No, Sturgis isn’t yet over, but we’re filing this early to give you a taste of the place where all bikers wish we could be every August.
Riders travel from all around the country – and even the world – to attend the iconic Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The annual August event draws upward of a half-million visitors, which is the largest motorcycle rally in the world.
The 2021 edition, officially beginning on August 6, got off to a strong start. There was an endless parade on Main Street in Sturgis, a strong contingent of vendors and riders in Rapid City, and many thousands of riders exploring nearby Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, and Devils Tower. The Sturgis rally continues to be an event like no other.
Sturgis was founded as a calvary outpost in 1878, and in 1938 it held an AMA-sanctioned motorcycle race held by a local riding club called the Jackpine Gypsies. The estimated 200 that watched the race began a legacy that has evolved into the most famous motorcycle rally in the world, attracting as many as 700,000 riders during the 10-day event to generate $800 million in sales for the regional economy.
Attendance during the 2020 edition was controversial due to Covid concerns, but it was way up at this 81st edition of the rally. Riders with pent-up urges to once again feel free on a motorcycle are estimated to approach 700,000.
Riders were in buoyant spirits in all the places we explored, and the lack of a mask mandate meant almost everyone’s smiles were on full display. The general feeling has been, “Jeez, we just want to put the pandemic behind us and feel free again!”
The town of Sturgis is supposedly born from freedom, rebellion, and adventure, which this year’s attendees seemed to be in perfect alignment. With almost all activities associated with the rally taking place outside in fresh air, most didn’t feel much danger from the virus. Lifelong locals are saying they’ve never seen so many campers. Freedom lives outdoors.
New for 2021 is that attendees can now carry alcoholic drinks outside – an effort to discourage crowd density inside bars. Hand sanitizing stations are generally plentiful, while free masks are less so, with very few takers.
“The Sturgis rally is about hopping on your bike and exploring this great country through our open roads,” said South Dakota’s governor, Kristi Noem. “There’s a risk associated with everything that we do in life. Bikers get that better than anyone.”
As usual, the age demographic skews older at Sturgis. After all, mature riders have had years to save up for toys and often have time to spare for a week or more in the Black Hills. However, there also seemed to be a decently sized contingent of younger riders this year, something freestyle motocross legend, bike builder, and vocalist Pink’s husband, Carey Hart, also noticed.
“Sturgis is a special place for me,” Hart told us before leaving on his Good Ride charity ride yesterday. “It’s a rider’s rally. You don’t just show up, park, and hit the beer garden. You’re out to Custer, you’re out to Crazy Horse and all the cool spots. It’s just a super cool vibe.”
We still have a couple more days on the ground at Sturgis, so we’ll be gathering more stories and pictures from the world’s biggest motorcycle rally. Stay tuned for our full report in the September issue of Thunder Press.