It started more whimper than bang. When we pulled into Sturgis that first Friday, it only took a few minutes to ride the length of Lazelle, there were open spaces all around our trailer at The Chip and tents had barely begun to sprout up around campgrounds. The night we left, a band’s caravan of canopies and tents had filled the empty gap, it took an hour-and-a-half to go from The Buffalo Chip to the other side of Sturgis, and the party around us raged into the wee hours of a sleepless night.
And while the 2014 Sturgis Rally felt light initially as far as attendance goes, there was no shortage of accidents. We witnessed the aftermath of several ourselves, to a downed rider on the highway right outside the intersection to The Chip to young girls who rolled their quad just off the road in the hills. Seems like sirens constantly filled the air. Four motorcycle-related fatalities were reported at this year’s rally. Sturgis Police were busy fielding 1534 service calls, up 15% according to a Rapid City Journal article. Of those, 568 resulted in arrests or citations while 118 people were jailed stated the report.
Indian Motorcycle Co. once again tried to steal headlines at the 2014 Sturgis Rally. It started at an informal dinner where John Munro, son of ‘World’s Fastest Indian” Burt, regaled us with stories and memorabilia from his father’s career. We marveled over the handcrafted pistons, saw the handwritten scribblings in his faded leather journal and watched entranced at
Charlie Ransom of The American Motor Drome Co. rides a Scout on the perilous Walls of Death at the 2014 Sturgis Rally.
Chris ‘Leo’ Leonardi pumps his fists in the air after placing the winning bid for the Legends Ride Student Build Challenge motorcycle.
the pictures and clippings in Munro’s photo album. Best of all, he told us about how he’d gotten his father credited with a new land speed record after discovering a mathematical error on one of Burt’s runs. (Hear the story straight from John in our “Burt Munro Breaks World Record 36 Years After Death” article.)
The next night, journalists and industry guests attended the star-studded reveal of the 2015 Indian Scout. Anticipation was palpable as American Picker’s Mike Wolfe and actor Mark Wahlberg worked the crowd. Applause filled the plaza as the crate lifted, bulbs flashing to capture the first glimpses of the Indian Red Scout. The celebration reached a crescendo when daredevil Charlie Ransom shook the wooden planks of the Wall of Death aboard the new Scout. Roland Sands provided the finishing touches on the night by enveloping the crowd in a smoky burnout on the Indian boardtracker he debuted in Sturgis. (See “Roland Sands Rides Sturgis on Indian Tracker” for more.)
We spent the next day rumbling around the Black Hills on the new Scout. Light, quick, and revvy, the new Indian is a blast to ride. Its 1133cc liquid-cooled Twin quickly won us over. (Read about our time in its saddle in our “2015 Indian Scout First Ride” review.) We didn’t want to give it back, but Michael Lichter’s party for his latest Motorcycles as Art display awaited.
“Built for Speed – Race Inspired Motorcycles and Art” was the theme of this year’s exhibit. Just about every discipline of motorcycle racing was represented, the artwork as compelling as the bikes. Co-curator Paul D’Orleans singled out “Barn Job” as being the “crux of the show,” Clem Johnson’s Vincent blistering the drag strips to numerous records over a five-year span. There was drag legend Tator Gilmore’s full-blown drag bike across from Arlen Ness’ “Untouchable,” the digger with the supercharged ’47 Knucklehead Arlen reinvented over and over again. Darren McKeag said he’d gotten little sleep the last 30 days getting ready for the show but was honored to be one of the featured artists and was excited at the exposure the show would bring. His work joined the likes of tenured Harley-Davidson artist Scott Jacobs and the ever-popular David Uhl.
In honor of Lichter’s theme, we took in some drag-racing action at the Sturgis Dragway. The WMDRA was hosting an event and riders were busy qualifying when we showed up. They were running a little bit of everything down the dragway’s 1/8-mile-long strip, from nostalgic twin-engined dragsters to full-blown nitro bikes. It’s not every day you get to watch an old school, sissy-barred chopper square off against a Yamaha V-Max. Mark Dotson, Lead Drag Race Instructor, was kind enough to give us a crash course in motorcycle drag racing 101, everything from tech inspection to staging. He took us into a nitro dragster pit to see the crew busily breaking down the bike between qualifying rounds. Sturgis’ history is rooted in racing, and it was a treat to watch some drag action with iconic Bear Butte in the background.
The pace was a little slower at the social affair known as the Legends Ride. We rolled into the annual benefit ride on the 2015 Magnum, Victory’s latest bagger. With a stylish 21-inch Black Roulette wheel, 100-watt sound system and flashy paint, we already felt like we were in a parade. The 7th annual ride, put on by the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, kicked off in historic Deadwood with a big street party and auction. Picker Frank Fritz and “Gunny” R. Lee Ermey mingled with the crowd who cheered as Black Hills Special Olympics President, Jack Lynass, and Buffalo Chip owner Rod Woodruff burned the note on a van used to transport local kids in the Special Olympics program. The van was purchased with funds generated by the Legends Ride which has raised almost $400,000 for charities in the last seven years. This year’s kitty got a huge boost from Chris “Leo” Leonardi who put in the winning $51,000 bid for the custom bagger built by Sturgis Brown High School students. Leonardi, a member of the Bling Johnson entourage, was super excited about winning the custom 2014 Harley Street Glide and afterward talked to several students about the build. The Legends Ride culminated with a killer concert by the Zac Brown Band at the Buffalo Chip.
The Zac Brown Band was just the tip of the iceberg of great shows at The Chip. Motley Crue was electric Tuesday night, the boys in rare form on their farewell tour. The twin bill of ZZ Top and Florida Georgia Line also drew a huge crowd as young country fans mixed with old biker rockers. Each night ended with the girls competing for the title of Miss Buffalo Chip 2014. The girls work non-stop throughout the week rotating between stage performances, bartending duties, and promotional gigs. While all of them were deserving, at the end of the week Britney, a personal trainer out of Tallahassee, Florida, was crowned champion.
The day we needed to get away from the rally, we headed out to Custer State Park on the 2015 Harley Road Glide. We’re glad to see Harley’s shark-nosed bagger back, the latest version updated with the Project Rushmore treatment. Its signature frame-mounted fairing sports new, aerodynamic lines and Harley has worked hard to make it more rider-friendly than ever. We appreciated the Glide’s new venting system on a warm day as we took in the incredible granite formations the park has to offer and admired the tunnels blasted out of rock.
While bike shows were seemingly around every corner this year, few carry the prestige of the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show. This year’s Rat’s Hole saw the Black Hills Bagger Showdown, the segment the most hotly contested at this year’s competition There was a wide variety of styles in the 70-plus bikes entered, from a tilting-wheeled Street Glide trike to high-necked choppers. (See 2014 “Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show Sturgis“) In the end, Brian Jenkins of Hatred Customs walked away the big winner, the seamless fabrication on his classy bagger rightly earning ‘Best of Show.’
Jenkins is one of the five custom builders featured in Biker Battleground Phoenix, a TV series running on the History Channel. The show pits five heavyweights of the bagger business in a head-to-head competition to build the baddest bagger. We chanced upon the public unveiling of the Biker Battleground bikes at the Buffalo Chip CrossRoads, cameras rolling as industry vets like Bikernet’s Keith Ball and Led Sled’s Pat Patterson judged the builds. Spoiler alert! In the end, Dirty Bird’s John Shop cleaned house, winning both the ‘People’s Choice’ and judged categories. The “Ultimate Battle: Sturgis” episode airs Tuesday, August 26, so be sure to check it out to see the incredible creations the competitors came up with.
As if the Sturgis Buffalo Chip already didn’t have enough going on, Woody and the gang built a new Powersports Complex this year, carving a 1.2-mile track in the hills just behind the campground off Alkali Road. The Chip and TORC entered the first year of a multi-year deal in 2014, and Woodruff and TORC President BJ Birtwell solidified the relationship between the two with a torch-cutting ceremony. There’s plenty of crossover between TORC and motorcycling, the most common association being motocross racing. We got to check out the track with a lap in a TORC truck and are hooked on the adrenaline rush the 900-plus horsepower trucks provide.
Julia from Baltimore, a member of the International Bikini Team, was busy at Sturgis in her duties as a Miss Buffalo Chip contestant.
We’re not the only one who got a rush out of this year’s rally. We’ll wager Joe “Bull” Shipley is still riding a natural high after winning a Victory Cross Country customized by Cory Ness. Shipley’s name was drawn Thursday night from a box containing the name of eight finalists. Shipley is the tour manager for a band that stayed a few RVs down from us called Pistol Day Parade. PDP had been on the road for the last month-and-a-half touring with Ted Nugent before the boys from Detroit pulled into The Chip for their first trip to Sturgis. They seemed to be grabbing all Sturgis had to offer with both hands. When we’d walk by their camp late at night, they were up. If we got up early to cover an assignment, they were up. I don’t think those guys ever slept while still playing side-stages throughout the week in addition to opening on the main stage Thursday night for Pop Evil and Train.
We had a blast at the 2014 Sturgis Rally, but beware. Next year the party in the Black Hills turns 75 and people are already making plans for the biggest blowout of all biker bashes. Projections are putting attendance numbers at a million strong. If you thought the biker crawl on Lazelle was bad this year, you ain’t seen nothing yet. As crazy as it promises to be, we can’t wait to once again be in the thick of it.