August 2017 – The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has been lighting up the roads around the Black Hills of South Dakota for 77 years, and ever since we experienced the Daytona 200 years ago, we have talked endlessly about taking our RV to Sturgis — until this year when we finally got there!
And what a welcome we received as we drove into town on the first day and discovered the Bikini Bike Wash was already in full swing!
During the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the little town of Sturgis, South Dakota — population 6,627 as of the 2010 census — is suddenly inundated with 500,000 crazy motorcycle enthusiasts in a wild mix of political incorrectness and patriotism along with a passion for all things Harley Davidson.
Overnight, Sturgis transforms into Hog Heaven as thousands of Harleys fill the streets of town. From both rusty and restored antiques to the most recent brand new models, and from plain Jane Harleys to the most exotic and customized hogs imaginable, the love of freedom and the open road is celebrated in grand style for ten days.
The town of Sturgis first hosted this motorcycle rally back in 1938 when it was known as the Black Hills Classic. After all these years, the town has become expert at rolling out the welcome mat for visiting bikers.
People from all income brackets come to the rally, and no one is left out in the cold. Besides traditional rooms at motels and campsites in campgrounds, signs on the front lawns of the houses and small businesses in town offered tent camping and a chance for a front row seat to the 24/7 parade.
Even the local Episcopal church had temporarily transformed into the Church of the Spoke ‘n Wheel.
In downtown Sturgis both sides of all the streets were lined with motorcycles, and they were parked right down the middle too. Meanwhile, a steady stream of bikers rolled by.
Suddenly, Mark insisted we stop at the Rebel Yell Bourbon booth. This was weird, because Mark is a beer drinker not a bourbon guy.
Choppers of every style were on glorious display.
Hot babes were hanging out at a lot of vendor booths and we even saw an angel crossing the street.
But there were some real dogs too.
Corsets are a favorite outfit for women bikers, and there were plenty to be found. The guys lean towards more bad boy images, and they go for skeletons of all kinds.
One of the favorite pastimes for everyone at Sturgis is people watching. Not only do folks set up chairs in front yards all over town, but the bars have outdoor seating, and temporary standup bars are set up along the roads so you can hang out with a beer and watch the wild procession go by.
For lots of Sturgis-goers, the longer the beard and the wilder the duds the better. They even have a beard contest (with a dozen categories) that is a qualifier for the National Beard Contest (who knew there was such a thing?!). We saw quite a few good ones:
We even saw a beard-and-horns combo:
And there were a few headdresses that were totally over the top.
Black leather was favored by the motorcycle rally crowd, and leather vests were particularly popular with the guys. Folks put huge patches on the back that told a little about themselves.
There was a huge contingent with Combat Veteran patches on their backs, and each had additional patches for where they had fought. There was a strong comaraderie among these guys, and their service had been extensive, across continents and decades: Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Desert Storm, Vietnam and more.
Sturgis draws people from all over the world, and we saw people from very far-flung destinations!
Tatoos are really popular with the Sturgis crowd too, and anyone who didn’t come to the rally with one — or who had a bare spot where they could squeeze in another — had plenty of options around town for getting the tatoo image of their dreams, short term or long!!
One of the most impressive tatoos we saw peeked out from behind a leather vest…
The tatoo artists weren’t the only talented graphics designers around town. We watched one attendee plop down on a bench, pull out a sketch pad, and start drawing the crazy motorcycle scene in front of him.
At one vendor booth a pinstripe artist drew fantastic curvy designs on motorcycle tanks and fenders. I had no idea these guys did this freehand. What skill!!
The engineering design at the heart of the whole motorcycle rally, of course, is the Harley Davidson engine. A massive mockup of the engine was on display in the middle of it all.
There were oodles of really clever motorcycle designs everywhere, and we got a huge kick out of seeing them. One beautiful silver one caught my eye, and I idly looked at the price tag. My eyes jumped out of my head when I saw $94,048. It was handwritten and a little funky looking, so I checked the next bike to see if I’d missed a digit or something. Nope! The next (really gorgeous and extremely customized) bike was nearly the same price. Holy smokes!!
Some people stay in the many motels around town and in the surrounding communities, but many people camp in one way or another. Lots of people camp in big beautiful toy haulers, and Jayco was in town with two brand new models that we walked through and checked out. But bunches of folks were camping in tents.
A few even towed a tiny popup tent trailer behind their motorcycle!!
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is as much an industry trade show as it is a social gathering for like minded motorcycle enthusiasts. Every open piece of land throughout the town and out in the hinterlands was filled with vendor booths, and you could buy anything and everything you ever dreamed of for your bike.
And if your bike needed a tune-up or an oil change, you had a choice of at least a dozen places to get that done!
Every so often as we roamed around we’d here the deafening roar of a motorcycle “giving it all she’s got.” It turned out that several vendors had brought enormous trailers that had a complete laboratory dynamometer inside. After installing an engine tuner on a bike, they would dyno the motorcycle to find out its horsepower and torque!!
As we walked through one area, we heard the whine of motorcycle engines revving like crazy. Slithering through the crowd, we found some motorcycle tricksters doing all kinds of crazy stunts. Wow!!
For those who couldn’t quite pull off a wheelie or do a brake torque on a motorcycle, there was a bike set up on a permanent tilt where you could hop aboard and pose for a photo finish in a motorcycle race. I couldn’t pass that up!!
In many ways, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a street photographer’s heaven, and we saw cameras and photographers of all kinds roaming around. When we noticed one fellow with a really elaborate setup, we stopped to chat. It turned out he was from the Travel Channel! He was busy videoing bikes on the road, but inside a nearby bar we found the rest of the crew interviewing rally-goers right at the bar!
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally isn’t limited to the small town of Sturgis. Sturgis is just party central!
People bring their bikes to this part of the country because the roads outside of town, and all through the Black Hills, are so ideal for riding. Knowing they’ll be seeing thousands of bikes roll through during the ten day rally, restaurants, campgrounds and motels in all the outlying towns cater to their every need.
There was live music galore at all hours of the day and night at a dozen different venues in town and many more on the outskirts. Some were lesser known bands, but big headliners including Ozzie Ozbourne performed too!
As we drove around the area, we noticed that a lot of bikes kept heading down one particular road, so we decided to follow them one day.
They were heading to the Full Throttle Saloon, and on the way there we passed several sprawling tent city campgrounds that had been set up to house the motorcyclists for the ten day event.
Even here at the Full Throttle Saloon, about 3 miles from the heart of downtown Sturgis, the place was flooded with beautiful motorcycles.
The candy colors were eye-poppingly pretty, and we wandered from one stunningly gorgeous full dresser big wheel bike to the next.
The rally went on for days, and although we had thought we would just pop in for a few hours on the first day, we ended up spending nearly a week in the area. There’s just so much going on–and we didn’t do even a fraction of it–that it’s very hard to leave!
But every so often you do need to take a break. Among the casual, fun-loving and slightly geriatric crowd at Sturgis, taking a breather is never a problem. You can kick back on your bike and take a snooze right in the middle of it all!
If you have a chance to go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally at some point, it is a really fun event to attend. I’ve got a few links below to help plan a trip.
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More info about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally:
- Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – Official Website
- Sturgis Area Atrractions – Another Rally Website
- RV Parks and Campgrounds around Sturgis, SD – RV Park Reviews
- Sturgis Venues for the Motorcycle Rally – Interactive Google Maps
Other blog posts about fun vehicle rallies we’ve seen in our RV life:
- Acadia National Park – Alluring Beauty on the Maine Coast 07/01/15
- Nevada Open Road Challenge – A NEED for SPEED! 05/30/14
- San Diego’s Shelter Island – A Lively Waterfront! 12/05/13
- Sun Valley Road Rally – Go Granny Go! 08/16/14
- The Best Way to Enjoy Colorado’s Scenic Drives? In a Porsche! 07/23/17
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- Solar Eclipse 2017: Time-Lapse Videos from the South Dakota Badlands 08/21/17
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