2008 Sturgis Coverage

Longride reports on infamous biker rally

“Are you heading to Sturgis?” I can’t tell you how many times I answered that question as we made our way there. But for the first time ever, I answered yes, I was headed to Sturgis. Why I had never gone before, I can’t say. No time, no desire, or no money were the usual reasons.

But this year I had the time, and MO gave me the desire and a new test bike to get there, plus a campsite to use when I got there. I heard it was one of the 10 places to go before you die. I was a bit skeptical about that. I was commissioned to ride to Sturgis, camp at the Broken Spoke Campground, ride back home, take 8 days to do it, and tell all the MO faithful how it went. So how was Sturgis, you ask? Well, before I go forward with that, I will go backward a bit.

For hordes of American V-Twin fans, all roads lead to Sturgis this time of year.

The Sturgis Rally started in 1938 with a two-day event of AMA racing and about 200 spectators. I bet most people that go to the rally today thought it started out as a drinking contest on Main Street and have no idea that the racing that started back then still exists today. Since this is the 68th year of the rally, the year count actually started in 1940 when the Jackpine Gypsies organized the first Gypsy Tour ride to Mount Rushmore. The rally grew from a few hundred people back then to the hundreds of thousands today. So after that short history lesson, I will chronicle my complete Sturgis experience.

It all started for me on August 4. It was Tuesday and I was riding up to the Harley-Davidson factory to pick up the 2009 Electra-Glide Standard that I would be riding to Sturgis. I was not going alone. Although my wife could not make the trip with me, I talked my longtime friend Scott into going. We spent 17 years on the fire department together and we are both retired. He had just purchased a 2008 Sportster and would be taking that on the trip. I figured if we didn’t kill each other after 17 years on the F.D., then we probably could make this trip. He is more than a friend; he is a brother to me. He would be the perfect guy to bounce ideas off of, get his view on things, and just have a nuts time with. So we packed up and got ready for the ride the next day.

Wednesday morning was perfect. It was cool and sunny as we took off from Chicagoland for Sturgis. The rally was already underway, but we had plenty of time to get a taste of what it was like. We started cranking out the miles, and at every stop we heard that question: “Are you heading to Sturgis?”

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Everyone had some advice on what we should do and see. Most people said the traffic was down, and that was fine by me. I can tell you that the rally affects everyone that we met all the way to the southern Wisconsin area. They all feel the rally. The first day’s ride went fine, and with the route planning and time management skills being what they are, we managed about 550 miles that first day.

Thursday the 6th we started out from Minnesota and quickly hit South Dakota. The bikes were becoming more numerous the closer we got. The gas stops were very crowded and bikers were everywhere. If reading the billboards gives you any indication of how the population feels, I’d say that the people in South Dakota believe in God, family, guns, and country. I believe they are against abortion and animal-rights activists. At least that is what the signs told me. They also love Wall Drug. There were at least 70 Wall Drug signs as far back as 355 miles away in Minnesota, but I’m sure I missed a few.

As far as the riding goes, I found I really like riding through the prairie. Nothing happens fast. You can go 60 or 90, and if you look at the horizon it barely moves. Time seems to slow down here. You can see a rain storm for 100 miles before you actually hit it. Scott commented “This is big country.” How right he was. It is The Heartland. People are friendly and easy going and put you at ease with a few words and a smile.

It seemed like we hit the Badlands in no time. No trip is complete in South Dakota without going through the Badlands. This was my third time through, but the beauty still amazes me. Lots of bikers were going through, and we ended at Wall to gas up for the last run in. I skipped the Wall Drug experience despite the billboard barrage.

Scott and I hit Rapid City, stopped in for a late lunch, and we rubbed elbows with celebrity. We actually sat next to the guys from Three 6 Mafia. You don’t know who they are? Well, we didn’t either. They are a rap group, and they were playing at one of the campgrounds. People were taking pictures with them, and we had to ask who they were. Scott chatted with DJ Paul and we had a few laughs with them before we hit the campground.

So we checked into the Broken Spoke Campground. It was a real relaxing place. It is just outside of Bear Butte State Park, and had some nice views all around and we used it as our place to get away from the madness that is the Sturgis Rally. We were in it now and we had to get into the action right away.

We were pretty tired after the ride, but we made our way to downtown Sturgis that first night in. We parked the bikes and wandered to the first crowd we saw. We knew things were different here when a P.A. voice screamed “Where do you go when you want to see somebody knocked the #@!* out?” and everyone screamed “The Knuckle!”

We had officially arrived. We were at The Knuckle Saloon and they were having Mixed Martial Arts-type fighting out front. The MMA fighting events were all over Sturgis. We also met L.A., the self-proclaimed “Bum on Vacation”. He quickly became our best friend, and Scott signed his shirt and bought him a beer. L.A. will now be our friend for life. Scary.

So we wandered down and made our way to the Firehouse Saloon for obvious reasons. It became our favorite place to chat with people and get to know them. Many people there had connections to the fire service, like Brian from Nebraska, who was a volunteer firefighter, and Jason from Denver worked installing sprinkler systems. They all had a story to tell about their lives and the ride in.

We also chatted with our favorite barmaid in Sturgis (who didn’t want her name in print), and we got her story as to how and why she worked in Sturgis. Scott and I just wanted to say that she was one of the reasons that Sturgis was a blast, so stop into the Firehouse Saloon. It is a nice place. We called it a night and made that cool, dark ride back to the campground. We passed out, and got ready for the next day.

Friday the 8th we headed out to the Jackpine Gypsy Hillclimb Race in Sturgis. There was a small but enthusiastic crowd there to watch the racing, and I really enjoyed watching and supporting how the Sturgis Rally started in the first place. You can get as close to the action as you like, and a few times got some red dirt hurled in my face. It’s all part of the experience. I talked to a few racers standing around and they told me about their bikes and technique for hill climbing. Most guys use modified motocross bikes, and a few even use 600cc sportbike motors for this event. If you have never been to a hillclimb race, it is basically an uphill drag race with a few jumps thrown in for fun. The racing is great and the people there are all having fun. It’s too bad more people don’t show up to support these guys. After watching most of the competition, we left to check out the scene in Deadwood.

It was a nice ride from Sturgis to Deadwood on Rt. 14, a twisty, scenic highway that lands right into downtown. Deadwood is known for gambling these days, so we hit Cadillac Jacks and tried our hand at the casino. There was a bikini bike wash there, so we had the girls wash our bikes while we gambled a bit. I was losing cash fast, but Scott hit for better than 200 bucks and quickly cashed out. I told him that with his good luck, lunch was on him! There are things that I really love, but gambling isn’t one of them.

We chatted with the bikini wash girls and took their picture on Scott’s Sportster. It seems that most people use Sturgis as a working vacation. They make a few bucks and have fun too. We left Deadwood and relaxed a bit and then hit Sturgis again. We mostly stayed on Main Street, taking pictures and chatting with people from just about everywhere. The street was crowded.

I called my wife to check out the Sturgis webcam. The funny part is that just as she hit the website a girl walked up and pulled her shirt up to show the world what she had. So when my wife sees the webcam, all she sees is me standing next to the chick with the shirt up. I had to talk my way out of that one! Let’s just say that scantily clad women were in abundance on Main Street.

We noticed that night that the Hells Angels had staked out one of the bars on Main Street and had a fairly large presence at Sturgis this year. They looked ready for action to me. It would be a sign of things to come.

Now why didn’t somebody tell the editorial team at Motorcycle.com this was going on?!

Saturday morning came quickly. Too quickly for us, since we had been out quite late the night before. The weather was clear and pretty warm as the morning came, so we went and got lost on some back roads around the campground where there were few bikes and no noise.

That suited us on this fine morning, but I got the itch to go do a test ride at the Top 50 Rally Park in Piedmont. They had Boss Hoss test bikes there, and I really wanted to check them out. Scott wanted no part of those things, so he headed his own way as I made my way to Piedmont. I figured that there would be a long wait to ride one of these monsters, but I figured wrong. I signed up and I was immediately directed to “take that black one over there”. Well, that black one happened to be the new BHC-3 model that was powered by a Chevy LS 2 aluminum-block V-8 engine. It is the same engine used in the Corvette. Excellent!

As I was getting on the bike a guy explained all the controls and buttons, and then he left. A second guy came up and asked if I had ridden a Boss Hoss before, because they don’t let just anyone ride this one because it is rated at 425 horsepower and 425 ft-lbs. of torque. A assured him that I had ridden one before, although I really had not. I flat out lied because I wasn’t going to let him get me off this thing. This baby was mine. He nodded and said that was good that I had ridden one, because this bike is a monster. Yikes!

One thumb of the starter button confirmed what he said. The bike almost tipped over as the torque from starting this beast pulled the bike hard to the right. What did I get into here? I have to say I was sweating and my heart was pounding already, and we hadn’t even moved yet. Blipping the throttle just made the bike yank to the right from the torque, and the heart went a little faster yet.

After a couple of minutes we clicked into gear while holding the brake because this bike is a two-speed semi-automatic. There was no clutch, although I reached for it a few times. I released the brake and away she rolled. Nice and slow at first out of the parking lot and we went down the frontage roads off Interstate 90. They got the speed up pretty good on the ride, but I held way back to see what this thing was really all about. I nailed two full-throttle runs with this monster on the test, which I probably wasn’t supposed to do, but what the hell. The noise, size and acceleration of the Boss Hoss all combined to make me feel like I was riding a supersonic freight train. I was hooked.

We got back to the lot to park the bikes and I was speechless. The guy that had warned me about this bike came up and asked how I liked it. I didn’t have words to describe it. All I could think about was how to beg, borrow, or steal the nearly 50 large it would take to own it. It was that good.

After the test ride we relaxed and hit Main Street in Sturgis early, as we figured it would be our last visit. We hit the all the spots we liked, like One Eyed Jacks, where we met Ann the barmaid from Sioux Falls. She filled us in on how she just came to Sturgis four years ago and asked for a job and worked here every year since. She told us that the bars are always looking for barmaids, as there is a big turnover rate. She said most come here looking to score huge coin, and they quit if it doesn’t happen, and many others don’t realize how hard the work is. I can agree with that. These girls have to hustle, and the ones that don’t get the patrons very impatient. It is a tough job.

That’s me, the non-blurry person on the left.

We got filled in on another story early and often in the evening. It seems a Hells Angel got shot in one of the bars on Main early on Saturday morning at about 1 AM. We heard many different versions, from the Hells Angel shooting a cop, to the cops shooting and Angel, to some guy shooting an Angel. Even the first newspaper story was confusing as to what actually went down.

After a few days, the official story is that an off duty Seattle police officer shot a Hells Angel after a scuffle inside the bar. A bartender from the said people came running into his place hiding after the shooting. He was pretty bummed about what happened, as were most of the locals I talked to. They really take it badly when something like this happens. I don’t know why, but I just got the feeling something was going to happen after looking at the Angels gathering one night.

The rest of the night was fun and uneventful as we hit The Broken Spoke to listen to the band, and then made our way back to places to say goodbye to some of the people we met. We had made some friends and we were a bit sad to leave them. The ride back to bed down was cool, quiet, and a little melancholy. We knew we wouldn’t be going back to Main Street. We wanted to remember it as it was, and not as it will be.

On Sunday morning, we planned to ride down to Mount Rushmore, Custer, Crazy Horse, and back. It is a loop that includes twisty roads and great scenery. With lots of the Sturgis crowd heading home, it would be a perfect day for this ride… or so we thought.

It started out fine, heading out to Rapid City and taking 16 south toward Mount Rushmore. We hit Keystone and rode up to see George, Tom, Teddy, and Abe. The place wasn’t too crowded, and we hung around for quite a while. There is so much history and beauty to take in here that you soon get awed by it.

As we started out of the park a few sprinkles appeared. No big deal. We headed back on 16 to Iron Mountain Road with its awesome views, tunnels and 15-mph corners. We loved it. As we went further south we encountered donkeys, deer, buffalo and lots of other wild creatures.

We were about 8 miles outside of Custer when the rain picked up a bit. Being the experienced traveler that I am, and totally prepared for any circumstance, I quickly found that I left my rain gear behind. That was smart. So we pulled in to Legion Lake resort for a nice lunch to let the rain subside.

Well, it didn’t subside. It was getting worse. It was cold, damp, raining and, with no rain gear, things weren’t looking good. Scott talked to the boat rental guy out back, and he had a laptop wirelessly connected to the internet back there. Ain’t technology grand? He told us that severe storms were heading for the area with high winds and large hail. He also told us that if we left right now, we should be able to make it back to Rapid City without getting hit. Sorry, Crazy Horse. No disrespect meant, my Native American brother, but we are out of here.

We blasted back out of the rain and back to Rapid City where we checked into a hotel for the next couple of days. Our stay at the Broken Spoke had expired, so we spent the whole rain storm in the safe haven of Boston’s Restaurant and Bar.

Monday came and we decided it was shopping day. I shopped for my wonderful wife, as without her love, support, and great attitude this trip would not have been as enjoyable as it was. Scott got a new helmet for the trip home and a few shirts. I was kind of bummed because I never found the “I rode somebody else’s to Sturgis” patch or shirt that I was looking for. The rest of the day was for packing and relaxing for the trip home. More rain didn’t help our mood.

Tuesday was here and we took off early and headed for home. The Gods were smiling on us as the weather was perfect with a 20-mph tailwind to boot. Something happened to me on the ride back this day that never happened before in 40 years of riding. A bird came flying into my view as I was going about 75 mph, and I could see it coming fast. I ducked and heard the loud smash into my windshield. I looked up and saw blood stains on the windshield. I knew it didn’t end well for the bird. Scott rode up and asked me if I was OK, and I nodded.  I was a little shook up and felt pretty bad, but there wasn’t much I could do. I know if the windshield wasn’t there that bird would have hit me square on the top of my helmet. I wonder how that would have felt. Talking at the next stop, Scott said the bird flew about 12 feet in the air with feathers flying everywhere, and almost hit him too. That bird never saw what hit him. I guess in a way, we are all heading for a windshield of our own.

The rest of the ride was fast and furious. My time management and route planning skills must have improved, because we made about 650 miles that day all the way to La Cross Wisconsin. We knew the next day we would be home, and I would be happy to see my wife, who I missed very much, but there was sadness that this trip was quickly coming to a close.

We rode home on Wednesday. We hit our first significant rain of the trip around Madison, but I actually had the rain gear this time, so no biggie. The rest of the way was sunny and warm, and the Illinois Welcome Centers (toll booth) greeted me by asking me to give them a buck every couple of miles for the privilege of riding on crappy roads. I knew I was home. We pulled in, high-fived, and tried to digest everything we did over the last 8 days. Scott went home and I waited for Jen to get home from work. I had a lot to think about.

So how was Sturgis, you ask? It was different than I expected. After 8 days and 2335.5 miles, what did I learn? I learned that my skeptical attitude at the start of the ride changed by the end of it. It was my first time at Sturgis, and I guess I can cross it off my ‘Bucket List” now.

After a trip to Sturgis taking the long way home seems the best way to keep the memories alive.

I learned that even though I hit the races, test rides, Main Street, had wonderful rides and saw awesome views, it was the people that make Sturgis what it is. Everyone was friendly and having as much good times as they could fit into the time they had. I made friends that asked “Are you coming back next year?” I couldn’t promise I would. I know if I do make it back, there will be people that I met and had a blast with, and would make more friends at that rally too.

I guess that’s how it works, and why people go back year after year. They see old friends and make new ones. I left a little piece of myself back in Sturgis. I brought back a piece of it too. I am looking down at my boots, and they still have the red dirt on them from the hill-climb race. I think I’ll leave it on them for a while.

Gettin’ to Sturgis

My trusty steed for this Sturgis trip was a 2009 Flame Blue Pearl Electra-Glide Standard. Even though this is the lowest price model in the Harley touring line, it isn’t exactly a stripper model. This one came with the six-speed transmission, beautiful 28-spoke cast wheels, Brembo brakes, ABS, and electronic cruise control.

All the models in the touring line also have the updated chassis that is new for ‘09. Changes also include a heat management system for the engine that stops firing the rear cylinder when it gets hot, changed exhaust routing for even more heat reduction, and the hard bags have 5 more lbs. per bag capacity over the old bags. The changes made for the 2009 touring lineup are all really good stuff.

So, do all the new changes make for a better bike? Want to know how it all worked on the Sturgis ride? Look for a full review coming up soon!

Related Reading
Broken Spoke Campground
2008 L.A. Calendar Bike Show
Joe’s Garage Vintage Auction Wrap-up

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