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!
WOW!!! Welcome to Sturgis!!!
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.
Ahem… a lower key welcome…
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.
Some babes wear bikinis at the bike wash. Others zip around town on cool Harleys.
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.
Entrepreneurial home and business owners rent out tent space on the front lawn!
Even the local Episcopal church had temporarily transformed into the Church of the Spoke ‘n Wheel.
Church of the Spoke ‘n Wheel — Great sermons, by the way!
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.
Jack Daniels had a huge vendor tent with free tastings!
Other whiskeys, bourbons and wine were on offer too along with $2 pints of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Suddenly, Mark insisted we stop at the Rebel Yell Bourbon booth. This was weird, because Mark is a beer drinker not a bourbon guy.
Hmmm. Why in the world would Mark want to check out Rebel Yell bourbon?!
Choppers of every style were on glorious display.
Some hogs are exquisitely crafted and decorated.
Hot babes were hanging out at a lot of vendor booths and we even saw an angel crossing the street.
An angel walks by.
But there were some real dogs too.
Pooch gets a ride.
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.
Corsets for the ladies…
…and T-shirt images for the gents!
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.
Real bars and makeshift bars were filled with people watchers all over town and beyond!
We saw lots of wild animals in Custer State Park, but Sturgis has a lot of wildlife too!
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:
Ready for the beard contest.
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.
Hells Angels showed up!
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.
Combat vets gathered with pride.
Sturgis draws people from all over the world, and we saw people from very far-flung destinations!
A pair of visitors from Mazatlan, Mexco…
…and from Germany too!
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!!
Need a tatoo? Come get it here!
One of the most impressive tatoos we saw peeked out from behind a leather vest…
Now that’s a tatoo!
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.
An artist begins a drawing of the crazy street scene on his sketch pad.
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 confidence and steady hand this pinstripe artist had was astonishing. He worked really fast too!
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.
At the heart of Sturgis — the Harley Davidson engine!!
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!!
What a cool ride — with a Corvette style back end!
The engine is back here — under the lid!!
Spitting hellfire and fury out the tailpipes!!
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!!
Motorcycle camping in style with a popup!
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!!
What’s your bike’s horsepower and torque? Find out here!
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!!
These guys rode their Kawasakis like they were tiny BMX bikes!
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 Travel Channel was interviewing folks 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.
Rolling thunder! Huge groups of bikes dominated the roads for a 50 mile radius from town. Just incredible!
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.
Tent city campgrounds had sprouted up all over the place. Is $75 a night for a tent site too much?
Even here at the Full Throttle Saloon, about 3 miles from the heart of downtown Sturgis, the place was flooded with beautiful motorcycles.
Pick your favorite color…
The candy colors were eye-poppingly pretty, and we wandered from one stunningly gorgeous full dresser big wheel bike to the next.
Stunning full dresser big wheel bikes lined up at the Full Throttle Saloon outside of town.
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!
Long night last night? Catch a few winks on your bike!
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.
Sturgis Motorcycle Rally — a really good time!!
Never miss a post — it’s free!
More info about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally:
Other blog posts about fun vehicle rallies we’ve seen in our RV life:
Other things to see and do in South Dakota
– Blog posts from our South Dakota RV travels
Our most recent posts:
More of our Latest Posts are in the MENU.
New to this site? Visit RVers Start Here to find where we keep all the good stuff!!
<-Previous || Next->