Whether or not you are a biker or a lover of fine motor bikes, there is no gathering that can compare with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally—or even come close. The history of this South Dakota Motorcycle Rally had its origins in the man (J. Clarence "Pappy" Hoel) who bought part of Indian Motorcycles in 1936 and the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club. He is considered the father and founder of what is today one of the greatest biking events in the country and perhaps the world. The first Sturgis Bike Rally was held in 1938. It boasted fewer than ten participants, and some onlookers from a handfull of neighboring states. That first year, just about everyone who attended camped out in Pappy's backyard and at the Sturgis City Park.
Over the years, more and more spectators, riders, and vendors showed up. Pappy died in 1989, but the Sturgis Rally lived on, helped in large part by his wife, Pearl. Today what once was the Black Hills Motor Classic is now the internationally renowned Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and it brings several hundred thousand visitors from around the world. If you're wondering when to go, set aside a week in early August and head off to the little community of Sturgis, about 50 miles northwest of Rapid City near the border with Wyoming.
When the Sturgis Bike Rally first began, the only types of motorcycles seen at the rally were Harley Davidson and Indian. Things have changed, both with the kinds of events offered at the Sturgis Rally and the types of bikes. The old Harleys and Indians were huge compared with modern bikes, and long races and tours in the heart of the Black Hills were the only events. New riders now can compete in short-track races and hill climbs.
The official Sturgis Bike Rally includes a number of events—especially touring—that branch out to discover the many attractions in the area. These tours include the Dark of the Moon tour that rumbles off to Mount Rushmore for the evening lighting ceremony, and the annual Governor's Tour that rides to both Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Even nearby communities get in the act, and there are Sturgis Motorcycle Rally events held in Rapid City and Keystone, and at Badlands National Park and Custer State Park. Different groups participate, including Vietnam Veterans (the Vietnam Veterans Moving Wall shows up for the week) and the Latin American and Christian Motorcycle Associations.
Another integral part of the Sturgis Rally is food, dining, food, and more food. All the local restaurants participate, and hundreds of food vendors appear. Fast food and traditional barbecue are the two favorites. Other vendors include tattoo artists, T-shirt vendors, bike-parts firms, bike customizers, and entire motorcycle companies. There are so many vendors setting up a weeklong business that even the Internal Revenue Service is one of the vendors—to ensure everyone pays taxes on their income. There are concerts and performances offered throughout the week in campgrounds, parks, and the famous Buffalo Chip Bar.
All the Sturgis Bike Rally attendees need places to stay, and new camping venues spring up for the week. Hotels, motels, and lodges throughout the Black Hills have special Sturgis week vacation packages. Companies show up to rent out campers and motor homes.