Published Date Written by Tom EastmanOrganizers hope to lure more motorcyclists to boost local tourism during Laconia Bike Week
CONWAY — The Rally in the Valley turns five years old this week, and say organizers, it keeps building the motorcycle visitor market in Mount Washington Valley.
Presented this year by the newly-formed Valley Riders, a 28-member club headed by president Ed Tolland of Intervale, the week of motorcycle events is set for June 9-16, purposely during the same week that the larger and better known Laconia Bike Week takes place in nearby Laconia.
Gov. John Lynch welcomed bikers and praised organizers of that event at a pre-Bike Week press conference held in Laconia Thursday. Lynch urged for a safe week, He was presented the event's Fritzie Baer Award in recognition of his contributions to and support of Laconia Bike Week over the past eight years.
The Laconia Bike Week is expected to draw 270,000 to 340,000 people during the length of the event.
The Rally in the Valley serves as an alternative spot for bikers for lodging and dining for those headed to Laconia. Events are based out of Hillbilly's Southern Barbecue, the rally's headquarters.
By purchasing a $5 wristband, patrons gain admission to nightly music and events at Hillbilly's, as well as discounts on local lodging, dining and shopping at participating venues.
Money raised supports the club's scholarships, which go to students pursuing vocational trades.
Shoulder season event
Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, says the Rally in the Valley market is a good one for the region, especially during slower season. She also said the business continues all riding season long.
“We're not trying to take away from Laconia or become that. We just realize there is a large market there during that eight-day period, and it's slower season for us. The only way to build slow season is to go after niches. We see it with shopping,” said Crawford.
The rally is not a chamber event, but the chamber did provide event support in its first two years to help launch it.
“It was never a chamber event — we offered event support to the Harley-Davidson group that was putting it on,” said Crawford.
Tolland said when Laconia-Harley and the local H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) chapter last fall said they would continue to support the event but no longer wanted to be in charge of running it, the Valley Riders club was established — primarily to help organize the rally.
“In October,” said Tolland, “the manager of Laconia Harley and the regional director of H.O.G. came to our monthly meeting and told us that we could not do the Rally in the Valley any longer. The reason they gave us was, 'It was too much work and we should be riding and having fun.' They agreed it was a great cause and Laconia Harley gave us a good donation this year (more than last year). We still wanted to have the Rally in the Valley, so we met and decided to start the Valley Riders.”
In addition to Tolland, officers include Dick Glines, vice president; Tom Shaw, treasurer; Gail Blake, secretary, and Jim Tuttle, scholarship committee chair.
Tolland said in the event's first year, the event sold 100 wristbands, then 300. It rose to 700 its third year, then 800 last year.
“We're hoping for 1,000 to 1,200 wristband sales this year,” said Tolland. “I mean, for $5, if you get one lunch at the Red Parka or somewhere, it pays for itself. You get a discount at 50 places in the valley. And it all goes to our scholarship. We'll be awarding four $2,000 scholarships to Kennett students next week.”
He said with good weather, it should make for a good week.
“I have been told by Linda Stewart of White Mountain Harley-Davidson that during the year she has many customers come in and tell her that they came for the Rally in the Valley, and have returned and brought friends with them,” said Tolland. “We have seen the event's wristband sales increase every year. From a personal observation there are definitely more bikes in town than ever before. I have heard the lodging properties are filling up for the rally and I also met with them at a chamber meeting and they say they have had a lot more bikers renting rooms.”
The event in its first two years was based at the parking lot of the White Mountain Plaza, former home to L.L. Bean.
It was then moved to Hillbilly's.
Owner Frank Welch says Hillbilly's has the ability to host events indoors — and he's more than pleased to have the business.
“It's been awesome. They're a great group of people,” said Welch, a man who loves to ride but who does not currently own a motorcycle. “They're mostly professional people who own their own businesses who like to ride — they are not biker gangs. That's an old stereotype. They're not a rough crowd at all. 'Biker' is sort of a scary word to older people, but the new crowd knows it's not like that.”
His comments were echoed by Dick Delaney, one of the owners of Delaney's Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurant and president of the Valley Originals.
“I love Bike Week [in Laconia] itself,” said Delaney. “More and more people are staying here, and going down to Laconia for day trips and riding here. We certainly have more beds, more restaurants and more bars than they do, and they are figuring it out and coming our way.”
As for the Rally in the Valley, Delaney believes it is a good way to send the message that this is a biker-friendly area.
“Rally in the Valley brings even more attention to our area for the motorcycle community and, in my mind, it can only bring more people to town. It's why I support it,” says Delaney.
Because motorcyclists generally don't like to be out there riding at night, Delaney and Cindy Schwartz of the Red Parka Pub said they see a lot of business for late afternoon.
Delaney adds that his restaurant benefits later on as well, however, because many riders stay across the street at Eastern Inns and just make the easy walk over to his establishment for dinner.
Judy Kennedy of Whitehorse Press and Whitehorse Gear says the economic impact of Ride in the Valley and of motorcycles in general to the local economy is big, and has been growing.
“It's very clear that the [Mount Washington Valley] chamber and their lodging clients are increasingly targeting motorcyclists, not just during Laconia Bike Week but all during the good riding weather which this year started way back in March and hopefully will continue right up until Thanksgiving time,” said Kennedy, who runs Whitehorse Press and Whitehorse Gear on East Conway Road with her husband, Dan.
They publish a catalog of motorcycle items, along with several motorcycle publications.
She said evidence of the growing motorcycle market can be seen on the MWV Chamber of Commerce's website, as well as the interest the lodging community has in "partnering" with Whitehorse.
Shop general manager Rita Roy said Whitehorse's recent open house was attended by approximately 800, which is up from past years.
“Both the Valley Riders and Whitehorse offer tips on local rides where we offer a selection of good local roads to ride, places to stay, food to eat, and things to see and do,” said Kennedy. “We do just that with fliers for walk-in customers as well as on our own website [www.whitehorsepress.com].”
Michael Kline, co-owner of three shops in North Conway Village, believes events like Rally in the Valley are all positive.
“Rally in the Valley has done a great job of putting the message out there that our community wants and values visitors and that the valley offers an excellent experience for them. Our scenic drives add an extra attraction for riders that mini-vans just don't get to enjoy as much,” said Kline, a marketing business lecturer, and co-owner of the Funky Bubble, Soyfire Candle and the Framed Art Superstore.
Body lotions, candles and framed art? None of those shops generally would be expected to attract bikers, at least not in the old “Wild One” and “Easy Rider” era — but then, one never knows just what to expect in these days of $20,000 to $40,000 bikes, $2,000 to $3,000 in riding gear and doctors and lawyers riding motorcycles.
Who knows? Perhaps the new biker theme song ought to be changed to, “Born To Be Mild.” Live to ride, ride to live.
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Hillbilly's serves as HQ
Serving as the headquarters for the Rally in the Valley, June 9-16, is Hillbilly's Southern Barbecue, located on Route 16 in North Conway.
Riders and non-riders alike may purchase wristbands, which offer admission to all events, as well as discounts at 50 participating shopping, dining and lodging establishments throughout the valley.
Wristbands may be purchased for $5 at Hillbilly's.
Highlights of the week include the Mount Washington Auto Road's Motorcycles Only Day June 11, and the Auto Road's annual “Ride to the Sky” June 14. Poker runs, pig roasts, tatoo contests, nightly entertainment and more will be featured, all at Hillbilly's.
The event is just a short ride away from Laconia Motorcycle Week (www.laconiamcweek.com), set for June 9-17.
The Rally in the Valley events include:
Saturday, June 9: Rally kick off party at Hillbilly's in North Conway. Pig Roast 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Belly Dancers 7 p.m., live entertainment, 8:30 - 11:30 p.m.
Sunday, June 10: Guided scenic ride leaves Hillbilly's in North Conway at 10 a.m. Live entertainment 8 to 11 p.m. Tattoo contest 9 p.m. (cash prizes)
Monday, June 11: Guided scenic ride leaves Hillbilly's in North Conway at 10 a.m. Live entertainment 8 to 11 p.m.
Tuesday, June 12: Guided scenic ride leaves Hillbilly's in North Conway at 10 a.m. Live entertainment 8 to 11 p.m.
Wednesday, June 13: Poker run. Sign up at Hillbilly's in North Conway 9:30 to 11 a.m. Lunch 12:30 - 2:30 p.m. Live entertainment 1 to 4 p.m. Cash prizes for best and worst hand awarded at 2:30 p.m. Live entertainment 8 to 11 p.m.
Thursday. June 14: Guided scenic ride leaves Hillbilly's in North Conway at 10 a.m. Fashion show 6:30 p.m. Live entertainment 8 to 11 p.m.
Friday, June 15: Guided scenic ride leaves Hillbilly's in North Conway at 10 a.m. Ride in bike show at Hillbilly's from 4 to 6 p.m. with $2,000 in cash prizes awarded at 7 p.m. (Rain date Saturday, June 16, same time) Live entertainment 8 to 11 p.m.
Saturday, June 16: Rally wrap-up party at Hillbilly's North Conway. Belly dancers 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Raffles 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Live entertainment 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.