Half a million riders descend upon small-town South Dakota each year.
Imagine a place with beautiful scenery, fun roads, and where motorcycles vastly outnumber cars. This is Sturgis, South Dakota, where hundreds of thousands of riders come to play for one week each year. I spent this past week at Sturgis to see for myself what it's all about.
The vast majority of motorcycles are the American cruisers of Indian, Victory, and especially Harley-Davidson. For every 100 of these bikes you see, there will be one Japanese or European bike. It's no wonder that there was no wait for a BMW demo ride, nor that I was the only rider in my group. While my personal motorcycle tastes typically run toward the Japanese, Indian was kind enough to loan me a Springfield Dark Horse for my stay in South Dakota. It was the right tool for the right job, enabling me to blend in perfectly with the masses. More on the bike another time.
Biker culture runs strong, and parties are everywhere. I stayed at an RV at the Buffalo Chip, right in the center of activity. The amphitheater hosts races throughout the weekend, from American Flat Track to Gambler minibike races. At night the track becomes the place to be for concerts by big-name performers. Styx, Collective Soul, Dee Snyder, Disturbed, Snoop Dogg, and Toby Keith were among this year's shows. Alcohol flows freely, but if you're staying at the Chip there's no need to hit the road to your home away from home afterward. Such is not the case elsewhere. More on that later, too.
Gallery: Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2019
If you want to hang out with other bikers and party like it's 1999, Sturgis is the place to be, whether at the Chip or in the center of Sturgis itself. Vendors are everywhere, selling everything from t-shirts to patches to leather biker attire. You can find pretty much any aftermarket equipment for your (American) bike you can imagine, and often even have it installed there. Food and drink, alcoholic and not, is everywhere along Main and Lazelle Streets. The rumble of the V-twin never fades away.
The strongest police presence that I have ever seen at any event anywhere keeps the peace in Sturgis. According to the Argus Leader, the vast majority of infractions are traffic citations, with DUI and drug infractions following behind. It's not a perfect utopia, but with hundreds of arrests and one traffic fatality this year among hundreds of thousands of attendees, despite its rough and tough image, it's actually a pretty safe place.
For me, though, the real draw of the place isn't the parties, but the riding itself. Many Native American tribes consider the Black Hills of South Dakota to be sacred land. After seeing this area for myself, I understand why. Western South Dakota is an amazing place to ride a motorcycle, whether exploring the Badlands, seeing wild beasts up close and personal on the Custer Wildlife Loop, or visiting Mount Rushmore. All of these are within easy striking distance of Sturgis. For a real challenge, check out the twisties of Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road. Spearfish Canyon is a fun ride as well, and nearby Deadwood offers gambling and a true wild west history.
It's a lot to take in. I did the best I could during my short time there. Stay tuned this weekend to read all about the good, the bad, and the ugly of Sturgis.
Source: Argus Leader