The music from the Buffalo Chip’s Amphitheater is but a distant echo, tents no longer dot the landscape of Glencoe Campground and you can once again find a parking spot on Main Street. As riders return to the 9 to 5 with a camera full of pictures and stories to share with whoever will listen, residents of Sturgis pick up the pieces and attempt to return to a normal life as the book closes on Chapter 67 of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Initial tallies have attendance at this year’s event lower than in previous years. But it’s hard to consider a couple of hundred thousand people a low number. It’s just low in comparison to the big attendance numbers put up in the 90s. Sturgis Rally Director Pepper Massey did confirm that attendance at this year’s rally was down. Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin corroborated Massey’s assessment, saying that rally numbers were down “quite a bit.”
“Having fewer people come to town for the rally makes things easier for law enforcement,” said Merwin. “It makes it so there isn’t so much tension.”
Dan Staton, regional traffic engineer for the state Dept. of Transportation (DOT), acknowledged that traffic within Sturgis has been less congested than other rallies. Staton said that DOT put out traffic counters on Wednesday, Aug. 1, before the rally started and collected data for about 12 days. On Monday, Aug. 13, the DOT began rounding up the counters and processing the data from them, but the results have not yet been tallied. Even with the statistical data of people going in and out of Sturgis, the attendance figures are still only estimates, as riders sometimes enter and leave the city several times in one day, so they pass over the counters numerous times. Last year’s attendance was in the ballpark of 450,000 people, so by the end of the week we’ll be able to see what stats ODOT came up with this year in comparison.
And though attendance numbers in the city of Sturgis itself might be lower than in the past, many riders are opting to stay in less crowded towns close by.
“While it appears like numbers are down, we see a lot of riders and activity in surrounding areas such as Spearfish, Deadwood, Lead and other cities. Is this a trend reflecting the desire of the people to get away from the commercialism, hoarding, crowds and BS that’s now Sturgis? Not sure,” said Carl Hanlon, Guilty Customs owner and a veteran of the rally.
This year’s event saw five fatalities, according to the South Dakota Highway Patrol (SDHP). The last fatal incident happened Thursday, Aug. 9, after an Idaho couple died when the 2002 Honda trike they were traveling on down Interstate 90 left the roadway and went down a steep embankment. Overall, SDHP reported 86 injury accidents. Inside city limits, the Sturgis Police Dept. reported five injury accidents.
Main Street comes alive at night. Sturgis 2007 had a bomb scare that required the Sturgis Police Dept. to close down a downtown block for the first time Police Chief Jim Bush can remember.
On a positive note, motorcycle thefts were down. Inside Sturgis city limits, there were only three confirmed reports of stolen bikes, compared to six last year. Generally, the number has continued to go down over the last few years, said Sturgis Police Chief Jim Bush. The number of thefts does not include reports investigated by the SDHP and Meade County Sheriff’s Dept.
This year’s rally saw a first-ever bomb scare on Main Street. A suspicious package was reported Saturday, Aug. 4 and a block of Main Street was evacuated after the state Division of Criminal Investigation arrived to remove the package. It took about an hour and 45 minutes to clear the third block of Main Street west of Junction Avenue and remove the item, according to the police chief.
“It’s one of the first times that we cleared a block during the rally,” said Bush.
The suspicious package turned out to be somebody’s abandoned cooler, complete with food inside. Ten years ago, the cooler wouldn’t have aroused any suspicion. Unfortunately, the authorities’ reaction is symbolic of the frailty of the American psyche since 9/11 and not even a haven like Sturgis is safe anymore.
Sturgis paid tribute to our men and women oversees as a live satellite feed connected soldiers with the1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team (BCT), 1st Cavalry Division in Camp Taji, Iraq, with the action taking place at the Broken Spoke Saloon. The brigade was treated to live music, motorcycle-themed events and was able to talk with fellow bikers at the Rally via the uplink. A handful of soldiers were also able to send messages to their families. The soldiers received some much-needed down time and a boost in moral from the support of people here at home.
Sturgis 2007 also saw conflict arise between One Eyed Jacks’ owner Ray Gold and State Representative Jim Putnam, a Republican representing the Armour District, when Putnam was refused entry into Gold’s bar for wearing his colors. Gold is tired of Hells Angels coming in and intimidating patrons of his bar so he has enacted a No Colors policy. The Hells Angels have a headquarters nearby and frequent Gold’s bar. When Putnam attempted to get in to One Eyed Jacks last week wearing the colors of his motorcycle club, the Lawmakers, he was denied entry. Putnam is now supporting a boycott of the saloon and legislation to protect riders wearing motorcycle-club colors is being considered if the ban continues.
Hard Bikes has a pair of hard bodies posing with their bikes for tips. This man’s name is Derek and he does not want his girlfriend to see this picture. but he does want it to appear in a magazine.
Women riders were well represented at this year’s rally. Harley-Davidson had a booth in the Rapid City Civic Center at the Harley-Davidson Road Tour dedicated to women and riding. H-D declared Thursday, Aug. 9 “Women’s Day” and held Women-only demos, bike lift and customization seminars, a motorclothes seminar featuring apparel designed specifically for women hosted by Karen Davidson, daughter of Willie G., and a meet and greet session with Women Rider’s Now.com (WRN) founder Genevieve Schmitt. Ten lucky women who showed up to participate in Harley’s women-only demo rides on Thursday morning were picked to take part in a ride to Mt. Rushmore. Geraldo Rivera and his producer Greg Hart were in attendance shooting footage for an upcoming episode and videotaped the women’s ride to Mt. Rushmore for his show, “Geraldo at Large.” The TV personality also interviewed WRN’s Schmitt during H-D’s “Women’s Day” to include in his Sturgis segment.
The Rally has no difficulty attracting celebrities. Among them are the premier master builders in the world. Many entered their custom creations in the American Motorcycle Dealer (AMD) 2007 World Championship of Custom Bike Building. The show is one of the truly international competitions, as 10 of the top 20 places were won by builders from countries outside of the U.S.
“Best of Show” for this year’s event was awarded to Stellan Egeland of SE Service, a builder out of Skogas, Sweden. Egeland took third place last year with only the second bike he’d ever built. This year he brought home a fat paycheck with a speedway-inspired board tracker titled the Hustler 8-valve. Egeland took a Knucklehead engine and handcrafted cylinders and heads for it and hooked it up to a reworked Norton 4-speed tranny. The frame and front end are both original SE Service handiwork, and in true board tracker fashion, there are no front brakes.
Egeland dethroned last year’s champion Chicara Nagata of Japan’s Chicara Motorcycles in one of the closet votes in the event’s history. His entry, Chicara Art Two, also has a board track design, only with an edgy, modern look. Chicara’s bike uses a 1942 Flathead 750cc motor on a rigid Chicara 8 Unit Frame and a custom Chicara front end. Chicara also chose to use a Triumph gearbox, electing to use a 4-speed from a 1960 model. His bike was similar to the one he entered last year, but includes new suspension out back provided by a single shock.
Third place went to Keiji Kawakita of Hot-Dock Cycles, from Tokyo, Japan. His Red Gladiator has a Bobber-styled tank and handlebars contrasted with a European-inspired tail end and swingarm. The Red Gladiator is powered by Hot-Dock’s HR4V engine that takes an H-D motor and adds four-valve heads and custom fuel injection. The frame and front end are original Hot-Dock craftsmanship.
Riders make the journey home to spread the word of the festivities from the 2007 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to friends and co-workers who wish they would have gone.
The highest-placing U.S. competitor was Dave Cook of Cook Customs out of Milwaukee. He took home fourth place with his customized softail highlighted by Cook’s own hidden suspension and perimeter brakes. The motorcycle’s oil tank, battery box and seat are integrated into the frame, which won him styling points. Once again, the U.S. was denied gold. The U.S. has never won the top prize in AMD’s World Championships.
If you didn’t get a chance to catch the action at the AMD contest, there was no shortage of custom shows spread throughout Sturgis. Thunder Road’s lineup included a new show almost everyday, Harley-Davidson held its popular Ride-In competition, Ted Smith and the crew from the Rat’s Hole is always a big draw and Metzler held its 5th Annual V-Twin Custom Bike Contest. With unprecedented national coverage by the print and broadcast media, Sturgis is the place to be if you’re looking to get your work recognized.
Before the final rider has packed up the saddlebags and rumbled off into the Badlands, hotels and campgrounds are already taking reservations for next year’s run. Until next year though, Jefferson, Lincoln, Washington and Roosevelt can keep a vigilant gaze over the Blacks Hills and await the return of the two-wheeled armada.
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