Every July as the summer is in full tilt riders across the globe start to turn their thoughts to a small town in South Dakota. Nestled within the pine laden Black Hills of the southwestern part of the state the town of Sturgis, according to the welcome sign, has a population of 6,442. For seven decades Sturgis and the surrounding communities have hosted tens to hundreds of thousands of motorcyclists for the annual the Black Hills Rally.
Briefly, in 1936 a bunch of riders formed the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club whose mission was to promote motorcycle racing and touring. According to the Gypsies official website (jackpinegypsies.com) the group held their first AMA sanctioned races in 1937 at Sturgis' half-mile dirt track that was a horse racing track earlier in its life. The following year the city embraced the races and held the first official rally. Aside from some downtime during World War II the Rally has been an August staple, celebrating its 69th anniversary.
During the past 20 or so years, the Rally saw growth that coincided with the booming economy and Harleys reemergence as the leader of big bikes. Last year the Rally saw more than a 20 percent decline in overall attendees to roughly 400,000 yet the vendors seemed to be happy that people that did show up were still spending money. Approaching this year's event we could tell that our friends in the business were a bit nervous about what to expect. Many of our long time friends and associates either couldn't afford to go this year or were dreading the doom and gloom projections and predictions from politicians, pundits, and prognosticators.
Although Sturgis is a small town that really cannot accommodate hundreds of thousands of people, the Rally is a spread out affair. Spearfish Canyon is 20 miles west of Sturgis; Deadwood is 15 miles out of town; Rapid City, about 30 miles away; Mount Rushmore at 50 miles; and Devils Tower in Wyoming is roughly 80 miles. Thankfully, other than cruising down the two main drags in Sturgis, Lazelle Street and Main Street the traffic in the rest of the area moves pretty well. This is THE major event to go to if you like to ride.
Within minutes of leaving downtown Sturgis it's easy to find solitude on the region's many two-lane roads or if you're adventurous the extensive network of dirt roads that connect all of the little towns to one another. Maps of the region usually include non-paved roads and lesser visited rivers, lakes, and waterfalls. Although there are lots of bikes on the road the 75 mph speed limit on most of the Interstate is good for keeping everyone moving.
That's a very good thing considering there are two main areas where the majority of vendors are set up. In Sturgis proper, Lazelle Street is filled with vendors such as the J&P Cycles store and lot, which also hosts Küryakyn, and Arlen Ness, to name a couple. FBI had their setup across the street with Dragonfly, Indian Motorcycles, and Baker Drivetrain just down the street. Also on Lazelle was the AMD tent that hosted the World Championship of Bike Building with S&S's prominent display just outside. Down the road in Rapid City, Black Hills Harley-Davidson was the other hotspot for vendors. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the dealership each day to check out the newest parts, bikes, bands, and mingle. Harley-Davidson set up demo rides and the rest of the officially sanctioned activities, such as their ride-in bike show, just down the road at the Rapid City Civic Center.