Sturgis Wrap-Up

September 7, 2006
By Billy Bartels

Despite slightly lower attendance numbers, there were still plenty of faithful rally-goers over the course of the week.
Despite slightly lower attendance numbers, there were still plenty of faithful rally-goers over the course of the week.

Random thoughts, observations, and follow-ups to the dailies already filed.

So another year came to a close at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Official attendance was slightly down, traffic accidents were down too, but gang violence returned in an isolated incident in a nearby state park. There were no crazy traffic jams that were unavoidable, police enforcement didn’t seem out of hand, and the weather wasn’t as bad as it sometimes is. In fact, I hardly touched my rain suit.

Unlike just about every other event I go to, there is not much dejavu in Sturgis. As I’ve stated before, Sturgis is the Rider’s Rally, and there are literally a slew of places to ride and things to see, more than a normal (non-Red-Bull-enhanced) person could pull off in just a week.

Last year, I did some time at the campgrounds for the first time, and in doing so was introduced to the east side of the rally, which had grown during the four years I was away, adding massive bars and vendor areas. Another first for me was attending professional racing at Sturgis at the flat track and hillclimb. Significantly (for me, anyway), I caught a whiff of other things I could do that I had no time for, which I was able to pull off this year. And this year I found stuff for next year. I imagine the trend will continue.

The truth is, I almost didn’t go this year. I was strapped for cash, rooms are expensive, gas is over $3/gallon, and I just wasn’t feeling like it. In the end, this was one of the best Sturgis trips I’ve ever had.

Crowds were seemingly up, but some vendors said the opposite. Last year’s attendance was the second highest ever, and it seemed like there were more people and better traffic management, so who knows. The rally is definitely spreading, though, to just about everywhere near the Black Hills. Ask a travel agent for a room and you’ll likely be in Cheyenne. Ask the local businesses remotely connected to the ‘Hills, and it’s either boom or bust, the whims of the rally-goes holding sway for this one week.

Captivated by the rumble of an air-cooled twin  yet dedicated to leaning it over and hauling ass  Ecosse makes a mean hand-built sport version of the ol  familiar Evo powerplant. But it will set you back around  70k.
Custom bikes are what it’s all about, and this Ecosse creation mates cruiser attitude and sportbike performance. Got an extra 70 Grand?

An article in the Rapid City Journal gave a look into the methodology of rally attendance counting and showed what kind of inflation happens when you let the government count anything. It seems the figures for most rallies are probably inflated, as the estimate for last year has been rounded down from 525k to 477k. This year it was 450k. However this figure was arrived at by counting every vehicle entrance into Sturgis by the eight roads that serve the town. This will obviously inflate things a bit with some making multiple entries, while not counting others who were happy to just check out peripheral happenings. I myself counted for about 16 people as I entered and crossed Sturgis proper like mad all week.

One big innovation that probably kept official rally attendance totals (and the death toll) down was “Da Bus.” Da Bus was actually a fleet of busses designed to get the drunks off of their bikes if they were in town to party. It’s been in service for a few years now, but substantially expanded their fleet this year. There were few deaths (not related to gang violence) this year, and this was probably one reason for it. At $30 for a week-long pass, it really can’t be beat. There were a fair number of jokes either regarding the length of Da Bus or the fact that it was packed with drunks (Da Short Bus, Da Drunk Bus).

In other news, mass marketers are flocking to this event (and its outrageous vendor fees, which is probably small beans for Budweiser and the like) realizing the demographics are perfect to become passionate supporters of products they associate with the good times they are presumably having. Ford introduced their new H-D F-150 model, and the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new set of four stamps featuring classic motorcycles, as noted here are Motorcycle USA. It’s a coup for this end of the motorcycle industry to have included a 1970s chopper of indeterminate origin. All hail the aftermarket!

Finding all of the little events going on around the rally within the allotted week is a challenge. As you can see, there's plenty to keep you entertained.
Finding all of the little events going on around the rally within the allotted week is a challenge. As you can see, there’s plenty to keep you entertained.

Another indicator of the influential nature of the event is the Rock’n’ the Rally music Festival. The weeklong event brings in a bunch of VH1 staple bands (either classic or just past their prime) and is recording them for a special weekend-long event on Sirius Satellite Radio later in the year.

The “scene” seems to be shifting to more rideable bikes: bobbers, modified “real” H-Ds, and especially baggers. I shot some bikes (watch this site for a full feature) from South Dakota’s own Brian Klock, who does all kinds of extreme bikes, but has really made a name for himself with the modded dressers. I for one say Halelujah for (pretty) bikes you can thrash!

In continuing the rally sprawl that has characterized the Rally over the last decade, it’s getting to be really fun to go for rides looking for little micro-events to attend, or check up on some that you haven’t been to in awhile. Lots of micro-events ensure you can tailor your experience to fit your wants and needs. Taking over the western half of a state is fun!

I went back to Hulett, Wyoming, for the first time since ’01. Back in 2001, it was just coming off of its peak of naughtiness, receiving a few extra cops from the state and taming itself a bit from years past. In ’06 it’s even bigger than before, but even tamer, with lots of cops enforcing more stringent rules that ape the ones in South Dakota. That said, it’s still a big, fun party that takes over a whole town of 500. I discovered for the second time on this trip that one of my favorite gravel roads (the back way into Hulett) got paved, and now everyone goes that way. That said it’s still a mighty fine stretch of tarmac.

The only real bummer about the trip out was that a stretch of US-85 was under construction and they let us bake in 100-plus-degree heat while they decided who got to go through a four-way stop. That took about an hour.

Naughtiness, as Billy puts it, is just around every corner. With another year of Sturgis madness in the books, you'll have to wait until 2007 for another dose of S. Dakota talent scouting.
Naughtiness, as Billy puts it, is just around every corner. With another year of Sturgis madness in the books, you’ll have to wait until 2007 for another dose of S. Dakota talent scouting.

In the “new discoveries” category, I discovered the rich, culturally vital Sturgis bar scene. It’s funny that in all the years I’ve gone to the event, I would have missed something as obvious as this, but the problem was that I never ventured much deeper than the first bar. The farther you go from local law enforcement, the more interesting things get. Kind of like being in a strip bar where cameras are not only allowed, they’re encouraged. And that’s really all I can say in a family magazine.

I went to my first (big) Sturgis concert, by way of the Kid Rock show at the ‘Chip. The concerts are fun, but really it’s a pretty strange vibe. I’m used to the jaded LA scene, where people are trying not to show that they’re actually having a good time. Sturgis is kind of like that but only more weird. You have tons of bike folk that have come down from the campgrounds that are just there for the party, tons of locals who are there for the band, drunk people who really have no idea of what’s going on, and combinations of all of the above. It’s fun but odd. Definitely not like any concert I’ve ever been to before. The interactions between the various groups are particularly amusing. One local girl was riding her boyfriend’s shoulders when a good number of the other shoulder pilots started displaying vast tracts of mammary; she wasn’t quite sure how to respond to the catcalls for her to do likewise.

Top 50 Rally Park was cool new area with a good number of events going over the week. I mentioned going to the Legends Top 50 show last year. This year, as then, it was loaded with some of the gnarliest customs on the planet. Unlike many shows that try to just pack in the paying contestants, the Legends folks really try to get the cream of the crop to their show. Strategically located between Rapid City and Sturgis, and right on the interstate, it’s easy to get to and now has the permanent display of some prominent builders. The traffic was low in its first year, but this is a promising piece of real estate. The only bad thing about it is that during the torrential rain that sometimes happens, the (paved) hillside runs off water that can be measured in inches. Luckily I wear waterproof boots.

Michael Ballew took top honors at the fourth-annual Metzeler Sturgis Custom Bike Show at Sturgis for this stunning showpiece that won Best of Show.
Michael Ballew took top honors at the fourth-annual Metzeler Sturgis Custom Bike Show at Sturgis for this stunning showpiece that won Best of Show.

Just down the frontage road from Top 50 is a cool little bar that I had never been to before called the Sawtooth Saloon. It had decent food, decent prices, and some of the friendliest people you’ll ever want to meet. They even have karaoke any time there isn’t a band, and a bikini bike wash out back.

Yet another all-new area was the Broken Spoke County Line I mentioned in my updates. It’s a cool little destination that has yet to draw the big crowds, so if you like your crowds on the slim side, head out early next year before word gets out. There were some quality bike builders out here as well, like Chica and Wide Open Cycles. Going out to County Line allowed me to have another new experience: Finding out about the huge network of gravel roads that run every where around here. Alas, these less-traveled roads are best traversed with something more dirt capable than a touring bike. Next year I’d like to get a Ulysses or (gasp) a foreign adventure bike and really check out the local fire roads, along with some beautiful scenery accessible only via gravel out in the National Forest.

While out north of town, I came into contact with Bear Butte for the first time. Without knowing that it’s a holy place to the local Amerindian tribes, I used it as a background for a few photo shoots. The Indians actually want Highway 79 closed to traffic during the rally, which ain’t gonna happen, but respecting their holy place is a cause I can get behind.

Devil s Tower is actually the lava plug of an old cinder cone volcano.  All of the surrounding mountain has been eaten away by erosion.
Devil’s Tower is actually the lava plug of an old cinder cone volcano. This is one of many sightseeing opportunities.

While on the topic of Rally sprawl, Harley has recommitted itself to the greater rally while pulling entirely out of Sturgis proper. Harley-Davidson’s Rapid City Civic Center display got even bigger, with bigger crowds, all of their demo fleet activity, and more entertainment to keep them coming back. In addition to the corporate display in the Civic with all the new model bikes on display for the first time, along with all the accessories, there is now more outside the walls. So much so that the High School parking lot across the street has been drafted to provide space for more vendors.

A big draw for the area is the H-D Ride-in show, which boasted over twice the entries of last year. As always, it’s good place to catch the antediluvian bikes, as well as some very rideable customs, as that’s one of their criteria in judging the event. Results at the end of my text.

And this is my final daily update (that never got posted due to its brevity):

The last-minute cleaning is one of the rituals of a bike show. and the mark of a successful builder. Frenchman Nicholas Chauvin is an old hand at the American shows  I first saw one of his bikes at Daytona Bike Week 1999.
Final primping for the bike show is a must for serious builders. Check out the results for 16 highly-competitive classes at the bottom of the page.

My last night in the Black Hills saw me finally get up to Deadwood for the first time this year to check out the gambling scene. With as many people that are getting into the poker scene these days, how could that not be a good idea for a seasoned vet? Well, unlike in my trip last year to Vegas BikeFest, it was a good idea in Deadwood. Due to low-stakes gambling being the norm in these parts, I only cleaned up to the tune of $40. Not bad for an hour’s fun though.

To polish another year off, I’ll leave you with some of the interesting and humorous links I dug up in my research for this follow-up story. The local authorities are evidently experiencing a bit of a hangover this year and have nothing official up on their websites yet, so you heard it all here first.

Story on H-D’s bigger commitment to Rapid City:

A live WebCam of what Sturgis really looks like:

Info on the new Motorcycle stamps that debuted in Sturgis:

Some background on how the bean counters come up with rally attendance figures:

A North Dakota journalist’s impressions on his trip to the rally. Honestly, I think I did a better job:

And a prophetic warning for local law enforcement:

A good example of how the rally get more spread out and dodges the traffic counters is here, I’ll have to remind myself to check out Lead (pronounced Leed) next year.

And, as is fitting, the last word belongs to Harley-Davidson:

Harley-Davidson sponsored its annual Ride-In Show on August 10, 2006, at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, S.D. Company representatives selected “Best of Show” winners in 16 categories. Entries were judged on street function, paint, style and more. The winners are:
1. Antique Class: Theresa Morgan, Burns WY
2. VRSC: Michael J. Lorenzo, Plainfield IL
3. Side Car: Hoss, Orange VA – Winner and Best Use GMA Big Twin
4. Custom Trikes: Dean Nelson, Wood Dale IL
5. Full Dresser: Bruce Knuth, Woodward LA
6. Street Custom Sportster: Chad Hatleberg, Minot ND
7. Radical Custom Sportster: Joe Parent, Rapid City SD
8. Pro Sportster: Ken Peters, Hart MI
9. Street Custom Big Twin – Rigid Mount: Joe Draghi, McClean, WY
10. Show Custom Big Twin – Rigid Mount: Rodney Sherwood, Lodi WI
11. Street Custom Big Twin – Rubber Mount: Bill Milner, Salem IL
12. Show Custom Big Twin – Rubber Mount: Larry Rak, Bozeman MT
13. Radical Custom Big Twin: Radical Custom Big Twin
14. Sport Touring: Kevin Mason, New Virginia IA
15. Pro Big Twin: Shawn Mulcahy, Allenton WI
16. Buell: Dustin Staeffler, Rapid City SD

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