LACONIA — “Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass: It’s about learning to ride in the rain,” reads a poster put out by motorcycle gear and parts supplier Dennis Kirk.
While that may be a great philosophy for how to approach life, those involved with Motorcycle Week will tell you the key for a great event is great weather.
Walk up and down Lakeside Avenue and ask vendors selling everything from deep fried Snickers, to T-shirts, to tattoos, and they will say their fortunes are at the whim of Mother Nature.
“So far, so good,” said Justin Antenucci, who manages one of the four Patchshop booths in Weirs Beach. “If the weather holds up we do pretty well.”
The 96th Motorcycle Week got off to a good start last weekend, with sunny skies both days. And the crowds were there. Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield said the crowds were bigger than in recent years.
“You really need to keep the comparisons within the past 10 years,” said Jennifer Anderson, deputy director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association.
As motorcycle rallies have sprung up in the last 20 years around the country, the turnout at individual rallies has declined. And Laconia is no exception.
But Anderson said there are signs that bode well for this year’s event.
A big reason for her optimism is that hotel/motel bookings are up this year over last, a factor that was confirmed by Karmen Gifford, president of the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.
As the demographic of Motorcycle Week has been changing, so have the habits of attendees, Anderson explained.
“The people don’t stay out as late at night,” she said. “They like to have a good time where they are staying.”
But during the daytime, Lakeside Avenue along the Weirs Boardwalk continues to be the big draw.
During Bike Week, when the street is limited to motorcycles only, bikes are parked along the curbs on both sides, as well as specially created spaces in the center of the thoroughfare.
Overlooking the street and Lake Winnipesaukee are dozens of vendor booths. On Wednesday with the sun shining, and temperatures in the 70s, there was a steady stream of motorcyclists walking up and down the street seeing what there was to see.
Mustafa Sarac stood in the Biker Clothing Co. tent as customers browsed among the selection of T-shirts, women’s tops, leatherwear and motorcycle helmets. Asked how business was doing, he replied, “I can’t tell until Friday, but so far, so good.” This was Sarac’s 18th year coming to Bike Week. “Always at this same spot,” he said, referring to his location with a commanding view of the lake.
A ways down the street, Antenucci explained just how crucial good weather is to the vendors and other businesses who rely on Bike Week.
“A great last weekend can make up for six or seven rainy days earlier in the week,” he explained.
The forecast was for partly sunny weather on Saturday and a chance of showers on Sunday.
But Gifford stressed the economic impact of Bike Week has been spreading out.
“I saw bikers on the Cog Railway, I’ve seen a ton of bikers in Twin Mountain,” said Gifford, who had just left a Chamber of Commerce conference in Whitefield in the White Mountains. “They’re visiting our state and taking in our attractions.”
Not everyone who sets up shops in Weirs Beach during Bike Week is there to make money, however,
Jim Christie was one of three people manning the Veterans Affairs booth on the corner of Lakeside Avenue and New Hampshire Avenue.
“We go where the vets are,” said Christie, who is a VA outreach specialist for New Hampshire and Maine. The purpose of the booth, now in its six year, is to inform veterans about what VA benefits they might qualify for. “There are so many vets who don’t know about their benefits or who are misinformed.” He said they expected to sign up 80 to 100 veterans during the week.
Manning another small booth were three members of the Laconia Rotary Club, selling raffle tickets for a new motorcycle, the club’s annual fundraiser. As of Wednesday they had sold about half of the 3,000 tickets they hope to sell by 4 p.m. Sunday, when the drawing for the winning ticket is scheduled to take place.