It was supposed to be a down year. The 73rd gathering in the Black Hills of South Dakota approached with little pomp and circumstance. It wasn’t an anniversary year and besides Polaris introducing the first Indian Motorcycles under its guidance, no major storylines were creating a buzz about this year’s Sturgis Rally. But Sturgis is Sturgis, wild and unpredictable, and despite having no expectations, this year’s rally drew a great crowd, evident by the biker log jam on Lazelle Street we encountered pulling into town the first time on Saturday. At mid-afternoon. Our seat-of-the-pants feeling that this year’s rally was well attended was confirmed by the record numbers of people reportedly staying at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. The Legends Ride had a record number of riders as well while the Biker Belles event raised a record amount of money. Down year, hell, this year’s rally was hoppin’!
We began our journey to the 2013 Sturgis Rally almost 1000 miles away in Boise, Idaho. Victory Motorcycles was launching its 2014 line and had touring-ready machines like the Cross Country Tour and Victory Vision prepped and waiting for the ride out. Ours would be a circuitous route, taking an indirect path along county roads and two-way thoroughfares to absorb as much of the beauty this wonderful country of ours has to offer and to log as many miles in the saddle of the Victory tourers as possible.
It was an incredible three-day adventure through scenic vistas, incredible canyons and rushing rivers, from thick pine forests to rugged, rocky ravines. For a detailed account of the ride out, read our Journey to Sturgis 2013 articles. We pushed the Victory tourers hard and they answered every challenge, proving themselves more than capable when the roads twisted up. Along the way we found little gems like the collection of vintage airplanes owned by the Museum of Aero Firefighting outside of Greybull, Wyoming. Our path took us through Yellowstone Park where we witnessed Old Faithful blowing its top, felt miniscule alongside buffalo that towered over our bikes, and were humbled by the majesty of the Grand Tetons. We blasted over the plains and through rocky basins where dinosaurs once roamed on our final day in Wyoming to make it to Sturgis on time for the reveal of the 2014 Indian Chiefs.
We got to see some of the most majestic vistas our country has to offer on our journey to the 2013 Sturgis Rally. We thought we were riding big bikes until we encountered a Yellowstone buffalo and suddenly our perspective changed.
Never before had we seen Main Street Sturgis shut down until we attended the big street party held by Indian Motorcycle when it introduced its 2014 models. A huge crowd hovered around the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame as Indian revamped the museum, hiding its new motorcycles on top of the building behind rotating walls, erecting high-def video screens above the crowd so everybody had a good view of the party, and circling it with stages where industry personalities like Don Emde, Laura Klock, and “Woody” from the Buffalo Chip rumbled in on the new Chiefs. The band Uncle Lucius laid down the licks to hype up the crowd, the audience helped create a red, white and blue light show and then Indian rolled out the 2014 Chieftain, Chief Classic, and Chief Vintage. The first Polaris-produced Indian Motorcycles quickly became the talk of this year’s rally.
The next two days we had the pleasure of riding the new Indian Motorcycles. We were impressed with the power and handling of the first hard-fairing, hard saddlebag-equipped motorcycle Indian has ever produced, the 2014 Chieftain. Its introduction was by far the biggest surprise among Indian’s 2014 offerings. The bagger combines heritage styling with modern performance and amenities, from its digital tire pressure monitor to its powerful 1811cc Thunder Stroke engine. We spent plenty of time in the saddle of the 2014 Chief Classic as well, taking a spin out to Deadwood and opening it up on the freeway. Later we would get a chance to test its handling on a knotted stretch of asphalt to Silver City, the cruiser motorcycle impressing us with its well-sorted chassis and chrome-laden aesthetics. Pulling into Deadwood aboard the Chief Classic for the 2013 Legends Ride we felt like a rock star.
Which was a good thing, because there was lots of star power at this year’s Legends Ride. Former Twisted Sister frontman Dee Snyder was there to support the cause, as was rabble rouser and motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel, who buddied up with Patron Tequila CEO John Paul DeJoria. The first family of custom bike building, Arlen, Cory and Zach Ness joined OCC’s head honcho Paul Teutul, Sr. and “All Girls Garage” host Jessi Combs in leading the procession out of town. It was a record-breaking event as the Sturgis Buffalo Chip Challenge bike, built by local students, sold for a record $55,000 to a gentleman named Ronnie from Lumberton, Texas. Overall, the event raised a reported $81,490 this year for Black Hills Special Olympics and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum. The 50-mile ride out to
The Miss Buffalo Chip 2013 contestants were on-hand to help promote this year’s record-beaking Legends Ride.
the Sturgis Buffalo Chip was graced by good weather and beautiful scenery. After grubbing down on a catered meal, the party filtered into The Chip’s amphitheater for a triple bill of Jared James Nichols, the Doobie Brothers, and Kid Rock. After the Doobie’s set, Paul Sr. took the stage to present wounded veteran and Purple Heart recipient Robert “Five” Dickey a custom OCC motorcycle. The party ended after Kid Rock put on an incredible show during a driving rainstorm as lightning on the horizon provided a natural light show.
Michael Lichter once again hosted an incredible “Motorcycles as Art” show, this year paying homage to café racers with an exhibit called “Ton Up – Speed, Style and Café Racer Culture.” The show was graced by the appearance of Willie G. Davidson who talked about the #0001 1977 XLCR on display at the show. The man who took his place at the helm of The Motor Company’s styling department, Ray Drea, was also in attendance with a sporty custom he built. Roland Sands BMW Concept Ninety drew lots of praise, and the sheet metal work of Shinya Kimura is always a wonder to behold. The combination of motorcycles, artwork, and photographs captured the essence of the movement like few could.
More incredible motorcycles were on display at the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show held at the Buffalo Chip’s CrossRoads. Chop Devillle’s Shaun Ruddy was the man of the hour, walking away with “Best of Show” honors against stiff competition. His digger-style bike rolls on 26-inch wheels, front and back, the tall, narrow front hoop wedge between the fork legs of a front end he designed and modified with motocross-style shocks. The winning bike features a split gas tank with the backbone running in between. Below the tanks reside a 127 cubic-inch Ultima El Bruto V-Twin with a Panhead rocker box on the front cylinder and an Evo on the rear. A two-inch open belt primary, a six-speed tranny and stubby homemade pipes that blow flames complete the powertrain. It operates with a hydraulic foot clutch teamed to a jockey shifter, while details like wooden grips and an ostrich seat helped solidify its position as “Best of Show.”
One day we paid a visit to Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City to see what was going on there. Custom builder Jim Nasi continues to be one of the leading innovators in the bagger segment and had several bold examples of his work on display. We stopped by Big Bear Choppers to check out its Titanium, a motorcycle we featured in our Daytona Beach coverage. Based on an FXR-style frame paired to a 111 cubic-inch engine, it’s a bike we’re itchin’ to ride. At the Performance Machine booth, we checked out their incredible lineup of wheels and were happy to see the custom 2007
Kid Rock put on the show of the week at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip as he performed through a driving rainstorm.
Would you ride a motorcycle through this? Clint Ewing tried and almost paid the ultimate price for it.
Shaun Ruddy of Chop Deville took home ‘Best of Show’ honors at the 2013 Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show in Sturgis.
The party at The Chip gets pretty crazy after hours!
The sun sets on another successful Sturgis Rally.
Fat Boy called ‘Virtue’ we got to ride at the beginning of the year out front. We stopped by Vance & Hines to inspect the RSD Slant Exhaust Vance & Hines is producing in conjunction with Roland Sands Design that we’ve been eyeing for an upcoming project. The RSD booth wasn’t far away and we caught them in the midst of a “thunderstorm” sale as the deluge that passed through the night before had reduced a bunch of the packaging of various products to a soggy cardboard mess. We looked for our friends at Mustang Seats after getting a first-hand look at its operations during our trip to Laconia, but the booth was slammed with people looking for high quality aftermarket seats.
We did visit our friends with Ohlins who debuted a new fork cartridge kit for Harley tourers and baggers at the rally. The Ohlins FKC 101 Fork Cartridge Kit has NIX-type damping, with compression in one fork leg only while rebound is in the other. Internally it has 8mm steel shafts, aluminum damper tubes, and 25mm pistons. The fork kit for big Harleys is a first for the company, and given its reputation for making high-grade suspension components, it’s bound to improve the ride quality over the stock units.
The day after our visit to Black Hills H-D, excitement levels were high for The Chip’s Daredevil Days as Clint Ewing prepared to break the Guinness World Record for riding a motorcycle through the “Tunnel of Fire.” The chicken wire and cardboard tunnel, doused in accelerants, was longer than a football field. With this type of stunt, timing is everything. The whole thing was pushed forward an hour because of the storm, the cardboard wouldn’t light initially, and by the time the whole thing was lit, pieces of the cardboard were already disintegrating and swirling inside the tunnel. The whole timing was off. With CMT cameras rolling, Ewing bravely opened up the throttle on his sportbike and disappeared into an inferno of flames. The stunt went horribly wrong as Ewing crashed through the side of the tunnel and barely escaped with his life, his clothes charred and hands burned. We witnessed it all first-hand and can honestly say he’s lucky he got alive.
We did make one positive observation from the event, though. It did draw in a younger crowd. So did Tim Dyson’s earlier stunt, a double backflip on a dirtbike with a passenger onboard. The next generation of bikers were also hanging out at the Broken Spoke Saloon the night we went to see Korn. The night before at the Spoke, the Queens of the Stone Age also had a huge turnout of twenty-somethings. After the show, Josh Homme and the band hung out at the bar and partied with fans, breaking the “I’m an unapproachable superstar” stigma that surrounds most mega-bands. Whatever it was, events and concerts like these are appealing to the younger generation who flock to the X Games like moths to flame and hail Red Bull extreme athletes like Felix Baumgartner as the next messiah. With the average age of the Sturgis demographic leaning toward the twilight years of life, we need to somehow tap into that market to ensure the rally will be going on for another 73 years.
We spent plenty of time taking in the night life at The Chip. The party never stops there, from big name entertainers to late night dance parties to contests between bikini-clad beauties. Even the Budweiser Clydesdales got in on the party. Watching lightning strikes in dark clouds over Black Butte from the vantage point outside our trailer was a nightly affair. We also got a kick out of the yahoos drifting their car in the pasture across the street from The Chip around a stack of hay bales. Later that same clan climbed on top of the hay bales because they placed a couple old sofas on top of them so they could watch the shows across the street on stage at The Chip while getting their party on. We don’t know of many places you can listen to bands like Buckcherry, The Cult, and the Doobie Brothers performing live in the background while you feverishly hack out stories on your computer. It was quite a year for a rally with little expectations. The memories from the 2013 throw-down are still fresh in our heads but we’re already eager to explore what the next year has in store.