Interview with Bill Dutcher

Text: RoadRUNNER Staff • Photography: Bill Dutcher

RR: You’ve had a very long and fruitful career in motorcycling that’s included racing, adventure touring, working for manufacturers, and as organizer of the eminently successful Americade event. At what age did that career begin?

Bill: Maybe at birth. My career grew from my passion for motorcycles. I was a motor-head even as a child. I found hot rods and sports cars fascinating and used to sketch them. I adored the first Austin-Healy.

After I learned to ride at age 16, I fell in love with motorcycling at 17 when I rode a very used BMW 250 from Hamburg, Germany, through Europe, down to Rome, where I sold it for . Riding through the Alps really consummated my love for motorcycling, an addiction I’ve enjoyed ever since.

All it took to get me to veer off a more conventional career path in 1965 was an offer to go to work for Bultaco, the brand I was racing at the time. I stayed with them for 10 years, starting as a sales rep and ending as the director of marketing for the U.S.

When you started the Aspencade East event [the previous moniker of today’s Americade] in Lake George three decades ago, did you have any idea this annual motorcycle rally would become so big?

Certainly not. I thought it would be a little sideline, not a full-time job for nine people as it is now.

What has been the secret of Americade’s success?

The combination of a hardworking office staff, good teamwork during Ameri-Week from over 200 volunteers, our very scenic location, and our increased understanding of how to make a great motorcycling vacation for our audience; these are the major factors. Persistence also helped, no doubt.

Is it true your wife suggested the name Americade when the scope of the Lake George event expanded to a national scale?

Well, partly. We had a three-year deal for the name Aspencade, which ended in 1985. That summer, feeling patriotic at a Fourth of July celebration, she poked me in the ribs and suggested, “How about ‘Americade?’” My initial reaction was “No, it’s too long a word,” but then it sunk in that this name more accurately described the national-level event it was becoming.

Has Americade changed over the years?

It has evolved more than “changed.” We have a more central headquarters now at the Fort William Henry Resort at the foot of Lake George. The TourExpo tradeshow has steadily grown and has two locations, at the Lake George Forum and at Million Dollar Beach. Americade now includes many more riding and nonriding events than ever—for example, whitewater rafting and hot-air ballooning.

What’s the biggest misconception about Americade?

Probably that it’s a rally like other big rallies such as Daytona and Sturgis. It’s really a convention, which has a big trade show, and around these two elements a “happening” has developed. Some riders—probably not readers of RoadRUNNER—come to Lake George, hang around the main drag, buy an Americade T-shirt, and head home never knowing what they missed.

Has there been any serious consideration given to changing Americade’s location?

Yes. When the state of New York, our “landlord” for TourExpo-Beach, suddenly doubled the rent two years ago, we seriously examined our options. Subsequently, they decided to be more reasonable, and we are happy to remain here.

How has the “Rolling through Vermont” event worked out?

Very well. It’s a customized 100-person tour, which allows us to make a more intimate experience and has introduced us to a new market. For 2012, we’ll have a “Rolling through the Finger Lakes” in upstate New York’s wine country. Details on that new event have just been posted on www.rollingthruamerica.com.

You’ve toured throughout much of the U.S. and the world. Are there any particular riding locales that are your favorites?

Yes. Three years ago, my two sons and I rode KLR 650s back and forth across the Andes down to the southern tip of South America, Tierra del Fuego. We enjoyed dozens of absolutely amazing roads lacing their way down the spine of South America.

That said, I just discovered a couple of new favorites right in my backyard here in the Adirondacks, thanks to Google Maps. However, Google sometimes fails to indicate whether they are asphalt or dirt, so that can provide a surprise if I’ve chosen to ride a street bike rather than a dual sport.

Are there any additional riding locales on your bucket list for future rides?

I’m open to most any harebrained idea. My son Christian just suggested the Trans-America Trail across the U.S. That would be an interesting challenge.

Who in the motorcycle industry or culture has been your greatest inspiration?

That’s easy: Vaughn Beals, the guy who was most responsible for saving the Harley-Davidson company. He led the effort to buy H-D from AMF in 1981. As director of PR there, I had a front-row seat to the dysfunction between AMF and H-D, which was crippling the brand. He and a small group of investors took a large risk with this highly leveraged buyout. They ultimately made it work after coming very close to bankruptcy in the mid-1980s. It’s a classic American success story.

Do you have a favorite type or brand of motorcycle for touring?

It depends on the type of ride I’m planning. If coast-to-coast, get me a nice big dresser with a big fairing and windshield. If touring in the mountains, I want something agile; preferably under 500 pounds, with a windshield I can look over. These days, there are so many great bikes available that you can hardly go wrong. When I walk into a dealership, I still feel like a kid in a candy store.

How many motorcycles do you own?

Five at the moment.

Does the rest of your family share your same passion for motorcycling?

My two sons do. They regularly enjoy both street and dirt riding, and I hope to take more epic rides with them in the future.

What was your most memorable event or time on a motorcycle?

I’ve had so many, that’s a tough question. They range from the frightening to the sublime, and here’s a couple.

Frightening? My first race when I rode my Honda Hawk to the track to race on a Triumph Tiger Cub. So far so good, but they shifted on opposite sides. So in the first turn on the first lap, when I tried to hit the rear brake, oops, it upshifted and I overshot the turn. Keeping it on two wheels was one trick, but when I quickly turned my head to look over my shoulder to re-enter the track, my too-large helmet spun on my head, partly obscuring my vision. Not good! But no harm, no foul, and I survived that and learned a couple of lessons at once.

Sublime? That ride with my sons down the Andes to the end of the earth. But the most exciting ride is usually the adventure of the one I’m about to take, wherever that may be.

What are some of the motorcycle industry’s missed opportunities that it should focus on in the future?

To be more attractive to the younger demographic, OEMs might be wise to focus on integrating today’s interactive electronics with motorcycling. I can see college students on their bikes, plugging in their smart phones, and seeing a large electronic dash showing speedo/tach, weather, GPS maps, and social media integration (perhaps with a “here’s where I’m riding” button that posts to Facebook), etc. My son Christian has mentioned this frequently.

In U.S. cars, it appears that Ford has pursued this electronic integration a bit more than other companies. That said, one of the things I like about bikes is that it takes you away from being connected. Must be a generational thing, eh?

The last few years have been difficult ones for the motorcycle industry. What’s your prediction for the future?

Predicting the future? Ha! Seems to me the most predictable thing these days is unpredictability. However, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council’s recent symposium, the U.S. (and world) economy will basically stay pretty flat for the next few years. If gas prices were to rise again, there’d be the usual immigration of new riders seeking economy. Some would get the bug and then stay with the sport in future years.

One of the few things you can predict is that human nature makes lots of folks want to get together and share their enthusiasm. For Americade, that’s a good thing.

Bill Dutcher

The man behind one of the most successful motorcycle events in America began his riding career, like many of us, as a teenager. Little did Bill Dutcher know at the time that he was destined for a life-long career around motorcycles. The thrills of competitive racing, the excitement of exploring the open road on two wheels, and the natural camaraderie among riders was, and remains, a powerful attraction for Bill.

After graduating from Harvard, he went to work for Bultaco, combining racing success with his job as director of marketing. After 10 years there and a short stint at Can-Am, Bill landed a dream job with Harley-Davidson as their director for public relations.

In 1981 Bill hit on the idea of starting a motorcycle rally in the beautiful Lake George area where he lived. After a couple years of preparatory work, the event became a reality in 1983. For the first three years, it was called Aspencade East, under an arrangement with the founder of the Aspencade event
in Ruidoso, NM. In 1986 Bill’s event was renamed Americade, and the rest is history. www.americade.com