LACONIA, N.H. – Bikers pressed close around the dance floor while three women pranced, groped and jiggled to a soundtrack of disposable cameras clicking and whining.

The dancers’ clothes, if all stitched together, wouldn’t have made half a beach towel.

Jim Shippee sat ringside with his girlfriend, Yvette Forrett, drinking beer.

Forrett mouthed a few “oh, my gods” as one lithe blonde dropped to the floor and flung her legs into a wide, revealing split.

That sort of showmanship didn’t secure the title.

A slightly more modest twenty-something – she wore a denim skirt just larger than a loaf of bread over her thong – won the hot legs contest at Weirs Beach Smokehouse by audience applause.

“It’s better than a Tuesday afternoon in the office,” Shippee said wryly. He’d driven his Honda CB900F from Vermont.

It was outside, getting wet. He wasn’t.

Up next: the tattoo contest. The couple stayed put.

Thousands of people turned out for this years’ 82nd annual Laconia Motorcycle Week, and for most of the week many ducked for cover as the skies opened up, holing up in shops, under awnings and at varied indoor events. The week started last Saturday and wraps up today.

Regulars were used to the weather, which, after the first humid weekend, offered little variation.

Very rainy. Slightly rainy. Overcast and moist.

“Everybody wanders around, ‘It’s going to burn off, it’s going to burn off.’ That’s like the chant. They should make T-shirts,” said Shippee, who’s been to bike week every year since 1982. It’s a nine-day excuse to let loose, admire fine bikes, scour temporary specialty shops and party.

Organizers anticipated half-a-million people, after hitting 400,000 in 2004. Pins on a map under the headquarters’ tent hinted at the mix of far-flung travelers:

Bermuda, Kuwait, Rome, Baghdad, New Zealand, Norway, Venezuela, Cuba, Alaska.

Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were covered with red, blue and yellow pins.

Two men from San Francisco appeared to have driven the farthest.

Even in the rain, hundreds of glossy motorcycles filled both sides of Lakeside Avenue and parked in two rows down the middle. Vendors lined the busy strip fronted by the iconic red “Weirs Beach” sign.

They offered chaps, helmets, night riding glasses, custom ear plugs, and several bragged “All leather jackets $99.95.”

Maybe it was the weather, or maybe it was the middle age of most bikers, but Harley-Davidson gray-and-orange waterproof track suits nearly outnumbered Harley leathers on bikers’ backs.

Every year, tattoo artists Mike and Mary Skiver rent the second floor of a seafoam-colored bed and breakfast on the main strip, clear all the rooms of beds and turn it into a tattoo parlor.

Mary Skiver said she cautions against entirely spontaneous tattoos. “What do you have for $50?” is a typical opening line from someone who hasn’t thought it through.

“We close at 11, it gets drunk out,” she added. “We pride ourselves on, ‘You’re not going to wake up tomorrow and wonder, where did I get this?'”

Drunks make bad decisions. Plus, they move too much and, “I have no eraser.”

Chuck Stringham, a staid-looking human resources manager from Pennsylvania, had a freshly tattooed shoulder and was returning with a friend. He waited while she picked out a design.

“The kids are out of the house now. You can do what the hell you want,” he said.

Terry McLeod and Sharon Gladwin from Nova Scotia parked themselves under a pizza shop awning and nursed coffees, admiring the few bikes that drove by. The trip had taken 15 hours by bike, with an overnight stop in Bangor.

Gladwin brought a video camera with her and planned to tape everything: “Our family and friends all drive bikes. They’re very envious they didn’t come.”

Nights there, she said, turned into unofficial parades, with bikers circling the long block and people sitting on porches to watch.

Shippee likes asking people at bike week where they’re from and what they do.

“It seems like you run into a lot of dentists,” he said. He manages real estate for a bank.

This was Forrett’s third year. In the bar, she was a good sport about the hot legs, voting for the winner. Last year, she watched a two-girl bikini contest.

Forrett said she loves – in clear weather – looking at different bikes’ detail and paint. Some had ornate flames, some simple black and chrome.

“Every corner you turn, there’s something different – I think that’s part of the attraction, too,” she said.

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