My Perspective on Sturgis

Attendance, women's day and more

By Genevieve Schmitt, Editor

I just returned from Harley-Davidsons 105th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee, but before I blog about that, I have to catch you up on Sturgis. Harley stuff to come in a future blog.

The big talk around Sturgis this year – as well as after the rally, was about how low attendance was compared to last year. Funny, I noticed a bigger drop-off in 2007, but nobody was making a big deal about it then. I guess these things take a year to sink in. Ive been attending for the last 13 years so I feel Im qualified to judge one year to the next.

Motorcycles are a beautiful thing! All packed and riding to Sturgis.
With my husband, Norm, in Yellowstone Park on our way out to Sturgis.

Its no secret that motorcycle sales have been off the last two years after record double-digit growth. The sluggish economy is giving people reason to hold onto their hard-earned dollars. Motorcycles are not as appealing to those who had extra cash to splurge on a luxury item – the reason motorcycle sales skyrocketed in the first place. Every Tom, Dick, Harry and Susan with money wanted a custom motorcycle like the ones they saw on Discovery Channels Biker Build Off. Next thing you know, custom shops are opening up faster than you can say biker build off and those with unique, innovative designs are getting written up in magazines. The chopper craze is here!

It all came and went, though, in the span of about five years. The tightening economy made high dollar customs lose their shine fast. What were seeing now is a thinning of the masses that flocked to buy a motorcycle because it was the cool thing to do and they had the money to play. Rallies like Sturgis, with their “lower” attendance numbers, are simply experiencing a weaning of the flock. The diehards are still coming. And those with the extra moolah to spend this time have a true desire to be on two-wheels. So what if head count is down from the half-a-million it had been during the early 2000s. The quarter of a million or so who are still coming are the real deal.

Norm and his Road King with new apehangers I got him for his birthday. The apes attracted loads of attention from people asking him how he likes them. He loves them. Great for a guy his size – 6-feet-3 – where he can stretch out.

Aside from the fact that I could now get around Sturgis without getting stuck in mile-long traffic jams just from the sheer number of bikers there, this year was the first time in the 13 years Ive been going that I started feeling bored with the rally. Gosh, dare I say that! If it wasnt for the industry parties where I can hobnob with my friends, having a new motorcycle to ride there and back, and the always great, scenic route to Sturgis through Montana and Wyoming, Id probably consider not going. Not go to Sturgis! How could that be? I just think I need a break. At least thats how feel today. Well see how I feel next year.

First big trip with my new Street Glide. Beautiful scenery on Highway 14 in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.
Me posing by Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone.
Taking a bathroom break on the side of the road. That#39;s what we do when rest stops are scarce.

Highlights from this Years Rally
Its been interesting watching from my industry leading vantage point how this “women and motorcycling” thing is catching on in various parts of the industry. First it was in apparel; next it was in the form of its own rallies; now big rallies are creating a place for “women and motorcycling.” Hats off to Tyna Bower of Independent Cycle of Rapid City, South Dakota, for creating and promoting a Womens Day at the Top 50 Rally Park, a vendor parking lot area alongside Interstate 90 between Sturgis and Rapid City. I give her an A for effort for the ambitious schedule of events and industry leading names it attracted like Jody Perewitz and Laura Klock to give a seminar.

Unfortunately, Womens Day was loosely organized and people browsing the vendors on Thursday, August, 7, the day set aside for women, had no idea it was going on because there were no signs indicating it. You would have had to know ahead of time that there was a breast cancer awareness ride in the morning, tech seminars geared for women scheduled throughout the day, an Icon fashion show, “women in the industry” awards, and a few women-focused vendors like me who came there just to capitalize on the added female foot traffic – of which there was none. Im sorry to say that, but I have to be honest.

Doing a womens day in a rally like Sturgis where events are so spread out, and there is sooooo much to do is quite an awesome task if its to be done right and one, that if I saw an opportunity all the years Ive been attending, Id have organized something myself. I just think Sturgis is a tough venue if you want your womens event to have any impact and carry momentum from year to year. Im ready to be proved wrong on this by the way.

It was nice to see the usual industry leading supporters of these womens events there for the ride people like WRNs own Betsy Huelskamp, author Sasha Mullins, Garage-Girls.coms Jody Perewitz, worlds faster bagger record holder Laura Klock, and Discovery Channels “Motorcycle Women” co-star Gevin Fax, just to name a few. Click here to read our news story on the whole event.

Harley-Davidson has been doing a womens day at its product display at the Rapid City Civic Center for two years now. Its great that the Motor Company recognizes that women come to motorcycling through a different set of circumstances than men and things like “what do I do if I drop the motorcycle” is a barrier to some women getting in the saddle of their own motorcycle. Harleys womens day includes “how to pick up a dropped bike” seminar so women can see step by step how easy it is to lift a motorcycle by ones self if it falls. You can read our feature article on the technique by clicking here. It can be found in the Feature Articles section.

I always enjoy attending the Sturgis Hall of Fame induction ceremony taking place during the rally. This year, two women were inducted: Chris Sommer-Simmons and Becky Brown both profiled in our Way To Go Girl! link. Afterwards, I stopped by the museum to check out the new First Ladies of Motorcycling exhibit celebrating firsts for women in motorcycling. You can read our story on the exhibit in our news section by clicking here.

The First Ladies exhibit features Sarah Schilke, the first woman to be elected to the Motorcycle Industry Council board of directors.
The Motor Maids are part of the First Ladies exhibit.
Pointing to the plaque with my name hanging in the Sturgis Museum#39;s Hall of Fame for when I was inducted in 2001.
Outside the museum is a sidewalk made up of commemorative bricks. I purchased one and here it is. It has my name and underneath that it says Women Riders Now.

I connected with two special ladies this year. First was Laura Klock. Laura and I met briefly last year at Sturgis. When she set the record as the worlds fastest rider on a bagger motorcycle at the Bonneville Salt Flats in September 2006, she was immediately thrust into the spotlight. This year, I got to know her and her husband, Brian Klock, owner of Klock Werks.

New friends: me and Laura Klock posing on my bike.

14 thoughts on My Perspective on Sturgis

  1. I enjoyed the article about Sturgis and look forward to hearing about the 105th. In regards to reader's comments, I too was disappointed with the 105th. I rode with my 13-year-old daughter, am a person in recovery, and I'm gay, so there was little there for me!

    The trip was about the ride and that was incredible as the weather couldn't have been any better. The only issue to even deal with was (thanks to the Harley dealer in Theinsville, WI) an easily fixed exhaust leak on our “never meant to be a touring bike” 2004 1200 XL Sportster.
    We both loved the excitement of the dealer events, meeting some riders from our sister chapter of WITW, and the museum was awesome, but as always I wish there was something more.

    I haven't taken my daughter to Sturgis because of its reputation, but maybe the ride would be worth having to stay in the hotel from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m.?

  2. My husband and I went to the 105th. Although we love our Harleys and our local dealers, the event itself was disappointing. We got more enjoyment out of the dealer events around the area seeing vendors and special attractions. We would like to go to Sturgis to say we've been, but I'm more looking forward to the journey than the destination.

    I'm 49 and my kids and grandkids think it's great that “Granny” rides a motorcycle. I've only been riding for just over a year, minus the midwest winter, but I'm enjoying every minute I can spend on my bike.

  3. I just got back from Harley's 105 Birthday bash. It was my first long trip on my Low Rider from Ohio through Michigans UP over the Mackinaw Bridge down to Milwaukee. And it was the only highlight on this trip. Other than that, it was drinking and wet T-shirt contests in Milwaukee — which we did not enjoy. ZZ Top concert was so crowded that my husband had to get me out because people where pushing and shoving me. I am 5 feet 2 inches and 125 pounds. We don't drink so there was not that much for us to do.

    Museum was cool. Well go back to Sturgis any time because of all the scenic riding. I would love to see more womens rallys — real women who love to ride, not pose on bikes. South Dakota is beautiful. Lots of day trips on the bikes without bars. Go see it!

    1. Be sure to look out for information on the upcoming AMA Women and Motorcycling conference in Keystone next August. I just wrote about it in my blog and we'll be posting more info on it on WRN. It's all about real women who ride.

  4. This was my first time at Sturgis. Although it was fun watching everyone and their bikes I was suprised there wasn't anything for women except shirts and more shirts. I expected vendors with cool leathers and gear for women riders.

    I knew you were at woman's day but went to Rapid City looking for you. I asked for you at the women's Harley booth and they told me you were at Top 50 Rally Park. Off I went in search of you. I did get to talk to you and what a pleasure. Hope to meet you again. You said you had friends in Spokane.

    It was confusing what was going on where. I think more women would have showed up if it had been advertised better. The event at the Rapid City Civic center had some great displays. They had a bike you could sit on that would let you change the seat and height, pegs, handlebars, etc. to see how it fit you.

    I want to thank you for all your support and hard work to make things better for women riders.

  5. I am in love with South Dakota! My husband, myself and my 13-year-old son just returned from eight days exploring this gorgeous state. We are motorcycle owners/riders and are well aware of the Sturgis rally but purposely avoided visiting the area at that time. It is no place for children, but to tell you the truth, I don't want to see how little women can wear and still ride a bike.

    We loved having the roads in the Black Hills mostly to ourselves having rented Harleys to enjoy. (Fun, but missed our own Gold Wing and Kawasaki Vulcan!) I know there are many good points to the Sturgis rally as we witnessed on a video of the rally's history in the museum, and I think one must be that the cagers of S. Dakota really seem very aware of motorcycles. I was shown courtesy as a biker that I am not used to as an upstate New Yorker. I very much enjoyed the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and the First Ladies exhibit. It was a rush to see your plaque Genevieve feeling proud as if I saw a friend's accomplishment.

    I have been visiting WRN since before I owned my own bike. I'm blessed to have a terrific husband as my biking mentor but there is nothing like a woman's view of biking to speak clearly to a woman's heart. Thanks and keep writing!

  6. Love the article, I'll be really curious to what you thought of 105th. My sister and I attended. I wasn't impressed. The highlight was the museum.

    I liked your remarks about being bored at Sturgis and was actually impressed you said that, guts.

    I was totally bored at 105th. I think at the ripe age of 43 I'm well beyond the beer drinking party scene and was looking for something else that wasn't there, so maybe I didn't search far enough? Maybe you saw something more or the same? I can hardly wait for your thoughts and directness of what you really thought, like you touched upon with Sturgis. Dareness to tell it like it is needs to happen for these events to start taking a turn from the ol' party scene to something more informative for me to come again and be interested in spending my hard earn money next time. Let's all drink and drive is becoming a boring scene.

  7. I so agree with Judy (posted 9/2/08) about motorcycle events. I am for anything relating to women and riding, but I am sick to death of all these men who think that motorcycle events are nothing but a big (or little, whatever the case may be) “breast” show. We do not attend a lot of events for that reason. It just gets on my nerves when these young women parade around in their little thongs and mini skirts (you can almost see everything) and like always the “breast show” starts. Maybe it is because I am older now, but I am there to see the bands, the motorcycles, talk to women riders and have fun!

    I thought maybe at the 105th anniversary of Harley-Davidson that we would be able to get away from that, but sure enough waiting for ZZ Top it started and kept up for quite a while! Women who ride do not dress in those kind of things that they show in that picture. Have you ever seen a women riding that has that on?

  8. Genevieve, you hit the nail on the head with this article about Sturgis. This was my seventh year and I loved not having all the bikes and people as in the previous years. The roads were wide open and it wasn't shoulder to shoulder on the streets. I thought it was great.

    We've talked about not attending for the past two years but we seem to go back and enjoy the Black Hills. I think we've seen every attraction in the Badlands.

    We did attend the H-D Women's Day on Thursday. They did a good job with the seminars. I don't think it was well attended. May need to be held earlier in the week. I wish I would have known about the Ladies Day at the Top 50 Rally Park. I'm always looking for ladies events when I go to rallies. It gives me a reason not to hang out in the bars with the guys and look at all the bikini dressed 20+ year olds. Where are the hot young guys for us women to look at?

    Glad to see you posted pictures of your two new loves in your life, bike and hubby. Keep up the great work. See you in Keystone next August.

  9. Thank you for news of the event in Sturgis. I will make it someday. I love riding and am encouraged by reading of the strong women who go before me!

  10. I agree when you said that, “Sturgis is a tough venue if you want your women's event to have any impact.” Although, I have never been to a Sturgis event, I have had a few friends go to it over the years. From their comments and what I read about it, I can see why it wouldn't be a huge draw for women.

    To me, Sturgis is a chance for middle aged bikers (and wanna be bikers) to go and get drunk and watch scantilly clad (sometimes less) women parade around. Being a longtime woman rider, wife and mother to five, this type of venue has absolutely no appeal. I do go to rallies to see what other bikers are doing to their bikes, check and see if there is something new for women riders, have fun and meet new people. Still there isn't a lot of things going on at these rallies for women (at least around New Jersey).

    If the coordinators of Sturgis want to have more women there, they need to take women riders a bit more seriously. Just looking at your pictures in your article, I am downright offended that they had an “fashion show” with women in bikinis/underwear. Now I am no prude by any means, but come on! What real women riders are going to be wearing that under their jackets or chaps? That was just a ploy to say it was a womens' event but really it was just another way to give the guys more skin to view. Just check out the crowd picture.

    I am saddened although we are growing in numbers, we are still not taken seriously enough. They need to realize that we are no longer the b**ch that fell off. We are the one who just passed you. We are rapidly growing in numbers and need a place to unite. I applaud your efforts and hard work in giving women a place to learn, laugh, cry, be heard and counted as a women bikers! Thanks!

  11. Unfortunately, I have to agree with you about “women days” at large bike events. Personally, I love that someone is trying to get them off the ground. What I find difficult is trying to drag the men that I'm with to a “womens day” event. Somehow these events need to be geared towards women, but still have interesting “pulls” to get the men there, when they are held at big rallies. BTW, love your new bike and paint job. Can't wait to hear about 105th in Milwaukee!

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