During the week of May 31-June 4, Americade will celebrate its 40th anniversary. What has long been the world’s largest touring rally started from humble beginnings when founder Bill Dutcher reached a crossroads in his life and asked, “What next?”
A lifelong motorcyclist who began roadracing in the mid-1960s, Bill is a man of irrepressible energy. I’ll never forget meeting him at my first Americade in 2012. I was the featured speaker on a Tuesday night, and the title of my talk was “Lessons Learned from Crashes, Countries, and Cover Stories.” Bill introduced me to the audience, but before I took the stage, he shared a story about the time he wore roadracing leathers under his gown during his Harvard University graduation ceremony. He was scheduled to compete in a race later that day, so after he and his fellow graduates tossed their caps in celebration, Bill sped off to the track. He then regaled the audience about arriving late to the starting grid, riding over his head to catch up, and ultimately crashing out of the race. He was a tough act to follow.
Related: Americade 2021 Rally Report
Bill spent his career in the motorcycle industry, holding marketing positions at Bultaco and Can-Am before becoming the head of public relations at AMF/Harley-Davidson, a position he held until 1981. Ready for a change, Bill and his wife, Gini, decided to start a touring rally near their home in Lake George, New York. Understanding the importance of brand recognition, Bill reached out to Til Thompson, organizer of the Aspencade rally, which had been held since 1971 in Ruidoso, New Mexico, to license the name for an eastern event. That was the easy part.
“In the fall of 1981, I approached Bob Blais, the mayor of Lake George Village,” Bill recalled. “When I pitched him my concept of an ‘Aspencade East,’ he took a deep breath when I said ‘motorcycle rally.’ About a decade earlier, when he was chief of police, he’d dealt with some bloodied bikers who had gotten too rowdy at one of the local bars.” Bill ultimately won the mayor over, and with his backing, the village board approved the proposal.
The first Aspencade East was held in 1983, and the Dutchers expected perhaps 1,000 people – about as many attendees as the rally in New Mexico. “When more than 2,000 people showed up, I was astounded,” Bill said. “We ran out of T-shirts, caps, and everything else.”
Gini added that when the first attendees arrived at the registration room to pick up their tickets, there was a “certain energy about the rally.”
“People were excited by what was about to happen. We knew that they were just as excited about this new Aspencade East as we were.”
Attendance doubled in 1984, doubled again in 1985, and topped 10,000 in 1986. That same year, the Dutchers changed the event’s name to Americade. It had grown well beyond its association with the original Aspencade rally. And the Dutchers didn’t want their event to be too closely associated with one particular motorcycle brand or model since Honda had introduced a luxury-touring version of the Gold Wing called the Aspencade in 1982.
Even though attendance at Americade has exceeded 50,000 many times over the years, it has always been a family affair. “Bill’s original vision of making a family-friendly motorcycling event still powers what we do,” said Christian Dutcher, Bill and Gini’s son, who took over management of Americade several years ago. “We have many riders who attend other rallies, and they tell me that they love Americade because it continues to be ‘sane.’
“Despite having been part of Americade my entire life,” Christian continued, “I am still caught off-guard by the letters we receive. We get letters from people who want to get married here, who bring their children because they met their spouse here years earlier, and even some who spread the ashes of their lifelong riding partner at the rally. It’s very touching and reminds us that what Americade is to many people is larger than the sum of its parts.”
Through his PR position at Harley-Davidson, Bill knew Rider’s founder, Denis Rouse, and many of the magazine’s staff editors and contributors. “Rider has been part of every Aspencade/Americade,” Bill recalled. “I can’t think of any other company who has attended every event except Rider.”
Over the years, Rider has sponsored Americade’s Opening Celebration, mini-tours, dinner cruises, and other activities. Our editors and contributors have given seminars and talks, led tours, and met thousands of readers and fellow riders. We’ve judged bike shows and photo contests, helped select the Americade Queen, and published dozens of rally reports in the magazine and on our website.
And we’ll be there again this May, joining the Dutchers, the rally’s many dedicated volunteers, and tens of thousands of attendees to celebrate Americade’s big 4-0. We’ll have more details about the festivities in the coming weeks. For registration and other info, visit the Americade website.
See you in Lake George!
This was the First Gear column written by Editor-in-Chief Greg Drevenstedt for the March 2023 issue of Rider.