I remember attending my first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the mid-90s when a veteran rally goer told me he’d been attending for 18 years. I thought, “Wow, will I ever get to say that? Will I ever want to say that?”
Well, I just attended my 18th Sturgis Rally. I can’t believe I’m saying that actually. Am I that old now?
At Women Riders Now we cover all of street motorcycling—cruiser, sportbike and touring—and there are different rallies and events to suit different tastes. I have many friends who wouldn’t be caught dead at the Sturgis Rally, while others I know can only dream of attending the wildest motorcycle rally in the West.
While Sturgis may not be the biggest rally in terms of attendance—it has Daytona Bike Week to contend with—or the oldest rally—Laconia Bike Week heads into its 91st year!—Sturgis is considered perhaps the wildest, with its mix of custom motorcycles, scenic riding and wild women and men.
All that aside, I thought I’d wrap up this year’s rally with some observations mixed in with some facts so those who couldn’t make it this year know what they missed, and those who dream of attending someday know what they are in for.
1. Summer Camp for Adults
While in my hotel room in Sheridan, Wyoming, on the way to Sturgis, with my two riding partners, Jan Kane and Debbie Gould, there was a news segment airing on the TV showcasing a local summer camp for adults and it showed the adults hanging from trees like Tarzan and walking across a rope bridge. We three drew the same analogy that Sturgis is like summer camp for adults but at this “camp” anything goes and there are no chaperones—well, except for the police who will ticket you for things like not wearing proper eye-wear at night on your motorcycle and other dirty deeds like that.
Socially though, anything goes.
2. Attendance in 2014
This rally was an “off” year in terms of attendance. First timers will disagree as Main Street and surrounding areas were packed with motorcycles, but those of us who’ve been attending for some time can tell the numbers were down based on things like traffic patterns, how many empty vendor spaces there were on Lazelle Street, and the availability of hotel rooms at the last minute. Concurrently, official records indicate fatalities and DUI arrests were down over last year, so that’s a good thing.
Next year will be the 75th year for the rally, one reason for this year’s lower numbers as many people wait to attend on a milestone anniversary year. I remember the 70th and 60th being huge years with numbers topping 700,000 people over the course of the 10-day rally.
3. Sturgis Buffalo Chip
The Sturgis Buffalo Chip has become the hub of big name entertainment as it tries to be everything to everybody. I’ve watched as the Buffalo Chip used to have a reputation as being the raunchiest campground at the rally and only the bravest would camp there. My longtime Sturgis rally buddy, Betsy Huelskamp, who pens WRN’s Backroads With Betsy column, and I would actually be afraid to venture out there for fear of being taken advantage. That campground was for the rough-and-tumble, or so we heard.
In the last 10 years or so, the Buffalo Chip has worked hard to change its hardcore image by offering top notch rock-n-roll entertainment with bands like Train, The Zac Brown Band, ZZ Top, Mötley Crüe and Alice Cooper this year, as well as aligning itself with charitable rides like the Biker Bellesand the Legends Ride. Their goal is capture rally goers by offering them a place to camp, a place to eat, a place to shop, a place for entertainment, and a place to drink without ever leaving the Chip for the entire 10 days.
I stopped by the Chip on Monday night to see The Zac Brown Band and as I stood gazing up at the stage with my friends Jan and Debbie, I marveled at how Rod “Woody” Woodruff, the owner of the Chip, and his team have made the impossible happen. Put up a world-class musical stage to host big name bands performing in front of thousands of intoxicated bikers (buzzed, drunk, stoned… I didn’t see many sober folks), and allow motorcycles, ATVs and golf carts to park in the grassy field.
Oh, and just for good measure we’ll add a zip line across the entire field so that anyone wanting to pony up some extra cash can get even higher.
Then we’ll hire fire-breathing girls to stand in the crowd who swallow vodka and then spit it out with force onto the flaming fire stick she’s holding so it looks like she’s breathing flames.
How does one even ask for an insurance policy for this!?
Oh… we’ll also surround the whole field with food, and clothing and accessory vendors (and clean restrooms!) so people can have a nice cozy night on the town. Even the particular eater that I am enjoyed a nice BBQ chicken and baked potato dinner!
The impossible—and more—has been achieved at the Buffalo Chip. I applaud them for not only changing the face of the Sturgis Rally in recent years by attracting big name entertainment (and squashing the competition in the process; does anyone remember the “Rockin’ the Rally” venue over at Glencoe?), but going above and beyond to attract the outlandish and the outrageous that keep people coming back for more.
There is an incredible marketing and promotion team at the Chip that goes overboard making sure we know all that’s being offered at the biggest campground in Sturgis six miles east of town. And I haven’t even begun to touch on the half of all the activities going on during the 10 days, which also included military tributes, custom bike shows, off-road truck competition, midget bowling, Miss Buffalo Chip contest and so much more.
4. Riding Gear
Since I started working full time in the motorcycle industry in 1999 I started wearing “all the gear, all the time.” A helmet, a jacket and gloves. And on long trips, my legs are protected with chaps or Kevlar lined jeans. No matter what the thermometer reads, I’m in full gear.
This year, more than ever, I felt so out of place in this no-helmet, no jacket, no gloves—heck no shirt!—wearing crowd in Sturgis. Yes, it’s not uncommon for men to ride shirtless and women to ride in bikini tops. It takes me that much longer to get ready to hop on my motorcycle among my no-gear-wearing friends, but in the end, it’s not worth it to me to get on my motorcycle—even once—without my safety gear.
Through my work I’m privy to so much information on motorcycle accidents that I know it can happen in an instant and I want to protect my assets. No judgment either way, but know that if you go to Sturgis and you wear gear, you’ll be one in about 35 bikers I estimated wearing a helmet, let alone a jacket.
5. Sturgis Rally Scenic Riding
This rally can’t be beat when it comes to its proximity to some of the most scenic and finest motorcycle riding roads in the country that include three national treasures, Mt. Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Monument and Devils Tower National Monument. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally gets high marks for being more than bikes, booze and baubles. You can check off a bunch of bucket list items here by visiting these three national sites while you’re at the rally.
6. The Weather
It’s always a mixed bag at the Sturgis Rally. Held in early August each year, I remember rallies where temps soared in the high 90s. This year, while the mercury didn’t push that high, the low 90s combined with, what seemed like an unusual high level of humidity, made for extra hot and sticky conditions. All week, unstable air surrounded the Black Hills with several days starting out with dense fog in Sturgis followed by rain and/or clouds. Rain gear was the hot ticket at the vendors this year.
7. Da Bus
Da Bus is an enterprising idea that someone came up with a few years ago to haul those who didn’t want to drink and ride from their campground or hotel to the bars. My friend Jan convinced me to take Da Bus this year out to the Buffalo Chip on Monday night to see Zac Brown. I don’t drink at this time in my life so not wanting to deal with riding home in the dark or in the rain, I paid the $22 for a roundtrip ride on the Da Bus.
Well, what an experience that was! I was actually pleasantly surprised to see how this little idea has grown to a full-fledged transportation system with several different routes converging at a “grand central terminal” if you will, carting more than drinkers around. There were plenty of us who just wanted a break from the motorcycle that evening to enjoy after-dark festivities while mitigating risk. The party atmosphere on Da Bus was entertaining in itself with people drinking (yes, beer is sold on Da Bus) and singing to da songs on Da Bus radio speakers.
8. Local Color
Sturgis is a town with a population of 6,644 residents. Some leave during rally week opting to rent out their home or simply take their summer vacations during that time, while others stay to enjoy the “color” that journeys to their small enclave in the Black Hills. I captured a few local seniors getting in on the act with their “wheeled” vehicles.
9. Rally T-shirts for WRN Readers!
Hot Leathers, a longtime supporter of Women Riders Now, holds the license to produce t-shirts and gear for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. These shirts are the real deal, and there are t-shirts still for sale from the 2014 rally.
If you didn’t have a chance to buy one while you were there, or simply want a commemorative Sturgis Rally t-shirt whether you attended or not, visit this link to order now.
WRN readers get free shipping regardless of the total cost of the order. Just mention the code “WRN” at check out.
10. Sturgis Rally 2015
The year 2015 marks the 75th anniversary for the Sturgis Rally; dates were announced at this year’s event at an unveiling of the new logo for the 75th. Anniversary years bring out a lot more people to the rally so be sure to book your accommodations early—like now! You’ll find that many hotels are already booked full and there is a limited number of available home rentals as people plan anniversary rallies years in advance. Keep looking and be sure to add your name to waiting lists if offered.
Please share your observations in the comments below. I want to know what you think about anything related to Sturgis.
And read our other Sturgis 2014 stories:
Sturgis Rally Virgins: A Newbie’s Perspective
Biker Belles Event 2014