LACONIA, N.H. (AP) – Lakes Region businesses predicted a strong turnout as the 81st annual Bike Week got underway this weekend.

Hotels and event promoters said lodging reservations were running stronger for the first weekend this year than for the same time last year.

Bike Week once lasted only for a long weekend, but over the years has morphed into a nine-day event that attracts hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts.

Last year an estimated 350,000 bikers spent about $240 million at the 80th annual Bike Week. Last year’s turnout was estimated at 100,000 higher than 2002.

On Friday, Weirs Beach and parts of Meredith were filled with workers putting up beer tents and vendor booths.

“The worst of this is done,” said Steve Tronolone, of Orlando, Fla., who peered up at the white tent he put up in the parking lot at Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith. He sells silver bells, good luck charm and other jewelry.

Tronolone sells at biker events nationwide and said he considers the Laconia event among the top must-attend rallies in the country, behind Sturgis, in South Dakota in August, and Daytona in the early spring.

State and local police said they were expecting an uneventful rally.

Members of the Hells Angels bike club often attend the event. But state police said intelligence reports related to biker activity around the country did not indicate there would be any problems at the event.

AP-ES-06-12-04 1302EDT

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