Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Gypsy Tour continued to visit Laconia nearly every year, with a handful of motorcycle enthusiasts and small-scale promoters organizing races, shows and other events. In 1938, Fritzie Baer was instrumental in establishing road racing at the recently developed Belknap Recreation Area (now Gunstock). Mr. Baer remained involved in the races over the next three decades, and the rally, now generally referred to as Laconia Motorcycle Weekend, grew in popularity, attracting more and more riders from all over the United States.
After World War II, thousands of former servicemen returned home and became recreational motorcyclists. The number of Laconia attendees regularly increased from year to year as motorcycling increasing in popularity and, with the assistance of movies such as “The Wild Ones” and “Easy Rider,” the “biker” became a counter-cultural icon.
In 1960, the A.M.A. ceased its sanction of the Gypsy Tour, but motorcyclists continued to visit Laconia in ever-increasing numbers. Gradually, the rally became a weeklong event, with many bikers arriving earlier in the week. Local businesses dependent upon tourism became ardent supporters of the rally, as it brought increased mid-week business during the early part of the relatively short tourist season.
The Hill Climb Event at Belknap Recreation Area was discontinued in 1962, and the road race moved to Bryar Motorsport Park (now New Hampshire International Speedway) in Loudon in 1964 and was later for a time renamed the Loudon Classic. Motorcyclists began camping in large numbers along the side of road on Route 106 in the vicinity of the track, and as far north as Belmont. Still, Lakeside Avenue at the Weirs remained the primary gathering place and the rally was generally known as Laconia Motorcycle Week.
During the 1960s, a decade of social unrest and rising mass media influence, clashes between police and bikers occurred at motorcycle rallies around the nation, and Laconia was no exception. The so-called “Riot of ‘65” brought national media attention, and a resulting bad reputation, to the Laconia rally. Confrontations between motorcyclists and the police became commonplace, and the City increasingly came to see Motorcycle Weekend primarily as a law enforcement problem. For several years after the civil unrest of 1965, the number of mid-week events decreased, and the rally consisted of a three-day weekend. In 1975 all camping along State Route 106 was banned and the number of visiting motorcyclists dramatically decreased for a time.
During the 1980s, the numbers of motorcyclists attending Laconia Motorcycle Weekend increased slowly, as tensions gradually eased between bikers and the police. In 1990, local business owners contacted the A.M.A. with an eye toward returning the rally to a week in length as it had been prior to 1965. The following year, local business owners and the Lakeside Sharks motorcycle club formed the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association (later renamed the Laconia Motorcycle Rally & Race Association, now again known by its original name). The Association assumed responsibility for scheduling and coordinating events, publishes a periodical magazine and actively promotes Laconia Bike Week nationwide. In 1992, Laconia once again became an A.M.A. sanctioned event on the revived Gypsy Tour, and in 1993, the Hill Climbs returned to Gunstock (formerly known as the Belknap Recreation Area).
The City of Laconia enacted a comprehensive licensing ordinance in 1999 (Chapter 161) to regulate itinerant vendors and special events, devoting a subsection to Motorcycle Week. In 2000, the council generally amended the licensing ordinance and defined Motorcycle Week as a nine-day period ending at midnight on Father’s Day. (Chap. 161-11-A). Applicants must submit written forms and fees, and their application is reviewed by the Motorcycle Week Technical Review Committee. Property owners who wish to rent sites to vendors or otherwise engage in commercial activity must submit a site plan for review. The City Council further regulates the event by issuance of special parking and traffic orders, and appropriates the necessary funds for City departments that have Motorcycle Week-related expenses.
Laconia Motorcycle Week currently runs from the second Friday in June through Father’s Day. Most activity, and the greatest crowds, usually occurs during the last four days. Estimates vary, but the number of visitors to the State during that period each year is usually set at between 100,000 and 400,000.