While it’s difficult to say which is the top rally in the popular consciousness of American motorcycling, both Daytona Bike Week and Sturgis feature prominently in biker mythology. If you break down both events into their most basic components, they look something like this: Bikers arrive from all over the country and other parts of the world, take over the main venues of several local cities/towns, make lots of noise, consume tons of food and drink, go for rides around the local area, consume more and make more noise, spend tons of money, and go home happy, already talking about next year. Daytona has a little more racing (to this crowd) and Sturgis has a lot more riding. Both are considered must-do motorcycle events.
As the 74th Sturgis Rally comes to a close, we would be remiss if we didn’t recap some of the events of the week. Going in to the week, pronouncements were that it would be bigger and better than last year. Since things are looking up in the motorcycle industry, we would be surprised if attendance didn’t grow. Unfortunately, we won’t know the final attendance numbers for a while because, unlike with an enclosed venue, such as a sports arena, there is no entry point where tickets are collected.
Instead, for the last 10 years or so, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally officials have used a complicated formula to create an estimate of attendance based on five different data sources. The Department of Transportation tallies the traffic at particular places in Sturgis and other nearby communities, while the Mount Rushmore entrance also supplies traffic information. The number of tons of garbage hauled out of Sturgis contributes to the total, as does the number of vendor licenses. Finally, the sales tax figures from the South Dakota Department of Revenues adds its two cents worth. Sounds crazy, but it’s what they work with, and it takes some time to gather all that, uh, information.
The residents of Sturgis have either simply learned to accept that their community is taken over once a year by more than half-a-milion of their closest friends, or they find ways to profit from it. One local businessman who runs a year-’round store told us that he has a friend who for the past several years has sold lemonade in a choice location who would clear close to $50,000 during the week – after paying the $20,000 vendor fee. Now, he could have been spinning a yarn, but he had an honest face. Besides, if you can’t trust a salesman to tell the truth, who can you trust?
Many of the major manufacturers had assembled their machinery along Lazell St. in impressively large display areas with flashing lights, loud music, and, of course, attractive young ladies. Since Indian hosted the U.S. and international press at Sturgis to witness the public unveiling of the Indian Scout and then offer us the pleasure of riding it the next day, its display area was quite impressive. All of the Indian models were on hand, as well as a Wall of Death operated by American Motor Drome Co., featuring vintage Scouts and a newly minted Scout in WOD trim. If Indian’s display wasn’t impressive enough, the sights and sounds occurring from under the big top covering the wall were one of the highlights of Sturgis. If you ever have the opportunity to see the show that these enthusiasts put on, go see it.
Wedged into almost every square foot of room around Lazell St. and Main St., vendor booths hawked a variety of wares that every rally attendee needs. You could buy custom motorcycles; raffle tickets for custom motorcycles; new and used motorcycles; motorcycle sound systems; gimbaled drink holders; trailers to tow behind your motorcycle; trailers to tow your motorcycle behind you; massages; tattoos or designs airbrushed on your bare breasts (just make sure those nipples are covered with pasties if you don’t want trouble with the police); patches and stickers with funny and/or offensive slogans; hand-crafted pinstripes; do-rags; neon or LED lights; fringe for your ape hangers so you can flagellate yourself publicly as you ride down the highway; monster front wheels; chaps and lacy underthings, because, well, just because; and Sturgis 2014-emblazoned T-shirts featuring skulls, motorcycles, guns, scary clowns, eagles, pin-up girls, feathers, custom bikes, alcohol, snarling dogs, roses, pot leaves, or slogans, like our personal favorite, a onesie that said, “If you can read this, the bib fell off.”
On Main St. Sturgis, as in Daytona, most of the stores emptied themselves out to rent space to vendors. Restaurants were packed with rally-goers and more bartenders and waitresses than you could count. Behind the music from the live bands and the DJs and the bikes with booming sound systems, there was the constant V-Twin rumble.
Outside of town, The Buffalo Chip campground, music festival, and all around party central was going at full speed. Over 40 acts, mostly rock bands, were listed on the Chip’s website. The bands ranged from current performers like Train to a long list of bands that would be remembered by the rally’s aging demographic: Alice Cooper, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Motley Crue, ZZ Top and Cheap Trick. Aside from the sheer number of acts on stage, the best part of attending a show at the Buffalo Chip is seeing people ride their bikes in and park them on the grounds in front of the stage to watch the show. When a song ends, instead of just screaming and clapping, they also rev their engines – which, because of the size of the crowd, you can feel reverberate inside your bones.
Since the week was formerly called the Sturgis Rally and Races, you won’t be surprised to learn that there is some racing. The Jackpine Gypsies, the founders of the rally, still offer hill climb, motocross and short track races. Unfortunately, this year, the AMA Pro Flat Track Sturgis Half-Mile was canceled due to extremely heavy rain. The hill climb up the 300 ft. slope was held on Monday the 4th with Karson Lloyd of Bancroft, ID defending his 2013 win. The 1/8 mi. Sturgis Dragway was the scene of Western Motorcycle Drag Racing Association events during the week. On hand were Ben and Eric Bostrom along with Rickey Gadson for a special drag racing event on Tuesday night, but like the flat track, it was canceled because of the rain. However, their efforts to attract younger riders weren’t completely thwarted, the Bostrom Brothers led a sport ride around the Black Hills and plan to be back next year with more activities.
What really sets Sturgis apart from Daytona Bike Week is the riding. The Black Hills are made for motorcycles. The roads are smooth and pleasantly twisty. Just a little ways outside of Sturgis, the crowd on the roads drops and riders can really appreciate both the scenery and the tarmac. Also, Sturgis is in the country, not the city, so when you happen upon a roadside cafe, often there is not one for miles. Consequently, the bikers congregate at each location, making each stop a mini rally. The nearby towns treat riders the same way, often with blocked-off streets for parking and their own special events for Sturgis attendees. Then there’s the nearby Mount Rushmore which is a popular destination. Riders who want to venture a little further afield can take a 120-mile trip to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
As the week’s events wound down, the talk naturally turned to next year – the 75th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Sturgis Mayor Carstensen unveiled the official logo for the event. “For the 75th, we knew we needed iconic branding and logo. We wanted rally goers and citizens to be able to see how much thought we are putting into next year. It will be a great rally,” said Carstensen. So, start making your plans now. You can be sure that the 75th will be a blast.