I didn’t grow up in a motorcycle family. When I started working in a Harley dealership at 19 years old, I had no clue what, “Are ya goin to the rally?!” meant, or why it was such a big deal to people in Texas. Fast forward 8 years later, and three consecutive solo rides to Sturgis, I completely understand the hype, even as a Millennial.
Sturgis, South Dakota—The City of Riders—sits on the northern edge of the Black Hills, a small mountain range in far west South Dakota. Don’t underestimate the area by its size on a map. The hills are home to some of the United States’s best motorcycle riding, which is only a plus to what the rally was originally based upon racing. The Black Hills are legendary in the biker
world and have become the Mecca and annual meeting place for many V-Twin riders. In 80 Years, (Sturgis was actually cancelled 2 of those years during World War II, so 2018 is only the 78th Annual Rally) the event has gone from a small gathering of racers and spectators hosted by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, to an event that encompasses everything motorcycle related and then some, with over 400,000 motorcyclists flocking to the area every August.
The Black Hills host so many things to do during the rally, you could clone yourself a few times and still not be able to see everything. If you’re not sure where to start, here are 10 things you need to accomplish within 10 days of attending the Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™:
1. Prepare to spend an entire 24 hours at the historic Buffalo Chip. Every “biker campground” is wild in its own ways, but in recent years, the Chip has been the place to be from sunrise to sunrise. (It’s even going to become its own town in the next year!) There’s something to do at every hour of the day, from big name concert headliners, racing, wet t-shirt contests, night clubs, and attendees who probably spend their entire year designing their campground party area. Who knew so many 20 something and 60 something-year-olds could get weird together and be stoked about it?!
2. Motorcycle Shows: Whether you like stretched fender big wheel baggers, performance Harley’s, or choppers, there is something for you at the rally. The Horse/Backstreet Choppers Magazine ride in bike show has always been a favorite of mine. A rule of the show is that if you clean your bike, you’re disqualified (or so I’m told). Most of the entrants rode to the rally on their questionable, garage built bikes from at least 500 miles away. Regardless if they rode into Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ or not, they had to at least ride into that show, and that means that their bikes are running, unlike some trailer queen show winners at other events.
3. RACING! The entire foundation that Sturgis was built upon! In 1938 The Jackpine Gypsies hosted races at what is now the Historical Sturgis Half Mile Track. You can still see antique board trackers race to this day on the dirt track during the Spirit of Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ event, put on by Brittney Olsen, a 20-something female antique motorcycle racer who’s efforts to save the Historic Sturgis Half-Mile track have been a success over the years. If you’re up for a little more modern racing, the Super Hooligan Circuit that is held at the Chip, or the AMA Pro Black Hills Half-Mile in Rapid City are excellent second choices.
4. RIDE! When you head into Sturgis from any direction you wonder, “why on earth would anyone want to have a party out here?!” …and then you reach the Black Hills and everything starts to make a little bit more sense—the area is a like an oasis in the middle of a desert, but with twisty roads and scenic views for every motorcyclist that had to ride the bland highways surrounding the area to get there. Highway 16 from Keystone to Custer State Park, followed by a ride up Needles Highway is a must do for anyone visiting the area. You’ll not only pass by Mount Rushmore, but you just might see a heard of Bison in the Park. Be sure to stop at Mount Rushmore and grab some ice cream—yep, it’s a thing!
5. A night out on the town must always be finished with a Sweeto Burrito, located in front of the Iron Horse Saloon. — or, a hangover must always be cured with a Sweeto Burrito, however, your cards fall into place. This South Dakota food truck is honestly half the reason I return to the rally every year. Burritos bigger than my forearm filled with tater tots and fried egg and ranch dressing and things are completely worth a 1,500+ mile two-wheeled adventure.
6. Go to a HAIRBALL concert! This might be one of my biggest suggestions besides the burritos. Unless you’re too cool, hair metal cover bands are a heck of a good time, and these guys do it best. With costume changes to match the band, they’re covering, it is nothing short of an entertaining evening. Kick a few suds back, let loose, and enjoy the show!
7. Learn Something! There is so much history surrounding the Sturgis Rally. From the Sturgis Museum & Hall of Fame on Main Street to the lawless gold rush town of Deadwood, and Native American influence on attractions such as the Crazy Horse Monument and Devil’s Tower, there’s much to learn in the area.
8. Ride one of the dirt roads around town. If you’re skilled enough to ride off pavement, explore the “locals only” style roads surrounding the city. They have low traffic during the rally compared to the main roads, so sometimes you’re able to soak in some views without the rest of the population. The roads are typically packed, but gravely, loose areas can exist, so ride within your abilities. If you dump it, it might take a while for someone to drive by and see that you need help.
9. Club Skeet & Club Iron Horse. Have no fear, Millenials, Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™ has thought of everything to keep us entertained. When the sun goes down and the dad rock and pop country music dwindle, the hip-hop beats turn up at the two clubs in Sturgis. Club Chip, better known as Club Skeet (you’ll find out why when you visit. Hint: if you can find the larger than life neon sign that says “skeet” in the dark, you’ve come to the right place) will require a Buffalo Chip wristband for entry, but if you’re already in the gates, be sure to drop it to the floor a few times with your friends before you head home. The Iron Horse Saloon is free to everyone, however, you can’t pass out in the grass as you please when it’s time to go home, like most areas of the Chip.
10. Support a charity ride. One of the best things about the motorcycle community is the internal support that is created amongst riders. Multiple charity rides take off around the rally every day, each with a different purpose and route. The Good Ride, hosted by Cary Hart, and the Biker Belles ride, are both excellent choices if you need pointers. Most rides host motorcycle industry legends, so while you’re riding for a cause, you may also get to check something off of your bucket list, like riding alongside one of your inspirations. Win, win!