The 73rd Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has come to a close, and after a week of bikes, babes, booze, fire and rock, initial reports predict both attendance and revenue were up over last year’s event.
The sleepy hamlet of Sturgis, South Dakota has a year-round population of about 6,500, but each year in early August it grows exponentially. It finally crested last week, with attendees from all over the US, North America, and indeed the globe converging on the Black Hills to take in the action on the beautiful highways and in the bars, restaurants, concert venues and campgrounds.
Official tallies are due to be released soon, but by all accounts this year’s rally was a thundering success, with convention and tourism bureaus in the region claiming capacity bookings at area accommodations, and vendors and event organizers reporting increased revenue.
The city of Sturgis issued 734 temporary vendor licenses, up from the 692 issued in 2012. 25 miles up the freeway, many rally-goers set up shop in the city of Rapid City for a cleaner, less hedonistic approach to the Black Hills. Jody Sperlich, director of operations at the Rapid City Visitors Bureau, told the Rapid City Journal she heard nothing but positive feedback from local businesses.
“They’re really feeling that their numbers are going to be up over last year,” Sperlich said of local shops and hotels.
Many credited cooler-than-normal temps for the increased rider turnout. As for the above-average revenue, it wasn’t hard to find rally-goers who blamed the increased revenue on higher prices, on everything from beer and campsites to souvenirs and gas.
But that didn’t stop hundreds of thousands of bikers from making the annual pilgrimage to Sturgis. As usual, Lazelle Street was the epicenter of the rally, which is also known as the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, depending on whom you ask.
The first big event of the rally was Indian’s launch of its brand-new lineup of cruisers. Thousands crowded the streets around the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum to see a host of luminaries, including American Picker Mike Wolfe and “World’s Fastest Woman” Laura Klock, roll out the new Indians. The reception was overwhelming and the roar of approval deafening.
Down the road out of town, the campgrounds were filled to capacity as rally-goers looked for more fun and less authority. Attendees took in cheap drinks and concerts at the nearby Full Throttle Saloon, with appearances by including Bret Michaels (without Poison) and Vince Neil (without Motley Crue). At the Legendary Buffalo Chip, the week was highlighted by a rain-soaked raucous performance by Kid Rock, as well as performances by ZZ Top, Rob Zombie, Mastodon and many more.
The Chip also hosted the annual “Motorcycles as Art” exhibit curated by renowned photographer Michael Lichter, whose focus this year was on café racers and the ton-up crowd. If that choice raised a few eyebrows at its entrance, it left wide smiles and excited raves at the exits. At the Sunday night opening reception, guys like Roland Sands, Brian Klock and Dave Perewitz (left) rubbed elbows with friends and fans alike.
Monday brought the Legends Ride, the annual fundraising parade from Deadwood to the Chip. More than 400 riders paid $150 a pop to enter the ride, and were treated to a sea of chrome and a tangle of wheels as the assembled masses nudged their way through downtown Deadwood on their way to Sturgis for a buffet and concert by the Doobie Brothers.
Tuesday’s Biker Belles Charity Ride was another highlight, raising more than $35,000 for charity as Doobie Brother Pat Simmons (right) placed the winning bid on a bike customized by All Girls Garage star Jessi Combs.
For daredevil Robbie Knievel, the Legends Ride was surely the highlight of his week at Sturgis. Knievel was reportedly busted for DUI Tuesday night as his RV allegedly scraped a couple of vehicles in the campground at the Chip. Knievel was pulled over a short time later. He pleaded guilty to first-offense DUI and was released the next morning with a suspended driver’s license and $600 in fines.
That wasn’t the end of the drama at the Chip, however. On the first-ever Daredevil Wednesday, amateur and professional riders tried their hand at impressing the crowd for cash and prizes, and one stunter was lucky to escape with his life. While attempting to set a record for longest ride on a motorcycle through a tunnel of fire, the man who already owned the record, 32-year-old pro daredevil Clint Ewing suffered third-degree burns when he crashed his bike about halfway through 360-foot flaming tunnel.
The Buffalo Chip Campground issued a statement saying Ewing exited the side of the tunnel engulfed in flames. It’s unclear why he crashed inside the tunnel — no doubt the 2,900-degree heat played a role. Initial, unconfirmed reports claimed the world record attempt was rushed in order to beat an oncoming storm.
The stuntman’s camp commented only that it was focused on Ewing’s recovery at a Los Angeles burn clinic. This YouTube clip captures the frightening ride with
some salty language but without any of the gory details, save for an eerie scene featuring a man holding Ewing’s charred helmet. It all goes down at about 1:08.
Things calmed down at the Chip on Thursday for the Rats Hole Custom Bike Show and the Budweiser Clydesdales parade through the amphitheater before the Freedom Celebration, which honored the men and women who have sacrificed their lives serving our country. Save for Wednesday’s near-catastrophe, it was a great week at the Chip. The venue is claiming record attendance at this year’s rally; numbers should be released shortly.
A couple of miles north across the highway, the Broken Spoke Campground was not to be outdone. Featuring concerts by The Black Crowes, Queens of the Stone Age, Gary Allan and Korn, the Spoke blew the doors off the thing in ’13. The concerts, particularly Monday’s spacy, heavy psych-rocking gig with QOTSA, were unbelievably awesome. But for fans of custom bikes the highlight of the week had to be Tuesday’s Editor’s Choice Bike show.
As usual, law enforcement was in no short supply in the area during the rally, and it wasn’t uncommon to see flashing lights by the side of any road at any given time on any given day. Riders who creeped above the posted speed limit only by a mph or two were routinely pulled over and given breathalyzer tests, and this reporter saw no less than four individuals being handcuffed or eased into the back of police cruisers.
The South Dakota Highway Patrol reported a total of 56 felony drug arrests, up from 34 last year. In all, total of 1,535 citations were issued, and the highway patrol handed out 4,932 warnings during the rally. Law officials also seized $13,221 in cash, up from $9,368 in 2012, and vehicles seized for drug possession were up by two, from seven last year to nine in 2013.
The Highway Patrol also reported that two fatal accidents were handled in the Sturgis area, with Rapid City officials responding to four fatal wrecks throughout the week. That number is down from 2012, as last year’s rally saw nine fatal wrecks. All in all, a total of 69 injury accidents were reported this year, a jump of nearly 20 from last year’s rally. Non-injury accidents were down, though, from 50 in 2012 to 33 this year.
In creepier Sturgis crime news, an online sting operation targeting men who sought sex with underage girls resulted in seven arrests. The suspects, men between 19 and 54 years old, all answered false escort ads that promised sex with girls 13 or younger. Three Rapid City men and four out-of-state visitors answered the ads and negotiated prices with detectives posing as pimps. When they arrived for the meeting, they were taken into custody.
But despite the crashes, crime and near-death antics, the 2013 edition of Sturgis was a blast. Prices may be going up in and around the Black Hills, but the riding, camaraderie and fun trump all that. We’ll see you next year.