Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Sturgis Rally

From our first day in Spearfish, back in early May, we were warned about what to expect during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in August.  Buy your groceries two weeks before, people said.  Don’t plan on driving in the Black Hills, they said.  Don’t even try to visit a restaurant, they said.  And they were right.  But it wasn’t at all what we expected.
Sturgis Street View3First, some observations.  Imagine moving the entire population of Sacramento, California to a small town of just over 6000.  Yup, this year’s rally estimate of people in Sturgis is 467,000.  Then add another 100,000 or so in the surrounding areas.  Suddenly I-90, usually quiet, looks like the Washington Beltway at rush hour, only with motorcycles.  Supermarket shelves are half-empty, and prices are up 20% or so.  New menus appear at the usually reasonable restaurants, and gas prices inch upward.  An RV spot with water & electric hookups in the middle of a field – $85.  A room at the Econolodge – $180.  But the rally is all about the people, and what a show it was.
Sturgis Street View4If you haven’t been to the rally, you probably have a mental picture of thousands of lean, angry-looking bikers, with their youthful, tanned and tattooed babes on the rear seat…..well, not exactly.  Instead of Hell’s Angels on Wheels, think AARP on Trikes.  We began to realize that most of these folks were inspired by Eric Von Zipper and the Ratz back in the “Beach Party” movies of the early 60s.  With the age of the men in today’s rally, Eric Von Zipper’s “the finger” gesture has an entirely different meaning. 
Our park in Spearfish catered to the less-than-hard-core crowd, and we watched as motorhomes, toy haulers, and large SUVs pulling trailers unloaded their cargo of shiny Harleys, then as the owners donned denims, tied scarves around their heads pirate-style, and roared off to the rally.  Although the rally attendees think of themselves a rugged individualists, in fact, they all pretty much look the same.  As a local resident wrote in a letter to the Rapid City newspaper, “Sturgis is like a big Halloween party where everyone is wearing the same costume”.  Sturgis Street View5But it isn’t all geriatric tranquility; there was a knife fight between two outlaw gang members, four fatalities due to accidents, a tad over 250 DUI arrests, and one drug overdose (reportedly Metamucil).  OK, I made that last one up.  Still, it’s impressive that so many people can get together with copious amounts of alcohol, huge entertainment venues, and pasty-wearing women without more mayhem taking place.  
Sturgis Street View2Surprisingly, you can actually drive through Sturgis during the rally, although it’s at a very slow pace and akin to driving down the midway at a carnival.  Vendors everywhere, bars overflowing, and an occasional young lady with nothing above the waist except pasties or an airbrush painting, since the local law requires that they have “some” type of covering.  One can only hope that the Sturgis town council will get over it’s puritanical rules.  $5 Lemonade and a ViewDuring one stop, I was fascinated by the lemonade stand with the signs advertising  “Lemonade – $5.00”, although Brenda accuses me of taking the picture of the underdressed girl in the background.  I explained to her that it was only fair to capture the image of the young lady after she had won such a grueling athletic event.  After all, those wet t-shirt contests can be exhausting.

Buffalo Chip CampgroundWe took a trip out of town to the famous Buffalo Chip, a huge campground that becomes a city during the rally.  Thousands park here, and the nightly entertainment line up is amazing.  You can see an aerial photo here.  Patriot FlagAt the entrance, we stopped to look at the Patriot Flag; a huge tribute flag mounted on a fire truck and surrounded by smaller flags.  Tents, RVs, and motorcycle riders were everywhere – probably not a place to get a good night’s sleep. 

Sturgis, no surprise, has a number of “biker bars”, many of which are closed except for the rally.  All have colorful names, like “Knuckles”, “One-eyed Jacks”, “Temporary Insanity”, “Loud American”, and “Full Throttle”. Full Throttle Saloon All have full parking lots throughout the rally – I’d love to see a statistic on how much beer is shipped to the area during the rally.  As you can imagine, security is a big issue during the rally.  Throughout the state, law enforcement personnel schedule their vacation time to coincide with the rally so that they can serve as temporary officers.  Groups of two or more police are everywhere, and on the interstate near Sturgis it’s a rare day when you don’t see three or more highway patrol vehicles.  Considering the crowds, the alcohol, and the free-wheeling atmosphere, the no-nonsense attitude of law enforcement in the area makes sense, and for us non-rally visitors, is much appreciated.
Deadwood Street Scene2We took a ride through Deadwood, which is a popular place for bikers during the day.  I talked to a local who works in a Deadwood casino and was surprised when she told me that it was quiet at night, as the biker crowd headed for the Sturgis entertainment venues.  Still, it was interesting to see the bikes lined up along the main street in contrast to the old buildings.

Bikini Bike WashFinally, no trip to the rally would be complete without checking out a “Bikini Bike Wash”.  I eagerly looked for a bike to rent so that I could help out these young ladies, but the only bike anyone would rent me was a 10-speed Schwinn.  Besides, that big dog sleeping under the table looked mean.
We’re glad we were here to experience the rally – it’s a one-of-a-kind event!  But it reminds us of a saying we learned in Japan, “a wise man climbs Mount Fuji once, only a fool does it twice”.  We’ll try to avoid being in the area in the future, it’s just too painful.  Although, I am considering taking classes in “airbrush art”, after all, the additional income during the rally would contribute to Brenda’s casino fund.
We’re off to the Escapee’s rally in Gillette, Wyoming, where there’ll be more while-haired people than at a Golden Corral Senior’s Night.  Thank heaven there won’t be a Bikini RV Wash……..


  1. have fun at the rally!..Sturgis sounds like a rally in itself!!!

  2. What a hilarious post.

  3. I don't know Keith, it looks damn near perfect, to me!

  4. Mary and Jim8:31 AM

    What a great commentary on The Rally! You made it seem almost civilized!

  5. Anonymous8:27 PM

    Your post made it like I was almost there... I know how much time it take to doe a post ...