CONCORD, N.H. — Lois Kessin knows it’s Laconia Motorcycle Week when she hears the noise.
“I live a mile and a half from town in a quiet neighborhood and it’s a roar,” said Kessin, who has lived in Laconia for decades and seen the event expand from when it was just a race at Gunstock to the event it is today.
The 100th iteration of Motorcycle Week has brought thousands of motorcyclists to the city. The Laconia rally is among the biggest events of its kind, with event organizers expecting around 350,000 or more attendees.
And while the tradition is an economic boon for the region, it comes with some headaches for local residents, like increased traffic, noise, accidents, and even fatalities associated with the event. Some residents described weathering the event as they would a blizzard — hunkering down at home for the week or even leaving town altogether to avoid the hullabaloo.
Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield said over the weekend alone, the city has already seen around 20 accidents associated with the event, including two that resulted in serious injuries.
A crash on Weirs Boulevard involved a single motorcycle and resulted in a head injury. The driver was not wearing a helmet and had to be flown to Dartmouth, where he was in critical condition as of Monday, Canfield said. He said the police believe alcohol was involved in the crash and are continuing to investigate.
Alcohol-induced accidents are common at the event, according to Canfield, who launched a safety campaign this year that also involves encouraging people to drink responsibly, instructing motorists to check blindspots for motorcycles, and telling motorcyclists to take safety precautions like wearing a helmet, signaling ahead of time, and wearing reflective gear.
“Coming off of last year, we had a significant number of crashes,” Canfield said. “We had two fatal crashes so we wanted to really educate the public to reduce those numbers hopefully this year… Our goal is to end the week with zero fatalities.”
A second serious accident took place on Monday, involving a collision of a motorcycle and a car. The driver of the motorcycle sustained a head injury and was sent to Concord Hospital in Laconia, but Canfield said his condition is stable and he’s expected to recover.
With the second weekend of the event still ahead, Concord Hospital in Laconia has yet to see an uptick in emergency room visits, according to Kevin McCarthy, the vice president of support services.
“We have not seen an additional influx of activity in the ED related to motorcycle week specifically,” he said. “Volume is the same as it would be during traditional summer week here in the Lakes region.”
Canfield said the crowds that gathered during the first weekend of the weeklong event were bigger than in recent years. And residents are taking note.
Kessin is among them.
“We joke and say it’s like being in a blizzard,” she said. “You get prepared for the blizzard and you don’t leave your house.”
Accidents are one deterrent keeping locals at home, according to Kessin. “Yes, there will be deaths up here. I worry about that, but that’s the risk of getting on a motorcycle and people take that risk. That is their choice and God knows I’ve done it.”
Graduation used to be held the same week as bike week, but Kessin said her brother’s class petitioned the high school to graduate two days earlier “so no one died” in the 1960s.
Kessin believes on the whole the event is a good thing for the community, bringing visitors to town who boost the local economy. “I like it as long as I have enough food in my freezer and I don’t have to drive anywhere,” she said.
Marcia Hayward, another Laconia resident, agreed. She’s 73 now but remembers a riot that occurred at Weirs Beach when she was 16. “It was shocking to think there was a riot going on five miles up the street,” she said. “That was a little unsettling to the community. There have been a lot of changes since I was 16.”
She said bikers used to camp on Route 106 and leave a huge mess in their wake. “It was terrible and we’d all get upset because the state of New Hampshire had to pay to clean up that mess,” she said.
But now, she said, residents aren’t that worried about anything bad happening. She feels that security is handled well.
“The locals know it’s bike week and we just stay home,” she said. “It can get very congested and very loud.”
Len Burrell runs a food truck called Beans and Greens selling street tacos and burritos at Weirs. He also has a farmstand in Gilford and said the event provides good exposure for the business, although he believes he has more customers who are locals than bikers who came for the event.
He said the event has been extremely crowded so far. “You can see traffic backed up in both directions,” he said. “Anybody I know locally, they stay totally away from this area.”