For the last eight days, the Legendary Buffalo Chip has been our home base as we’ve ridden throughout the Black Hills of South Dakota, taking in as much of the Sturgis 2012 experience as possible.
For one week we were part of a tribe, absorbed within a caravan of campers and RVs, an atom in an amoeba that for two weeks in August transforms a patch of prairie east of Sturgis into the third largest city in the state of South Dakota. It is a living, breathing thing, music and mayhem, flamethrowers and mechanical bulls, blow-up pools and blow-up dolls. It changes like the tide and can go from dust bowl to ankle-deep mud in a downpour. It doesn’t sleep. Neither do you, and before it’s all over you’re walking around in a zombified state of exhaustion and euphoria. Sadists that we are, we wouldn’t have it any other way as Motorcycle USA called the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground in Sturgis home for eight days last week as we rode hard and partied harder at the biggest biker blowout around.
We got the week started with a run to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial riding a 2009 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic while testing a new set of Ohlins shocks for cruisers. The roads varied from freeway to tight curves, a perfect combination for testing Harley’s “King of the Road” shod in Ohlins HD159. Easy to dial in, the up-spec rear made us want a comparable unit on the front of the bike, too. The ride also let us take in the natural wonders of the Black Hills, forested mountains and clear-watered lakes. The region hasn’t been immune to the drought that has broiled the Midwest because the usual green luster of the hills has been dried brown.
This was a precursor to the many rides we would take over the course of the next week, starting the next day with the Legends Ride, a star-studded fundraiser that starts in Deadwood and ends at The Chip. In between, riders get to rub elbows with the likes of daredevil Robbie Knievel, guitarist Neal Schon of Journey and the Ness family. (Read our Stars Come out For Sturgis Legends Ride 2012 for more details). Schon would play to the same crowd he rode out with later that night as Journey was the headlining concert at the Buffalo Chip during the Legends Ride after-party. The event raised over $46,000 for the Black Hills Special Olympics and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame and is approaching $300,000 overall, all in the name of local causes.
Journey was only the tip of the iceberg of the loaded schedule of musical acts that played during the Sturgis Rally. Is this a biker rally or the Lollapalooza? The week was a blur as the rotation of top acts taking the Wolfman Jack Memorial Stage changed gears constantly, from killer classic rock courtesy of Boston to some boot-scootin’ boogie from Eric Church. The variety of music ranged from Sugarland to Slash, who surprisingly aren’t as different as you’d think, especially after watching Jennifer Nettles belt out her rendition of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” The Sugarland concert wrought a special moment when the “Sing with Sugarland” contest winner, Carly Hines, brought her father Terry onstage with her to share the moment together. Sugarland explained the back story on their website after the show. “Their story goes a little something like this: Carly and her dad heard the song “Baby Girl” on the radio back in 2004, found out who the artist was and became immediately hooked on Sugarland. “Baby Girl” was the father/daughter song they danced to at Carly’s wedding, and tonight she sang it to her dad for his 60th birthday. What a cool experience! Jennifer and Kristian absolutely loved it.” They also wrote that “Last night truly was a night that will never leave our thoughts and minds.” Playing in Sturgis can have that effect on you.
When the action on the main stage was done, the party would move to the smaller stages located around the campground with killer shows like Michael Holt and the Trophy 500s and their performance artist sideshow. The girl on bass from The Living Deads brings such energy, she’s a star in her own right and there was always craziness surrounding Charlie Brechtel’s late night sets. After that, there were plenty of impromptu parties that sprouted up almost everywhere around the campground that raged until dawn.
The week was full of killer custom bike shows, too many to catch them all, but the premier event of the week was the 2012 AMD World Championships of Custom Bike Building. It was a bitter sweet affair because as we mentioned in our 2012 Sturgis AMD World Championship Results article, this is the last year the AMDs will be held in Sturgis as the show moves to Germany next year. This decision resulted in half the attendance as usual because it seems like numerous European shops that you usually see at the show opted to save the money and the hassle that comes with the logistics of shipping a bike oversees for the comfort of competing on home turf. Even the American representation was down in comparison to past years.
(L) Stunters took over the streets of Sturgis demonstrating their amazing throttle control to an appreciative crowd. (M) Schmitty shows how it’s done at the Baker Burnouts! (R) Ahoy, Sturgis is being overrun by pirates! You never know what you’re going to see here.
Regardless, there were plenty of quality custom motorcycles that could easily have won lesser shows on any given day, but it was the attention to detail by Thunderbike out of Germany on its bike PainTTless that was awarded top honors in the coveted Freestyle Class. Jeremy Cupp of LC Fabrications was the top American finisher in the class, capturing second place for his 1976 Harley 883 XL called ‘Old Black’ which now looks more like a 1932 DAH Hillclimber. Besides the AMDs, we also spent a lot of time hanging out with our friends at The Rat’s Hole who were celebrating 40 years of world-class custom bike shows. Their gig at the Buffalo Chip CrossRoads had even more bikes than the AMDs. The ‘Unusual Class’ lived up to its name, as two motorcycles sported the biggest rear tires we’ve ever seen. But it was Larry Moore of Moore Customs who captured top honors and the title of “Best of Show.” Part of the winning package meant Moore was drug out on the Buffalo Chip stage in between the Sugarland and Lynyrd Skynyrd shows to receive the award in front of thousands of engine-revving bikers. One show we wish we would have more time to check out was the bagger competition the guys from Hot Bike/Baggers put on. Eric Ellis and the gang had an incredible turnout considering it was the first time they organized a Sturgis show. A twin-turboed, orange bagger we saw was but one of the several outstanding bikes who were ready to compete for the title.
Dale Yamada (l) and Lock Baker (r) show that it’s possible to build show-quality motorcycles that actually ride!
We also got a chance to ride with The Gunny, R. Lee Ermy, who can handle a Victory bagger like nobody’s busines.
There was also a splendid collection of motorcycles in Michael Lichter’s annual exhibition at The Buffalo Chip. This year’s theme was Come Together, The Spirit of Born Free which celebrates the spirit of the popular Born Free event in SoCal. The show provided an outlet for guys from smaller shops to get some national attention for their work and embraced the current movement that pays tribute to the spirit and attitudes from motorcycling’s past. One of our favorites was a low-slung chopper built on an original Arlen Ness Digger frame. With super-fly, super lightweight magnesium wheels, a polished engine, a Springer front and rigid rear, it was a bike Arlen himself would have been proud of. We were also digging Andy Carter’s creation, what he calls “Chopper meets Bosozoku.” The Bosozoku comes in the form of the crazy tall Reed Titan Racing fairing that wraps above the handlebars and over the rider in a bike that’s relatively compact and sporty. The chopper comes in the form of a ’75 FXE front end and an Evo Big Twin teamed with a GT7 Turbo. Over the course of the evening, the builders were encouraged to give the crowd the story behind their bikes. Everyone got a big chuckle when Bacon said he was actually able to get Jesse James to give him an engine which he used for the bike he entered in the show.
Heading to Sturgis, you feel like you’ve got all the time in the world to do so many things. Then you get there and do half the things you wanted to. We intended to cover the Biker Belles ride but had to catch up on posting content from the previous day instead. We meant to check out the Harley-Davidson Ride-In Bike Show but an afternoon storm stuck us out at The Chip. And while having your Sturgis trip planned out in advance is a good thing, sometimes it’s best just to go with the flow. The weather won’t cooperate, plans change, appointments get canceled and flexibility is the key. Besides, the chance meetings you have in Sturgis are sometimes the most rewarding. Case in point.
After having breakfast Saturday morning, we see somebody pointing and calling our name as we pulled onto the road. It was Michael Lichter. He asked what we were up to that day, and when he heard we were headed to the Badlands to shoot a bike, he suggested we waited until evening time to get the best light. Seeing how he’s been snapping incredible photos for Easyriders magazine for over 30 years, who were we to question Lichter’s advice? Besides, storms were moving in and out of the area all afternoon long, so riding out to the Badlands during the evening was our best bet. So instead we headed out to Lichter’s studio at the Buffalo Chip where six of the guys from the Come Together, The Spirit of Born Free exhibit were waiting to have their bike’s shot on the open road. Lichter asked if we’d be
willing to help him out, marking the first time we’ve ridden him around while he hangs off the back of his Road King clicking away. We would later learn that enlisting the services of unsuspecting friends is Michael’s MO, but we were honored by the whole experience, from riding with what we’ve dubbed the Born Free Six to hanging out with our friend Lichter. Can’t wait to see what he’ll feature in his Motorcycles as Art exhibit next year.
In between attending events, participating in rides and catching shows, we got into a little bit of everything, from firing machine guns at the Guns of Freedom range to riding Victorys with The Gunny to talking motorcycles with Rich Wyatt from American Guns. By Saturday we were fried, so we got outta dodge onboard a 2013 Victory Cross Country Tour. We raced a hailstorm that blocked out the horizon as we headed out to the Badlands to witness Mother Nature’s paintbrush on the South Dakota plains. We’re still recovering from a lack of sleep and by this time our tribe has disbanded, slipping back into the mundanity of the nine to five, but if they’re like us, they’re already looking forward to the trip out to Sturgis next year where we’ll once again become an organism of a larger whole. How many days and counting, Woody?