LACONIA - As the country's oldest motorcycle rally kicked off its annual nine-day festivities on Saturday, Norman Kee and his group of pals from Rhode Island kicked back, had a few beers, and watched the constant stream of bikes.
The group said this is the "eighth or ninth" year they have headed from the country's smallest state to come to one of the nation's largest motorcycle rallies.
"The action," is why, said Paul Galvao, who was enjoying a cigar with his brew as the group sat on lawn chairs at the Lake Winnipesaukee Motel on Endicott Street. "We come here to get away."
"Yeah, to get away from our wives," Kee said. "We like to sit, chill out and watch the bikes."
It's part of the fun of a week that heralds the joy of riding on two tires and has come to be a kick-start to Laconia's economic summer.
Laconia's is the nation's oldest motorcycle rally and among the nation's largest. Last year, unofficial estimates showed about 250,000 people visited Laconia at some point during the nine-day event and pumped about $200 million into the economy.
Bike week is "great. Just great," said Birt Brien, owner of the Lake Winnipesaukee Motel, which he said was booked for the entirety of the rally, which ends June 16. "It brings a lot of money to the area."
Thousands had already arrived in Laconia for the first day, though organizers of the rally say mid-week is when it is at its busiest.
On Saturday, traffic on Endicott Street was backed up nearly 2 miles from the Weirs Beach area to the Broken Spoke Saloon, which was packed with bikers.