[UPDATE August 7, 2020: Reid Wilson, VP of Indian Motorcycle, spoke with RideApart after publication of this piece. He clarified Indian’s plan for Sturgis, and addressed the issues raised here in detail.  

Wilson clarified that Indian Motorcycle has been taking pandemic safety and CDC guidelines very seriously, and had extensive discussions about the right approach for Sturgis well in advance of the event. Only four employees from Indian HQ are attending Sturgis this year; on a normal year, they’d send around 50. Those employees are working outdoors only, and will wear masks and stay socially distanced six feet away from other people.  

Indian is offering demo rides on Lazelle Street, but they’re by appointment only—no walk-ups permitted. Crowd control measures are in place as well. Finally, the employees attending this event from Indian volunteered to go, and are all staying in separate housing while they’re at the event. Employees from Indian HQ are there to support a local Indian Motorcycle dealer based in Sturgis, who will also be represented at the 2020 event.] 

Original piece follows. 

Polaris just announced its approach to keeping its employees and potential customers safe while Indian Motorcycle goes about its business at Sturgis in 2020. After all, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t go away. Over 156,000 Americans have already died from this virus at the time of writing in August, 2020. As motorcyclists, we’re well used to taking calculated risks to enjoy one of our favorite things in life, but no one currently living through it actually bargained for this virus.  

What did Polaris CFO Michael Speetzen have to say on the matter, exactly? “We’re planning to approach it in a very careful manner,” Speetzen told Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade. “We are limiting the number of employees that will be exposed. We are leveraging our dealerships, which have proved they have got a true capability to ensure customer safety.” 

He didn’t go into any actual detail, and instead offered some nebulous, soothing, ultimately toothless proclamations about keeping everyone safe. That is, of course, what everyone wants to hear right now.  

“As we do demo rides and allow people to experience our products, we’ll do it in a way that keeps them safe and makes sure we are keeping employees and the dealership employees safe when they are interacting,” he said.  “[Sturgis] is an important part of the business in terms of getting customers the ability to have access to the vehicles and get to touch and feel and see how great the products can be in that part of the world.” 

Downtown Sturgis
Sturgis 2019: A lot of people, and not a lot of space.

Attendance for Sturgis is expected to be around 250,000 people, which is lower than typical years, but still much bigger than probably any other U.S. event being held this year. Heck, the Indianapolis 500 was canceled, delayed, rescheduled, and will finally run later in August without any fans in the stands because the situation is so serious in 2020.  

When polled by the city, over 60 percent of Sturgis’ full-time residents said they thought that the should be canceled for 2020. Nevertheless, it’s going on. Here’s my thing, though, and I’m coming at this as a former professional cook who worked in the hospitality industry for several years. As riders, we make decisions for ourselves all the time. That’s one thing. If you and a bunch of your friends want to do something together, so be it. I’m not here to debate that part of it, no matter what personal feelings I may have. 

What about employees who have no choice but to attend, or else risk losing their jobs? Some employees may want to attend, but I’d genuinely be surprised if every single one at the event was absolutely champing at the bit to go during this pandemic. It isn’t just a case of a bad employee calling in sick so they can skip work to go do something more fun. This is a potentially serious, extremely contagious illness. It’s also one that can cause myriad health complications even in those with ‘mild’ cases (in other words, those who don’t require hospitalization and/or ventilators). Harley-Davidson even banned its corporate employees from travel for safety reasons, so they won't be there, Sturgis Rally and Events director Jerry Cole told KEVN.

We know the standard argument: Sturgis is an important event for the motorcycle industry, and plenty of vendors would stand to lose even more money than has already been lost this year if it was canceled. I’m not a business expert, and I don’t have any perfect solutions for this conundrum.

Can’t the industry do better than this, though? I mean, we can reasonably assume that people won’t be spending much money on bikes, accessories, or gear if they’re either a) dead, or b) spending all their money on medical bills and trying not to lose their homes because they’re too ill to work. It’s incredibly short-sighted, and the complete opposite of the growth the industry says it wants to pursue. 

Sources: Yahoo Finance, Johns Hopkins COVID-19 MapReuters, KEVNWBEZ

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