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Common Tread

Major motorcycle rallies delayed, not canceled, by pandemic

Jun 17, 2020

"Better late than never" seems to be the predominant thinking among organizers of major motorcycle rallies this summer. While the largest rallies have been delayed, they are still scheduled to happen despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many locations, a large rally has great economic importance, and nowhere is that more true than in Sturgis, South Dakota, and the surrounding area, where hundreds of thousands of riders converge every summer for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. For some local businesses, the 10 days of the rally represent a big portion of their annual revenue. This year is the 80th edition of the rally and there was a lot of discussion about what would happen.

As my Comoto colleague Bryan Harley has reported in greater detail on the Countersteer blog at J&P Cycles, no one really owns the rally and therefore no one can really cancel it. Despite that, there was a lot of debate within the city of Sturgis about whether the city would officially participate in the rally this year.

On Monday evening, the city council eventually voted eight to one to participate in the rally while making some modifications in light of the pandemic. You can read much more detail in Bryan's report at Countersteer, but in the end the thinking was that a rally is going to happen and people are going to show up no matter what, so it's better to be prepared than try to prevent it. Many businesses outside the small city were already promoting the rally and planning for it.

Daytona Bike Week was unique because it was already underway back in March when the national emergency was declared. So while the rally was not affected, and the Daytona Supercross race happened as normal, the Daytona 200 and the American Flat Track race were postponed just a day before they were supposed to happen. And while many summer events have been canceled, the biggest rallies have been postponed.

Myrtle Beach Bike Week has been moved to July 13 to 19 and the Atlantic Beach Bikefest, also in the Myrtle Beach area, was moved from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend.

Americade, the rally in Lake George, New York, that usually takes place in June, is now scheduled for July 21 through 25. A little further east in New Hampshire, the Progressive Laconia Motorcycle Week has been moved from June to August 22 to 30.

For a small town like Sturgis, and the other small towns in the area that rely on the rally economically, the choice is stark. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of visitors dramatically raises the chances of the coronavirus arriving, too. And as we are already seeing spikes of new cases in places like Arizona and Texas that have quickly reduced restrictions and where people have flocked to bars and restaurants, the concern about further spread of the virus is reasonable.

So far, however, rally organizers appear more worried about losing the business than risking the contagion.