If you’re a motorcyclist, you’ve heard of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. With Sturgis being one of the largest motorcycle gatherings in the world, people think they know what there is to do when attending the event. However, when questioned, they mostly mention shenanigans that take place on Main Street – activities that are so numerous that they’ve long since spilled onto and taken over nearby Lazelle Street. Or perhaps newbies express their desire to attend the events at the famous campground, concert venue, and all around party central, the Buffalo Chip. While these two locations are essential to the Sturgis experience, so much more is available to riders who attend the rally.
While you could still make it to Sturgis for the last few days of the 2016 event schedule – if you just go jump on your bike as soon as you’re done reading this Top 10 list, I hope that, at the very least, this can be used as a means of enticing you into saving your precious vacation days to attend Sturgis in the future.
So read on, and don’t forget to make your reservations early.
Let’s face it, most of the major manufacturers have a presence in Sturgis, giving you a prime opportunity to see all of the new models you’ve read about on MO and touch them. In many cases, you can also take a demo ride on them. While going on a ride being shepherded along by lead and tail riders with a dozen other folks sandwiched in between isn’t the same as hitting the open road, you can learn a lot about a motorcycle if you pay attention. If there is a particular new bike that you expect to be popular, our advice is to arrive first thing in the morning to make sure the rides don’t get filled for the day.
Manufacturers like to play to a crowd, so there are usually several bikes unveiled during the week. For 2016, Moto Guzzi chose Sturgis for the press introduction and the first demo rides of the MGX21 Flying Fortress. What you’ll really want to see, though, are the special bikes shown publicly for the first time. This week, Indian unveiled its FTR750 and displayed it at various public events. Similarly, Victory showed off two new custom Octane motorcycles built by Aaron Colton and Rick Fairless. This week Can-Am revealed a customized 2016 Can-Am Spyder F3-T that will be used as part of an auction to benefit the Road Warrior Foundation.
Sturgis Dragway is an eighth-mile dragstrip located almost within sight of the Buffalo Chip. During the rally, the strip features three days of drag racing events from Sunday to Tuesday, ranging from run-what-ya-brung to Top Fuel. My personal favorite class was Battle of the Baggers. This year marked the second where the strip was opening for the “The Baker DriveTrain All-In to go All-Out” event where both racers and spectators participate for free. Yeah, free. Imagine that. So, find some time to fit the Sturgis Dragway into your rally plans.
If you’ve never heard about the Jackpine Gypsies, you don’t know about Sturgis’ history. Go get intimate with the Google machine. For the rest of us, the Jackpine Gypsies are still alive and well, and they run a variety of racing events during the week of the Sturgis rally. Perhaps the form of racing that most riders have the least opportunity to witness is the hill climb. Think of the challenge: You take a dirt bike, which with its rider in place has an extremely high center of gravity, and you send them careening up an impossibly steep hill full of ruts, loose dirt/rocks, and other obstacles. The rider and bike that get the highest in each class wins. If more than one makes it all the way to the top, the winner is decided by time. Essentially, a hill climb is a drag race in which the majority crash out of contention. Cool, huh?
If you’ve never seen a hill climb in person, you have no idea how crazy-cool it is. Fortunately, the Jackpine Gypsies run hill-climb events throughout the week with the amateurs filling the early days and the pros settling in later. Be sure not to miss Verta-X Hillclimb for side-by-side hill-climb racing!
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally almost feels like it should be called Flat-Track Week. With events happening both in and around Sturgis, a flat-track fan could spend a good part of the week watching races ranging from the AMA-sanctioned Black Hills Half Mile in Rapid City to short track in Sturgis proper. Throughout the week, the Jackpine Gypsies are at it with their short-track races right on the edge of town. Or maybe Super Hooligan racing at the Buffalo Chip is more your cup of tea. Some run-what-ya-brung races are scheduled for those who want to toss their bikes into the corners instead of sitting around watching.
Look at any of the multiple event schedules you can find when in Sturgis, and you’re likely to find a custom bike show every day of the rally at a wide range of venues. One of the best is the Motorcycles As Art show which is curated by famed moto-photographer Michael Lichter. Each year carries a new theme, and this year’s event was entitled Skin & Bones – Tattoo Inspired Motorcycles and Art Exhibit. Aside from displaying works from builders familiar to riders who follow the custom bike scene, Lichter goes out of his way to include up-and-coming builders to keep the event from becoming stale. This display at the Buffalo Chip is one of the highlights of Sturgis.
Sturgis, South Dakota sits close to a wealth of national parks and monuments. Within an easy day’s ride, riders can venture to (in alphabetical order): Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial (still under construction), Custer State Park, Devil’s Tower National Monument, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. Those are just the big names. Smaller locations like the Needles Highway near Custer are just as inspiring. While the sights are close enough together that a motivated rider could visit several in a single day, the locations themselves are worth more than just a quick visit. At the very least, you need to take the mile hike around Devil’s Tower to really appreciate its scale.
Sturgis is absolutely filled with organized rides. Some are guided; others self-guided. Regardless, they give riders the opportunity for a shared riding experience. Two of the best known rides at Sturgis took place on the same day, this year. The Legend’s Ride, which celebrates its ninth year, is a self-guided ride that begins in Deadwood before winding its way 50 miles through the countryside to the Buffalo Chip. The Legend’s Ride is known for the luminaries who attend the event and the money raised for various charities – more than $500,000 to date.
The 14th-annual Mayor’s Ride featured former Superbike racer Ben Bostrom as the master of ceremonies and leader of the group ride from Sturgis to Custer State Park. Lest you think that these rides are only for cruisers, Ben and Eric Bostrom led the third Boz Bros Benefit Ride that begins at the Sturgis Dragway before its own 50-mile ride through the Black Hills.
(Photo courtesy of Legends Ride)
What’s better than riding motorcycles at Sturgis? Raising money for a good cause while riding motorcycles at Sturgis. Many of the organized rides donate a portion of their proceeds to a charity. For example, the Legend’s Ride, the Mayor’s Ride, and the Boz Bros Ride contributed to Sturgis local charities, Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department, and the Sturgis Parks and Recreation Trail System, respectively.
The Veteran’s Charity Ride takes another approach by giving a group of veterans the experience of riding to Sturgis surrounded by fellow veterans as they travel through national parks and make stops along the way where people can thank them for their service. Go to the VCR website to view the powerful videos of the event. Consider donating to the cause so that more veterans can experience the healing highway together.
(Above Veteran’s Charity Ride photo courtesy Sara Liberte Photography)
The observant motorcyclist who attends both Daytona Bike Week and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will notice quite a few differences which boil down to this comparison: At Daytona, you will see lots of Harley riders wearing white sneakers; at Sturgis, lots of motorcycle boots covered with a layer of road grime. As friend-of-MO, James Hesketh put it, “Sturgis is a rider’s rally, Daytona is Florida vacation for motorcyclists.” Additionally, the roads around Sturgis are impeccably maintained, winding pieces of heaven transporting you through unending views of the grassy Northern Plains and around the Black Hills. For this year’s rally, I rode more than 600 miles in five days – and I didn’t ride every day!
If you want to ride through epic scenery on roads made for motorcyclists, pull out a map of the Black Hills and start planning your trip to Sturgis.
(Photo by Kevin Wing)