STURGIS, S.D. AUG 4-8–The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally offers more bike shows than any one person can enter… or even attend. And the reasons for entering these shows are as varied as the riders who compete. Bike builders’ reputations have been solidified, television gigs scored and business deals made. Some folks want to earn the big bucks that come with first in class or best in show, while others just want the trophy and bragging rights. And then there are those who just want to score a prime parking spot at their favorite venue.

We counted at least a dozen shows, with two scheduled on the day before the official start of the rally, and another we didn’t even hear about until it was over. Some were longstanding affairs, while a few made their inaugural appearance this year. We actually made it to eight within five days; enough to present an overall view of the custom bike scene in Sturgis.

Rat's Hole Custom Bike Show at the Buffalo Chip Crossroads
Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show at the Buffalo Chip Crossroads


New kids on the block

Joe Mielke, longtime project coordinator for Klock Werks, loves his FXR—all FXRs, actually—and during this year’s V-Twin Expo, came up with the idea to hold an FXR bike show in Sturgis. Joe sent emails to industry folks he knew to try to garner support, but the concept really took off when he created a Facebook page for the FXR Motorbike Show. It was cool watching for updates, seeing the encouraging comments, and finding out which sponsors had stepped up to donate prizes. It was a true grassroots effort with no corporate sponsorships, no celebrities—just a bunch of FXR lovers and people who supported his idea.

Joe and Michelle Mielke celebrated Michelle's birthday at the FXR Motorbike Show
Joe and Michelle Mielke celebrated Michelle’s birthday at the FXR Motorbike Show

The city of Sturgis agreed to let Joe use City Park for the show, and at no cost. “Back to the park” became a sort of rallying cry, as many remembered the days when bikers used to camp there during the rally. 1982 was the last year that camping was allowed there, and coincidentally, also the year that the first FXR rolled off the Harley-Davidson production line, and although the model was discontinued in 1994, many riders believe that the FXR was the best motorcycle that Harley ever built with its lightweight, extraordinarily stiff frame, massive backbone and gusseting around the steering head and thicker-diameter tubing. Now that the city was letting bikes back into the park, the circle was completed, making the FXR Motorbike Show concept even sweeter.

The show began at noon on Sunday, the day before the actual start of the rally. An astounding 71 FXRs were entered, with some of the bikes still loaded down with luggage. It was obvious the owners had just rolled into town and not yet had a chance to unpack. This show was certainly my motivation for getting to Sturgis on Sunday morning rather than my usual Sunday evening cruise-in.

As bikes continued to roll in, Joe and his wife, Michele, sold raffle tickets for the huge number of donated prizes. In fact, there was so much merchandise that there wasn’t enough time to draw all the tickets, necessitating a flurry of last-minute giveaways. Just before 2:00 p.m., the top 10 winners were announced, with David Sparks taking first place for his ’91 FXR. David, a.k.a. Sparky (“I spent 10 years as an electrician and my name is Sparks so I never stood a chance!”), owns Castle Body Shop in Hollywood, California. The bike, built on a modified FXR frame, was very clean with a classic stance. It had stock fenders and an FLR tank that had been cut and shaped, a custom taillight, handlebars made by Billy Westbrook and many other nifty features. The rest of the winners were: 2nd place—Irvin Hirsch, 3rd place—Tom Edison, 4th place—Cory Edwards, 5th place—Jeff Jakelich, 6th place—Mike DePalma, 7th place—Keith Capides, 8th place—John Christner, 9th place—Kevin Alsop, 10th place—Dean Shadley.

The first-place prize was a set of Bassani exhaust pipes donated by Darryl Bassani. Other prizes included a $599 Helibars gift certificate, a Barnett Scorpion clutch, a $500 Dakota Digital gift certificate, a $250 BAKER Drivetrain gift certificate, a Kicker iPod stereo controller, a collection of LC Fabrication custom parts, Küryakyn throwover saddlebags, a Jason’s Garage DIY plate tag bracket and a points cover from Elvis’ Place.

After the show, the Sturgis Police Department escorted riders out of town, and the group proceeded through Boulder Canyon, Deadwood, Lead and Spearfish Canyon, arriving at the Crow Peak Brewing Co. in Spearfish. The show was a fabulous kickoff to Motorcycle Week, and we can only hope it becomes an annual event.

David Sparks took first place in the FXR Motorbike Show with his '91 FXR
David Sparks took first place in the FXR Motorbike Show with his ’91 FXR


Along Lazelle

Another new bike show this year was the J&P Cycles Ultimate Builder Sturgis Bike Show held Wednesday at the corner of 4th and Lazelle Streets, next to the Sturgis Community Center. Well, maybe “new” isn’t entirely correct—Ultimate Builder shows have been held around the country, but this was its Sturgis premiere. These bikes were mostly of the high-end variety, and the $7,500 in prizes reflected the effort that went into them.

Sheree and Shaun Ruddy with Shaun's boardtrack-inspired custom that took 1st place in the Ultimate Builders Freestyle Class
Sheree and Shaun Ruddy with Shaun’s boardtrack-inspired custom that took 1st place in the Ultimate Builders Freestyle Class

Classes were Freestyle, Radical Bagger, Modified Harley, Retro Modified and Modified Street. The Freestyle winner was Shaun Ruddy of Chop deVille with his board track-style bike powered by an Ultima El Bruto 127″ motor. The attention to detail was incredible, and it seems Ruddy has been winning every bike show he enters including the 2012 Ultimate Builder show in Long Beach. Coming in second and third, respectively, were Kyle Shorey of Shadetree Fabrications and Sam Baldi of Profile Cycles. Both were previous winners as well, with Shorey named 2012–2013 Freestyle Champion and Baldi winning in Hollister just a month before. In Radical Bagger, Rod McCharles took the first two spots with two of his entries while Lee Schermerhorn took third. Mike Ball topped the Modified Harley class followed by Juan Gandara and Jon Shipley. The Retro Modified winners were Brian Elliot, Brian Nikkel and Brent Law, and Modified Street top awards were claimed by Eric Powell and Donny Larue.

Easyriders Saloon, at the corner of Junction Avenue and Lazelle Street, hosted several bike shows during the rally, starting with the Michael Lichter/Sugar Bear Bike Show held Sunday, August 4. Tuesday was the Easyriders Bike Show, Wednesday The Wrench presented its Old School Bike Show and on Thursday, Road Iron, Eddie Trotta and Dirty Bird Concepts presented a Bagger Show. Thursday brought the Hamsters Show ‘n’ Shine event that took place in the same spot as the Ultimate Bike Show the day before, with Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen selecting his favorite bike.


Hold the presses

Also on Tuesday was the Editors’ Choice Bike Show held at the Broken Spoke Campground. THUNDER PRESS had participated in the Daytona edition earlier this year, but this was the first time it was held in Sturgis. The show provided an opportunity for riders to have their pride and joy featured in a major motorcycle magazine. Each editor spent several hours deciding which bike to select as their choice, and it wasn’t easy. THUNDER PRESS NorCal Bureau Chief Felicia Morgan and I are partial to Ironheads and other earlier-than-Evo models, and we had to narrow our choices from an Ironhead, a Knucklehead, a Shovelhead, two Panheads and one or two more modern yet retro-styled bikes. We finally chose “Panhead” Billy Burrows’ 1960 Panhead. Our philosophy is that the lifestyle and biker culture is just as important as the bike itself, and we couldn’t think of anyone who epitomizes the biker lifestyle better than Panhead Billy.

Panhead Billy Burrows was presented the Editors' Choice Bike Show award by Shadow on behalf of Thunder Press (Photo by Darren McKeag)
Panhead Billy Burrows was presented the Editors’ Choice Bike Show award by Shadow on behalf of “Thunder Press” (Photo by Darren McKeag)

Apparently one all-day bike show wasn’t enough for the Broken Spoke because on Thursday evening, the saloon hosted another one—the Cycle Source/Chip-In Block Nighttime Chopper Show where over $10,000 in swag and prizes was promised.

The Horse Backstreet Choppers held its 7th annual ride-in bike show at the Full Throttle Saloon on Monday, and it was an all-day affair. Although many of the big guns in the industry supported the show, it continues to keep its down-home vibe with the Saloon yard packed full of like-minded chopper freaks. The main sponsors were Custom Chrome/Jammer Products, Biker’s Choice, TC Bros Choppers, Twisted Tea and Spectro Oils, and many other sponsors donated prizes and giveaways including T-shirts, key chains, coozies and other trinkets that were periodically tossed out to the crowd.

The Horse Ride-in Bike Show always brings out some cool chops
The Horse Ride-in Bike Show always brings out some cool chops

While the judges were doing their thing, there were lots of other things to fritter away the hours. During the time I was there, I watched Circus Una (three women performing high-wire stunts on a motorcycle), midget wrestling and people enjoying the zip line that flew above our heads. And, of course, the crowd is its own entertainment. Every bike show contestant was eligible for giveaways, and by 3:00 p.m., The Horse had given away about $10,000 worth of prizes.

When Sugar Bear stepped up to the stage to present his choices (and only Sugar Bear was allowed to pick two!), he said, “You guys are doing things I never even thought about, and I salute you for that.” Sometime during his comments, he laughed, “When I get old, I’ll get a bagger. I turn 75 next year and I’m still not riding a bagger.” In fact, he says he has never ridden a bagger. So I can only guess that he didn’t attend the 4th annual Paul Yaffe Bagger Nation Baddest Bagger Bike Show held at the Full Throttle the very next day. Nonetheless, that show was a rousing success with a record 130 entries!


Sensory overload

Sturgis didn’t have a lock on bike shows; there was at least one in Deadwood, presented by the Tin Lizzie Casino and Lucas Oil Products, held at the casino’s parking lot. The all-day event featured Lucas Oil-changing stations, a bikini bike wash, food and drink and other attractions. Cash prizes were awarded and attendees entered to win a custom bike from Jon Shipley of Hoosier Daddy Choppers. A very lucky Danielle Hickey from Maryland Heights, Missouri, got to ride that beautiful brand-new bobber home from Sturgis!

Also on Thursday was the venerable Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show held at the Buffalo Chip Crossroads. The Smith family has been producing the Rat’s Hole bike shows for over 40 years, and this year they were celebrating their 25th year at Sturgis with specially designed anniversary trophies. Everything from rat bikes to sleek, high-end customs vied for top honors in 18 classes. Probably the wildest creation was Walt Moss’ enormous UNDRPSI twin-turbo trike. The Best in Show winner was, not surprisingly, Shaun Ruddy! Shaun and his wife Sheree are traveling around the country for their new CMT TV show Chop deVille Unchained, which is in production now. Their next stop is Milwaukee for the Harley-Davidson 110th Anniversary Celebration.


The Rat's Hole crew celebrating their 25th year of bike shows at Sturgis
The Rat’s Hole crew celebrating their 25th year of bike shows at Sturgis




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