing easy-picking tickets in congested areas.
Jennifer Anderson, director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, stressed that the association serves as the marketing arm and information center of the rally. "We do not own any property," she said. "We have no authority over anything. To get people to come to New Hampshire, to the Lakes Region for the rally," she continued, "that is our job." She said that the association is "only as strong as the people supporting us. Our hands are tied, especially when it comes to the things most people complain about.'