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Common Tread

Ramblings of a rally rookie at Sturgis

Aug 20, 2014

My Sturgis sojourn began months ago whilst snowed in at O'Hare International Airport with Anthony and Mike Clarke. Anthony informed me and Clarke that one of us would be traveling to Sturgis. Certain Anthony was stoned on Five-Hour Energy, I refused. Clarke cooked up a legitimate excuse that I was unable to best. Suspecting Anthony’s vitamin B12 trip would wear off, I forgot the whole conversation 10 minutes later.

Fast-forward to April. This idea was apparently still fermenting, as evidenced by an e-mail asking about my preferences regarding aisle or window seating. (Flying? To Sturgis? Huh?) Through glib trickery, I convinced los jefes that I should abuse their minty-fresh bagger (149 miles on it!) from Pennsylvania to Michigan on R4YL, a group ride I do every year, and then on to South Dakota. They took my bait. That’s how I came to be riding into Sturgis for my first-ever visit. The notes that follow were scribbled on the backs of fuel receipts for further thought.

Everyone is polite!

biker in Sturgis
You meet the nicest people at Sturgis. Photo by Stevan Popovich.
The city was packed wall-to-wall with tattooed-up bikers. Gallons of beer and booze flowed. That's a recipe for disaster, right? In the entire time I was there, no one was rude to me — not one single being. People who looked like hell's rejects held doors, called me "sir," waved me on in traffic, and were generally just really, really kind. I did my best to return the favors. Part of the reason this whole big mess seems to work is that the people were super laid-back. Sure, everybody looked like they just got out of the county pen, but it was puffery. The place was jammed with honest, friendly people.

Why are we riding so slow?

Though I was on a bagger (surrounded by other baggers), I was appalled by the leisurely pace. I prayed fervently to Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, to no avail. Every bike, it seemed, hovered near the 100-cubic-inch mark, yet I was burning clutch discs and brake pads, not rubber and gas. I figured out why rather quickly: The speed limit was 25 mph. Sturgis in its entirety was a glorified speed trap. Fortunately, riding just minutes outside the city proper yielded righteous riding on lonely roads. The vicinity adjacent to Sturgis was not nearly as crowded as I had imagined.

biker towing scooter
Bikers ain't getting any younger. Riding your scoot at Sturgis can have more than one meaning. Photo by Stevan Popovich.

Holy crap, is that Methuselah?

Mount Rushmore
A visit to Mount Rushmore is an obligatory part of the Sturgis experience. Photo by Stevan Popovich.
This observation may be a hard pill for some to swallow. I turned 30 while I was in Sturgis. At that age, it felt as though I was roughly a quarter of a century younger than most of the other attendees. The Black Hills Classic is suffering from the same problem every Harley-Davidson-related business is, from the MoCo itself to the Hells Angels: Traditional H-D riders are aging, and there are no legions of younger customers to supplant them.

Is that a Boss Hoss? It is a Boss Hoss!

For the uninitiated, a Boss Hoss is a huge motorcycle powered by a Chevy V8 (typically a small-block). I have ridden one once, and have only seen a handful in person up until August began. I couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Boss Hoss on Main Street. Much like the Sturgis rally, they are the epitome of American excess, which prolly explains their presence.

Aren't you cold and wet?

skeleton bike
Photo by Stevan Popovich.
Let's ignore safety for a moment. Gear protects us from more than asphalt. It also offers protection from Mama Nature. Though I observed riders sporting rain duds, motorcyclists braving rain in just street clothes were no less common. Most of them looked miserable. They were sopping wet! Irrespective of any safety concerns, helmets keep your melon warm and dry. I wanted to open up a bubble shield booth on a street corner. I'd have been rich.

Lemmy, suffering a bit of sensory overload but feeling right at home. Photo by Stevan Popovich.

Where’s my camera?

biker in Sturgis
You see all kinds on Main Street. Photo by Stevan Popovich.
Obvious, right? The RevZilla Video Squad armed me with two GoPros, five mounts, a camera, handfuls of spare batteries, backup memory cards, and a crash course on all of it, but you’ll notice the photos here are by Stevan. For the duration of the rally, I couldn’t... stop... watching. I achieved total visual overload. I was simply unable to capture all the sights competing for my attention. Protip: Do not search Google Images for "Sturgis" unless you need to be fired or divorced.

These are my musings. They are the product of a student. I learned how the Badlands were formed, and how to use cruise control on a motorcycle. I learned what motivates people to attend the most important motorcycle rally in the world. Perhaps most importantly, I learned new ways to use whipped cream in manners never imagined by its inventors. Trip successful.