The weather in Sturgis, South Dakota, during the annual rally can be a mixed bag. When the American Rider team was there in 2022, it was mostly sunny and hot, and after doing a few laps on Main and Lazelle, we sought respite in the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. It was definitely cool – and I’m not just talking about the temps. The following article on the museum appeared in AR’s July 2023 issue.

Find more Sturgis Motorcycle Rally news and updates here.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum
The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame has been located in the town’s former post office on the corner of Main and Junction for 21 years. (Photos by the author and Kevin Duke)

The mission of the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum is to “collect, preserve, and interpret the history of motorcycling, honor those who have made a significant impact on the sport and the lifestyle, and pay tribute to the heritage of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.” After spending hours browsing a diverse collection of noteworthy bikes and displays, we believe their mission is accomplished.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum 1922 Ace
This 1922 Ace Inline-4 was a product of the Ace Motor Corporation, the second motorcycle company started by William Henderson. Ace continued operating until 1924, and its assets were purchased by Indian in 1927.

The museum is a donor-funded 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It first opened in June 2001 in an old church that had been renovated with assistance from the museum’s board of directors, the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, local students, and other community volunteers. In 2002, the city of Sturgis provided the museum with its current facility on the corner of the famous Main Street and Junction Avenue in a building that had served as the community’s post office for over 60 years.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Harley-Davidson 74ci
The H-D 74ci bikes were popular with consumers – and thieves, so much so that a steering-head lock was added to the 1930 V-series.

In addition to the exhibits, the museum also publishes the annual Sturgis magazine, which contains everything you need to know about the rally, both stories from the past and specific details about the current-year rally, along with information about the museum and the area in general.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum 1999 Excelsior-Henderson Super X
This 1999 Excelsior-Henderson Super X has remained in its crate since its introduction to the market in 1999. It’s one of just 1,851 motorcycles the company made during two years of production before folding.

American Rider spoke with the executive director of the museum, Leah Whaley. She came on board in 2022 after retiring from a career in the motorcycle industry, including 22 years working in a variety of roles for Harley-Davidson. She has also been active with the oldest continuously running all-female motorcycle riding club in North America, the Motor Maids.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Triple Lady
The “Triple Lindy,” on loan from Dan Rognsvoog, is equipped with three H-D Hummer motors mated to a custom-built primary, a Big Twin transmission, and an air shifter.

“I’ve spent my entire adult life looking at the world from the saddle of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,” she told us, adding that she got her license when she was 20 and her first bike at 22. “I’ve been doing it ever since, and this [role] was a great opportunity for me to give back to the industry, the sport, and the lifestyle that has given me so much.”

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Temptation Paul Yaffe
“Temptation” is a clean and mean 2004 Paul Yaffe Originals chopper that took eight months to build. It’s on loan by owner Mike Ferguson.

Whaley said the museum has a lot of new things on tap for this year. 

“We implemented a curation committee in September and really honed in on our vision of what we would like to have for exhibits at the museum, both in the short term and in the long term, but also with categories and areas.”

Along these lines, the museum has seen perhaps some of the biggest changes in the lower level, which will have an expanded women’s section, custom bikes, a recently installed curation of work from industry photographer Buck Lovell, and a racing gallery.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum 1980 Pro Street XL
This Pro Street XL, built in 1980 for race applications only, is a little bit of everything, including a 95ci engine, H-D/Baisley heads, and an early Arlen Ness low-liner frame.

“The balance of the downstairs is going to be all racing,” Whaley said, “whether it’s dragracing, land speed, flat-track, desert, or roadracing. We’re really trying to lean into the heritage of racing here in Sturgis.”

Whaley said there are also some really exciting bikes that are new to the collection, including a couple 100-point restorations – an Ariel Square Four and a Velocette Thruxton – as well as two Cannonball bikes.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Ethyl 2021 Bay Area chopper
“Ethyl” is a 2021 Bay Area chopper built by Joe Marshall Customs in Sacramento. We especially liked its traditional flame paint job by Travis “Tuki” Hess.

“If you want more on the custom side,” she said, “we’ve just had two bikes come in on loan that are super iconic in the industry. One of them is Donnie Smith’s ‘Headhunter.’ It’s a street digger style. And then Tommy Summers, who does Lowriders by Summers, has just lent us his Honda 750, and it is also that same digger style with heavy engraving and paint. The cool thing about this one is that it is an absolute survivor. It was built in the late ’70s, early ’80s, and it has not been touched. It is amazing.” 

Another way in which the museum is fulfilling its mission is the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony and breakfast, which will be held this year on Aug. 9 at The Lodge in Deadwood.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Donnie Smith 1970 Pandemonium
It’s not often you see a blower on a motorcycle engine, like this digger Donnie Smith built in the late 1970s called “Pandemonium.”

“This year, we’ve got an amazing class of inductees,” Whaley said. “We have the 1981 Moto Des Nations Team USA, Scott Jacobs, Chris Callen, Jay Allen, and Roland Sands. Donnie Smith will receive our Arlen Ness Lifetime Achievement Award. Russell Radke will have our Freedom Fighter award, and Burt Munro will be honored with our Kickstands Down recognition.”

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum 1986 Harley-Davidson Softail
This 1986 Harley-Davidson Softail was built by Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Hall of Fame inductee John Reed of Custom Chrome for the 50th anniversary of the Sturgis Rally. Powered by an 80ci Evo, this bike boasts 24-karat gold coating on most of its nuts, bolts, and trim.

Whaley said more information on the inductees and the ceremony, as well as ticket prices, can be found at the Sturgis Museum website.

“It is a great event where you get to meet luminaries in the industry, hear their stories, and support the museum for a great cause as well.”

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum 1913 Harley-Davidson Single Model B
This 1913 Harley-Davidson Single Model B belongs to Dan Rognsvoog, who is the husband of the museum’s executive director, Leah Whaley. The restoration on the bike was completed in 2013, and it is a runner.

Whaley said that although a big part of what they do is to tell the story of the annual rally, Sturgis is a “12-month-a-year community,” and the museum is open year-round.

Related: Sturgis Ride With a Local: AR Gets a View from the Inside

“I want people to come to the rally,” she said. “Everybody’s got to come and experience it. It’s really great. But I also understand sometimes you don’t want a crowd, or maybe your schedule doesn’t allow it or whatever. In those cases, we’re here, and we’re a great family-friendly attraction.”  

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum 2018 Harley-Davidson Street Glide
This custom-painted 2018 Street Glide commemorates the USS South Dakota submarine and was bequethed to the museum in 2019. Part of the loan deal is that any sailors who crewed on the boat are welcome to take the bike for rides in South Dakota!

However, given the museum’s mission and its close ties to the rally, August is typically the busiest time of year. The event and the museum are intertwined, and Whaley seems to like it that way.

“It gives us a great opportunity to educate folks about the rally and how it got started with Pappy Hoel and racing with the Jackpine Gypsies and how the rally over the years has grown and morphed into what it is now, with it being a global extravaganza.”

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum Kiwi Indian 88ci Flathead
At age 15, Ross “Kiwi” Tomas set two world records on this Kiwi Indian 88ci replica Flathead. He was the youngest Indian rider ever to race at the Bonneville Salt Flats, and at that same race, he set a world record at 98.03 mph, making him the youngest Indian rider ever to set a record.

She also said she appreciates the guests that come to the museum every year during the rally and stop in to visit, and she’s always glad to see them.

“It’s a great time to get reacquainted with friends.”


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