Largest rally for touring motorcycles marks 25th anniversary

LAKE GEORGE, N.Y. -- Sitting on the second floor of his
command center far from the crowd, Bill Dutcher answered his
ever-ringing phone and quickly solved another logistical problem in
his inimitable, fast-talking way.

"I stay the hell out of the way," Dutcher said. "It's a funny
deal, it really is. I'm just old Bill. I'm the same guy I've been
all my life, but this week I'm a celebrity. It's a unique
experience, and I get this experience for one week every year."

That week started Monday when Americade, the motorcycle rally
Dutcher brought to this idyllic lake setting, began its silver
anniversary run.

"It doesn't seem like 25 years," Dutcher said. "I can still
remember the anxiety of trying to get the first year off the
ground. I never expected it to grow like this. I thought it would
be a fun, little hobby, a little supplement to my job."

Now, it's his only job, has been for years. What began as a
small affair that attracted fewer than 3,000 people to the Lake
George region in upstate New York has morphed into the world's
largest rally for touring motorcycles.

Upward of 60,000 motorcycle enthusiasts -- most on two wheels but
many now on three -- will ride into town this week and transform
this village of fewer than 1,000 full-time residents into a
motorcycle heaven.

"You drive into town and your mouth will drop," Dutcher said.
"I've often thought that even if we didn't promote at all and just
sort of said, 'Hey, it's open again,' we'd probably do just fine."

The rally, which once filled the economic void between Memorial
Day and the Fourth of July, is now the mainstay of the whole year.
Past estimates of Americade's economic impact have been pegged at
anywhere from $20 million to $40 million, though Dutcher hopes to
get a more accurate figure this year from research to be conducted
by the Technical Assistance Center at Plattsburgh State University.

"It is our largest single week economically," longtime Lake
George Mayor Robert M. Blais said. "It takes up every road and
byway. People have come to accept it."

And to think it was the brainchild of a guy with a degree in
psychology from Harvard.

Dutcher fell in love with motorcycles after being frightened at
age 8 by his father.

"My dad gassed an Indian real fast, and I slipped off the back
and was holding onto his belt and screaming like hell," Dutcher
said. "Once I got over that, motorcycles became my whole life."

Dutcher worked for Spanish motorcycle manufacturer Bultaco for a
decade, racing bikes and traveling around the country to
demonstrate them at tracks. Then, in 1975, he took a job with AMF
Motorcycle Group, which at the time owned Harley-Davidson.

During his six years there, one of his duties was to attend a
rally called Aspencade in Ruidoso, N.M. The experience left a
lasting impression.

After senior executives at Harley-Davidson purchased the company
from AMF in 1981, Dutcher moved to Lake George so his kids could
spend more time with their grandparents. He took a job as a
marketing services manager with a valve company in nearby Glens

That's when the idea for a rally struck. The area, on the
southern fringe of vast Adirondack Park, had just what he needed:
motels, great roads, and a substantial population center in the
nearby state capital of Albany. Plus, there had never been anything
like it.

Blais was in office when Dutcher originally came to the village
board with his idea. The moment remains etched in his mind.

"I thought it was a great idea," Blais said. "I understood
fully it was the touring folks that would be coming, but when I
brought it to the attention of the village board, they were
apprehensive. They didn't want another Sturgis. They were concerned
it was going to be loud, troublesome, boisterous."

It wasn't. Americade is about as peaceful as a motorcycle rally
can be. And it certainly is no Sturgis, the massive South Dakota
rally where 11 of the 300,000 people who showed up at the ride's
50th anniversary in 1990 died. Dutcher said he is aware of only one
death among the hundreds of thousands of bikers who have registered
for Americade over the years.

Here, it doesn't matter if they come on Harleys, Hondas,
Yamahas, Kawasakis, Suzukis, BMWs or a trike, the three-wheeled
vehicle that's booming in popularity. The Americade crowd gathers
for one reason -- they love to ride. They also come to buy gear,
take demo rides (a record 14 manufacturers are offering rides on
their new models this year), attend safe-riding seminars, and enjoy
the scenery on the several guided tours offered.

People like George Brown, who once rode 3,842 miles from his
Alaska home. Or Borden Fawcett, who one year came solo aboard his
Honda Gold Wing, riding 3,441 miles from British Columbia at age

"We're the mild ones, not the wild ones," said Dutcher, who
celebrated his 65th birthday last summer by riding through the
Patagonia region of South America. "We attract people for whom
motorcycles are not a form of rebellion."