Lower Rally Numbers Don't Worry Sturgis Officials

Everyone can feel it, bikers, vendors and even officials note there are less bikers at Sturgis in 2016 than last year. Ironically, officials are happy with what they’re seeing.

This isn’t to say organizers would turn away bikers to exceed the exceptionally-sized crowds that rode in to celebrate the 75th anniversary of this legendary rally last year. The official attendance placed 2015 as one of the best showings for Sturgis, allowing it to retain the crown of the biggest motorcycle event in the world. What that number was will be discussed later as it’s not as straight-forward as one would think.

But coming to Sturgis costs time and money, both of which can be tight for many. Vendors, officials and even those in attendance believe a large number of bikers waited until the 75th anniversary to strike Sturgis off the bucket list, making 2015 a hard year to beat in attendance numbers.

Bikers and bison on the Wilderness Route

According to Sturgis City Manager, Daniel Ainslie, 2016 could end up standing proudly against other past events if the monster numbers seen last year are taken out of the mix. Readers looking for cold hard numbers may be in for some disappointment as estimating how many bikers attend rallies such as Sturgis is more an art form than science. Each use their own blend of statistics to come up with an attendance number with the final total taking months to determine.

Organizers will use the amount of garbage collected, sales taxes the host city and local municipalities collect, counting motorcycles at different points around the event and even take pictures of certain areas to estimate crowd sizes.

Using sales taxes is one of the measures that takes months to pull together, completed long after those commemorative t-shirts have inched their way to the bottom of a biker’s drawer. This is also where the biggest misconception of how many riders an event attracted begin to take hold in our two-wheeled culture.

Needles Eye - A Motorcycle Favorite

If a random group of bikers were asked how many motorcycle enthusiasts attended the 75th Anniversary of Sturgis, most would answer over a million and some would guess around 700,000. Both of these answers would be wrong, with the official number given on the Sturgis rally website as 510,749. But bikers who gave the incorrect answers would only be repeating what they had read. Those who answered over a million most likely remember local papers ‘guestimating’ the million-person mark while bikers who went with 700,000 probably read reports from the Associated Press a month after the 2015 rally wrapped up.

According to official numbers, the 75th anniversary of Sturgis Rally in 2015 was actually exceeded in attendance previously eight times, 1990 and 1999 – 2005 with attendance numbers ranging from 524,656 to 605,1240. The latter was seen in 2003.

Looking at all these numbers, readers may ask themselves, why are officials happy with what they’re seeing at the 2016 event?

“The age of bikers attending is getting younger,” Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie explained to Clutch and Chrome. “We’re seeing the average age of attendees drop because of this.”

Not surprisingly, just as motorcycle manufacturers look to the younger riders for their ongoing success, so do the organizers of events that celebrate the two-wheeled lifestyle.

The final silver lining to the fewer numbers on Lazelle and Main Street go to those who may have wanted to attend Sturgis this year but high room rates discouraged them. In speaking with many rally-goers, Clutch and Chrome heard of some hotels dropping their rates because they were sitting on empty rooms. The prices mentioned in conversation were about half of what was advertised in the months leading up to Sturgis 2016.

With Sturgis running through to August 14th, as this report is published there is still time for riders to strike the legendary rally off that biker bucket list.

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