Old is new again
Sturgis, S.D., Aug. 3–12—For those who have made the sojourn to Sturgis during any of the 78 annual rallies, there’s a “coming home” feel to all the return trips. The journey turns into a sort of spiritual quest for each subsequent trip and eventually one finds themselves living out the year in anticipation of the adventure. The history of the run, the Black Hills riding and the sense of community that spreads out across the country as riders begin the annual migration tends to creep into your bones and the thought of missing a rally is incomprehensible. The Lakota, a word meaning “friends or allies,” consider the Black Hills sacred, drawing much of their medicine from the area and have graciously shared their precious Hills with bikers who relate to the magic of the hills. There is nothing like cruising the canyons near the little city of Sturgis, South Dakota.
For the 78th annual rally, riders arrived to somewhat of a facelift along Main Street. A Jeff Decker bronze statue was erected just down the street from the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, where a renovation meant added footage and breathing room for the exhibits while the board of directors discuss future plans for a large-scale museum elsewhere in Sturgis. The historic building that currently houses American motorcycle memorabilia long ago outgrew its footprint and fundraising has been a focus as the directors look to the future of the museum. The fundraising Hall of Fame breakfast, held each year during the rally, was sold out months in advance since this year the entire Hamsters MC was inducted. The Deadwood Lodge banquet room was awash in a sea of yellow during the ceremony that included the aforementioned sculptor, Jeff Decker, as well as Jack Hoel, Mondo Porras, Marilyn Stemp and Valerie Thompson. The Freedom Fighter for this year was Kirk “Hardtail” Willard with a special lifetime achievement award going to Fred Fox, who gave an entertaining address to the gathered crowd who just so happened to include Willie G. and Nancy Davidson.
For the story on the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame Breakfast, click here.
Also in the “new” category were early reports from the city that an unprecedented 30 percent of the attendees this year were first-time rally goers, and the demographics gleaned from a poll indicated that there was a dramatic increase in younger attendees, too. As riders age out, the focus has turned to bringing the next generation along and venues like the Buffalo Chip steps up each year with events to attract that crowd. With constant parties, flat track races and a Sportster bike show, the Chip hopes to create fun stuff that appeals to both greybeards and riders who are decades younger.
Across town, the Iron Horse Saloon held nightly concerts for all ages and during the day bike shows of every stripe were alternately splayed across the tarmac. The AMCA threw a little shindig for geriatric machines and held interviews with participants from the Motorcycle Cannonball while, as a stark comparison, the big-wheel bikes were lining up out at the Full Throttle. Over at the old Fairgrounds, Brittney Olsen was zipping around the dirt track with a few of her best antique-riding friends, where the combination of a young woman riding an old bike in a new event seemed to round out the entire list of desirable attraction categories, proving out that everything old is new again.
In recent years, racing of all sorts has become a huge draw for both competitors and spectators. But racing is nothing new during the rally; the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, founded in 1937, earned their American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) charter in 1938, and that year, the AMA began promoting the Jackpine Gypsies’ racing events. That first year was the inaugural Black Hills Classic where the event saw a lineup of only nine racers and a smattering of spectators.
Through the years, the event grew, expanding in size, scope and duration, eventually becoming known as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Yet the rally has stayed true to its roots, always including competition of one form or another. This year, the Jackpine Gypsies presented about a dozen races at their club grounds, including hillclimbs, dirt drags, half-mile, short track and motocross. And the Sturgis Buffalo Chip again hosted American Flat Track racing, as did Black Hills Speedway in Rapid City later in the week. The Chip also served as a home for Hooligan flat track races, street drags, Supermoto races, and off-road racing in the dirt.
Much of the Sturgis racing in general has blurred the lines between racer and spectator. BAKER Drivetrain held its fourth annual “All-In To Go All-Out” drag races at Sturgis Dragway, featuring “Run What You Brung” racing, at no cost to competitors or spectators. Hooligan racing and other forms of competition are open to all, even without the help of big-name, big-dollar sponsors.
We couldn’t help but notice the difference in flavor and focus with many of this year’s Sturgis events, exemplified by Miss Brittney Olsen’s The Spirit of Sturgis Vintage Motorcycle Festival held on Monday and Tuesday of the rally. Call it racing with a cause, if you will; Brittney, through her 20th Century Racing antique motorcycle racing team, not only wants to share her passion for the antique motorcycles and lifestyle, she is fighting to preserve Sturgis racing history and the Sturgis Half-Mile at the Sturgis Fairgrounds.
Conventional wisdom dictates that younger generations want experiences rather than just buying products or watching others have all the fun, and we’re seeing more in the way of immersive experiences. Brittney, who is also the youth director for the Antique Motorcycle Club of America, wants to keep antique motorcycling alive for future generations, and to this end, offered learning sessions during The Spirit of Sturgis on how to kick start and hand shift antique bikes. And the Vintage Motorcycle Festival included organized rides to other antique and racing events as well.
Bike shows involve another set of activities that offers motorcycle enthusiasts of all ages the chance to participate at whatever level they choose—entering their pride and joy into the competition, voting for their favorite, or just salivating over the sometimes weird and often wonderful entries. Most all the shows are ride-in with no advance registration, with bikes running the gamut from antiques to choppers to full-dressed big-wheel baggers.
Of all the bike shows, the highest compliment is being asked by world-renowned photographer Michael Lichter to display your hand-built creation at his annual Motorcycles As Art exhibit at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. This year’s theme was Passion Built, featuring bikes built by those who aren’t professional builders. We can’t think of a better way to attain widespread recognition than this illustrious affair.
For the story on Passion Built: Garage to Gallery, click here.
Yet another new venue at Sturgis is Chopperville, the iconic Sugar Bear’s chopper museum. Since 1972, Sugar Bear has been building bikes, and, most notably, springer front ends that have remained virtually unchanged all those years. During his travels around the country, he observed that most bike owners had no idea of the history, and people, of motorcycling. Sugar Bear decided to create a place to bring everyone together to educate and preserve motorcycling history. So he purchased land on Highway 79 in Vale, South Dakota, several miles north of the Full Throttle Saloon. Chopperville is still in the developmental stage; with a small art display, merchandising, repair shack, gathering area, and stage for presentations, we could easily envision what the 501(c)(3) non-profit could look like in the future.
Interestingly enough, Sturgis isn’t always about the motorcycles. Just ask any music aficionado, who will tell you that Sturgis hosts 10 days of the largest number and widest variety of bands pretty much anywhere in the world. Tried-and-true classic acts such as Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, and Kid Rock graced the main stage in the Buffalo Chip’s amphitheater, while newer performers Yelawolf, Well Hung Heart and others appealed to a mostly younger crowd. Other venues successfully applied the same formula—the combinations of Asleep at the Wheel and Insane Clown Posse at the Iron Horse Saloon, and Trace Adkins and Tech N9ne at the Full Throttle Saloon, were about as far apart musically as one could imagine.
Not only was first-time attendance up with the rally seeing more younger attendees than ever, vehicular traffic entering Sturgis saw an increase of nearly eight percent over last year’s rally. Based on rally traffic as well as a slight increase in tax collection, attendance in general seemed to be higher, although final figures aren’t available as of this writing. The number of greybeards may be dwindling, but new blood is being infused, with everyone associated with the rally doing their best to continue that trend. You can bet that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally isn’t fading away anytime soon.