Anyone who has attended a large-scale rally will tell you that there is a certain point, after the front wheel has turned for home, that a feeling of emptiness can set in, a sensation, as the events of the past few days pass out of sight in your mirrors, that can call into question your very reason for being. OK, not really, but I’ve spent hours reminiscing about a rally as the miles rolled by underneath me on my way home. So, grab your gear and take a virtual ride home with me.

Top 10 Things To Do At Sturgis

As expected, the 76th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was smaller than last year. Anniversaries with fives and zeros tend to be big with gatherings of this sort. Although the official attendance numbers have not been released, and the response I received when talking with the organizers in preparation for this article was: “In a couple of days.” So, since I’m on deadline, I’ll have to go by my impression and those of other industry folks I know. The consensus was that the 76th was smaller than last year, with participants being roughly on par with a typical non-anniversary year.


This smaller crowd may be undesirable for vendors who are pursuing the American Dream, but attendees experienced some tangible benefits. First, getting around Sturgis proper was significantly easier. Yes, traffic in event centers, like Sturgis or Deadwood or any of the other local hamlets, did come to a stop/crawl in places, but the wait times were shorter and less heat stroke-inducing given the almost ideal temperatures. Out on the highways, the experience was the same. Yes, there were lots of bikers on the roads. However, congestion didn’t slow speeds to a painful level, like in bigger years past.


You could spend your entire week trying to complete all these rides. Sturgis is truly a rider’s rally.

The South Dakota Highway Patrol posted statistics revealing another benefit of lower attendance. First and most importantly, fatalities were way down in 2016 – to the tune of three compared to 14 last year. The number of injury accidents also moved in the right direction from 114 to 46 injuries. Citations and warnings were up compared to last year, which could point to why the other statistics dropped a little more than would be expected. Ironically, DUI arrests remained relatively constant (or went up per-capita, if you want to look at it that way) from 177 in 2015 to 162 DUI arrests this year. Drug arrests were higher than last year – up six to total 166. Go figure.


A working lunch while photographing the Jackpine Gypsies Hill Climb.

While many people attend Sturgis to look at bikes, flamboyantly dressed people (or undressed – as long as they meet the requirements of Sturgis Municipal Code 12.09.01: INDECENT EXPOSURE), and buy cubic tons of t-shirts, a select few schedule their nuptials during the rally. How many? Well, according to the official Sturgis Motorcycle Rally statistics, 122 couples tied the knot in Sturgis proper during the 2015 dates. While that may sound like a lot, the number was 197 during the 60th anniversary at the turn of the century – even with almost 100,000 fewer attendees than on the 75th. Nevertheless, an entire cottage industry seems to have cropped up to fight for those wedding dollars in and around the rally cities. If you like, you can get hitched in a mass wedding for just $150!

If you’re the type that wants to customize your bike or buy souvenirs, last year 916 vendor permits were issued in Sturgis itself – with over 100 of them being listed at the Buffalo Chip alone. Even with the anticipated lower attendance, the vendors were out in similar force this year. A rally attendee could most likely find any motorcycle-related merchandise desired from sidecars to side-draft carburetors, from open-face helmets to open exhausts, or even hand-laid pinstripes to handmade frames, or hand-crafted bodywork to having your body hand-painted.


Having one of these in my garage would surely make the San Fernando Valley great.

One of my favorite rally pastimes – aside from watching the shenanigans of the attendees – is looking at the t-shirts, assuredly the vox populi of the rally-goers. As with perhaps every rally I’ve attended, with the possible exceptions of Americade and the Honda Hoot, once you exclude motorcycles (which are featured in almost every design), skulls/skeletons/bones appeared on the highest percentage of shirts – followed closely by innuendo referencing the size of assorted (or is that sordid) body parts. Great stuff to while away an hour or so waiting for dusk to fall and the crazies to come out.

As with t-shirts, every rally has its patch and sticker vendors. I noticed a big uptick in politically-themed wares this year, with the almost ubiquitous t-shirt of the Republican Presidential candidate’s head grafted onto a biker astride a big V-twin of some ilk (though, try as I might, I was never able to find the one featuring Marilyn Monroe as his passenger that I kept bumping into at Daytona Bike Week). While the vendors were clearly cashing in on the Trump obsession – and/or Hillary hate – I didn’t see any information about actually voting. But that’s a topic for another time.


I am an almost compulsive t-shirt collector. This shirt appealed to me because of its distinct lack of skeletons, innuendo, weapons, or offensive slogans – just a cool retro motorcycle.

What makes Sturgis a rally that I enjoy attending is the riding. Like the aforementioned Americade and Honda Hoot, Sturgis is nestled in a slice of God’s motorcycle country. Consequently, it is a rider’s rally. When I checked into my first hotel in the heart of Deadwood, I was handed a map that listed many of the popular rides in the area – complete with color coding for difficulty. Taking this as a challenge, my goal became sampling as many of the roads as possible, while maintaining the semblance of doing the job I was sent to do. Sadly, remaining employed meant skipping my planned trip to Badlands National Park because I needed to write my MGX–21 Flying Fortress review. (The sacrifices I make for this job!)


Halfway through my stay in South Dakota, Moto Guzzi pulled up its stakes at the Deadwood hotel and took its deep pockets closer to the demo ride area in Sturgis. So, I was forced to move to lodging that my employer deemed more suitable for my station in life. And what a stroke of luck that was. The Microtel in Rapid City not only gave me an aluminum water bottle to fill and toss in my saddlebag for my jaunts but also threw a welcome barbecue for its guests, grilling up burgers and brats with free keg beer. When the weather turned ugly – complete with hail – the party moved inside, everyone grabbing a seat wherever they could. It was in these cramped quarters, with a beer or two in their bellies, that the riders started telling their stories – which is what I love about motorcyclists.

When it was time to board my plane back to the Left Coast, I did so with a dull ache at the base of my skull to remind me of the miles I’d logged in South Dakota and Wyoming while (somehow) remaining ticket-free – though a highway patrol car did try to push me to my breaking point by leading me for 11 miles through Spearfish Canyon at 34 mph. Out of spite, I returned the next morning on a Moto Guzzi Stornello at twice the speed, living dangerously by pointedly ignoring the pleading of the fuel light. But now, all that remains are the memories, some bug guts that simply won’t wipe off of my helmet, and the deadline I am about to meet with this text.

Until next time, Sturgis.


  • Ian Parkes

    If I wasn’t a motorcyclist I might love Sturgis. I fear my prejudices would spoil my enjoyment of the sheer celebratory excess of Americana – but your story does make it look feasible, and fun. Is the speed limit in Spearfish Canyon 30mph? Is it bedevilled by shops, pedestrians and intersections? Or is the limit higher but the police can shoot you for overtaking?

    • Jeff Keene

      If you take the canyon leaving Spearfish then you need to be weary of numerous turnouts where hikers and fishermen park their automobiles. This culminates in a resort of sorts with a few cross walks and loads of pedestrians milling about.

      Once past said resort, you may feel more confidence to give it the beans. I don’t remember what the speed limit is, but 30 or 35 sounds about right. It is one of those roads on which a reasonably skilled motorcyclist could make a good pace, but that 1994 Suburban with questionable steering might find itself in the river.

      Eventually you get to an intersection. To the left a substantive hill that leads back into both Deadwood and Lead. To the right highway 85 that leads into Wyoming out to Sundance. Should you ever find yourself in the hills then know that this particular stretch of 85 is one of my favorite roads and the state troopers don’t seem to care too much about it.

    • Evans Brasfield

      The speed limit in Spearfish Canyon is 35 mph. I believe that the cop deliberately went below the speed limit just to push my buttons. He saw me come up behind him quite quickly before I noted the low profile flashers on his roof. So, I settled in for the long haul and set my cruise control (which works in third gear) to 34 and let the bike fall back and close up on him as he varied his speed – while plotting my return the next morning.

      • Ian Parkes

        Nice. That speed limit seemed like a waste of a canyon, but as Jeff Keene has generously explained, there many more good roads around there to choose from.

  • JMDonald

    I am old and jaded. I’ve seen the elephant. I don’t want to see the one in Sturgis. I would like to see the many vendors and what they have to sell. That part sounds great. I will more than likely see it without attending the rallye. There is nothing wrong with a Microtel.

  • Old MOron

    Before I read this article, I didn’t have the slightest interest in attending the Sturgis Rally. Now that I’ve given it a moderately-better-than-cursory reading, I still don’t care to go 🙂

    But I’m happy to experience it through Evans’ thoughtful prose. I’ll peruse it tonight.

  • Jeff Keene

    It has been said before, likely by the journalists of this website, that visiting the Black Hills outside of the context of the Sturgis rally should be on any motorcyclist’s bucket list. Whether or not it is the case that visiting the hills during the rally is also an item on your bucket list is an entirely different discussion.

    I live in Colorado on the front range. My father lives roughly 40 miles outside of Sturgis. I am fortunate to get to the hills a few times a year on my motorcycle. While it is my observation that Colorado has many roads that are untouchable in terms of experience, it is also my observation that the Black Hills are essentially a motorcyclist’s play ground. A small square mileage of roads that are an amusement park for two wheeled faffery.

    While you are out that way see if you can’t also go over the Big Horn Mountains. Ideally you do so en route to Bear Tooth.

  • Starmag

    I’ve never wanted to go because of the whole pirate thing, but your reporting makes it seem more desirable. Maybe I’ll go when the rally isn’t in town.

  • Vrooom

    50,000 rugged individualists all wearing the same clothing. I’d have a hard time dealing with the traffic based on having once ended up in Laughlin on the wrong weekend. I’d love to ride the area when the event wasn’t going on.

    • Jeff Keene

      Far more than 50,000. It is worse than you think.

      It isn’t just Sturgis either. The entire area from Rapid City to Moorcroft becomes a v-twin traffic congestion zone.

      • Ian Parkes

        Some scary numbers on that page. Interesting downward trend in offending – aging population? – but that’s not the most interesting stat. Back in 1999 the cops arrested 783 people and 122 were jailed – seems like a high percentage, but wait. In 2011, just 230 were arrested and of them, 400 were jailed. Hmm.

  • Douglas

    Well, everyone who rides and has the right number of red corpuscles in their arteries needs to attend at least once….Daytona, too, and maybe the B,B & B in north Arkansas. Don’t know much about Hollister, and read somewhere that Laconia this year was….less that expected, sadly. (That’s one that should be held in the fall, when New England explodes in colors like nowhere on the planet, in addition to the quaint villages and magnificent roads for riding). But, as EB sez, few places match the Black Hills.

  • Ian Parkes

    Wow, that Trump trike is not a million miles from the clown bike I pictured him on in another thread.

  • howard kelly

    Glad you saw Spearfish Canyon. One year as I was leaving on my ride back to SoCal I was running a nice pace through there at about 6:30 in the morning when a kamakazee squirrel hurled himself at the front fender of the FLHTCU I was riding. I heard the sound of his skull ping off the fender over the Ted Nugent CD I was listening to (what else would you listen to in spearfish Canyon at 6:30 am in preparation for a 2 day 1400 mile ride home.)

  • michael folk


  • halfkidding

    For millions of people motorcycling is synonymous with Harley, but Harley means much more than just a motorcycle to those owning them, it’s an social identity which ranges from occasional to all consuming. I don’t think I have to flesh that statement out but I have to stress I am not criticizing this fact. If your a social person and a ‘party’ person it’s great for you. Whatever spins your prop is OK by me as they say.

    I’ve made it a point to visit the Black Hills, weeks before the rally. It’s a great place to ride but the higher Rocky inter mountain region and the mountain passes from Colorado to Montana are better.