8 Tips for a great time at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2015

On any given year, untold bucket lists have an item struck off by bikers around the world as they ride into the legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Other motorcycle enthusiasts regard the internationally famous biker event as an annual pilgrimage.

That draw is intensified this year by the motorcycle event celebrating its 75th birthday. Trying to keep tabs of the over-packed calendar of events and places to-be can feel like standing in front of a gushing fire hydrant with the mouth wide open. One news story after another comes across the computer screen creating a blur of information to challenge even the most organized rider.

Clutch and Chrome is always here to help, so we’ve brought together our recommendations of eight things every rider should try to fit into their trip to Sturgis.

What is Sturgis?
We understand riders lucky enough to attend will have a good idea of what Sturgis is, if not before certainly by the time they arrive. For those who won’t have the opportunity to attend or even rally-going riders who want to be among the well-informed, here’s a brief overview of the annual celebration known as Sturgis which has captured rider's imagination worldwide.

Usually held during the first full week of August, the first rally was held on August 14, 1938, hosted by the ‘Jackpine Gypsies’ motorcycle club who still own and operate the tracks, hillclimb and field areas where the rally is centered. The crowds that very first year totaled 200 attendees.

The event was called the ‘Black Hills Classic’ and consisted of a single race with nine participants and a small audience. The father of the rally is generally considered as then local Indian motorcycle dealer J.C. "Pappy" Hoel who was also coincidentally the founder of the ‘Jackpine Gypsies’.

While the original focus of the motorcycle rally was racing and stunts, in 1961 the event  expanded to include the Hillclimb and Motocross races. It continued to grow and evolved to the experience many bikers now feel they need to enjoy at least once in their riding lives.

The Sturgis Rally has been held every year with the exception of 1942, when the event was cancelled due to gasoline rationing during World War II.

Many feel the beginning of the event's remarkable growth started in 1990 at the 50th rally when about 300,000 people flooded the area, catching both local residents and visitors unaware. With the unexpected large crowds many say it was difficult to even find food!

Attendance at the rally peaked in the year 2000 with 466,769 motorcycle enthusiasts joining in the festivities. As large as that number was, the record could be smashed this year with local officials estimating as many as 850,000 to 1 million possibly attending to celebrate the 75th birthday.

Not bad considering the local population of Sturgis is estimated to be only 6,627 people.

The event has grown to feature every kind of motorcycle related exhibit, displays and competitions any rider could hope for.  Motorcycle manufacturers bring their latest and greatest rides and the rally enjoys a full schedule of entertainment as well as the breathtaking views on local rides in a geographically-stunning part of the country.

Understandably, all these moving parts require a little bit of planning and a lot of energy for visiting riders to take it all in.

1. Grand Openings and new traditions

Harley-Davidson will host a grand opening on July 31st at noon with ceremonial chain-cutting, music and more for its new year-round location called Rally Point.

“Sturgis is a mecca for riders around the world. The Harley-Davidson Rally Point establishes a new site in downtown Sturgis for people to gather year round,” said Bill Davidson, great-grandson of Harley-Davidson founder William A. Davidson and vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum at the ground-breaking in March 2015.

Aside from the grand-opening and festivities, the location itself holds some Harley-Davidson history.  Seventy-four bricks from the company’s Milwaukee headquarters, a building that once housed the company’s factory dating back more than 100 years, and one brick from the Harley-Davidson Museum were all integrated into The Rally Point’s final construction.

Throughout the event, the Rally Point will be used along with two other locations by Harley-Davidson to feature live music, demonstrations and the ever popular H.O.G. member services. A great tip to keep track of all the different events is to download the HD app for the android or iPhone.

2. Buffalo Chip, a legend in its own right

Go to something, anything at the Buffalo Chip.

We’re not saying you need to necessarily stay there, but should certainly look over the schedule of entertainment found here a pick at least one, if only to experience something that has become synonymous with Sturgis.

Officially known as ‘The Sturgis Buffalo Chip Campground’ it started off as a campground located outside of Sturgis in 1981. In the early years motorcyclists roughed it in tents in little more than a pasture, but its size as well as its biker reputation has grown over the years. Under the watchful eye of owner and founder Rod Woodruff, the campground has become a small city which hosts a 10-day concert series.

Over the years the Buffalo Chip Campground installed electricity, drilled wells, installed flush toilets, shower houses, RV sites and cabins. The mini-city features a pond turned into a swimming hole called the “Bikini Beach”, numerous bars, multiple food services and a convenience store.

The entrance gates include an the iron ‘Welcome Home Biker’ and an 8-ton buffalo sculpture with the letters ‘CHIP’ cut out of its center.

3. Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame

Every year the more notable figures in the riding world are inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame. This is just one of the reasons we feel this is worth some 'Sturgis Time'. Bikers like motorcycles and more importantly, we love the stories behind those rides.

Located at 999 Main Street, this visit won’t take riders away from the action and gives an opportunity to enjoy the 7,000+ square foot space of curated galleries, a gift shop and if you’re feeling generous, donate to the building fund for a new and improved museum.

The museum management and Board of Directors feel the new building is needed sooner than later with their collection having outgrown the current facilities and the expansion project considered a fundamental part of what the Museum's future holds.

4. Ride your heart out part 1

As mentioned earlier, motorcycle manufacturers look to Sturgis as the perfect opportunity to get in front of their core audience. Offering demonstration (demo) rides, a range of motorcycles are available for any biker with a valid license to ride the latest models.

Here’s the demo ride locations we know of;

4th and Lazelle street (Staging for demo rides takes place in the parking lot behind the Community Center)
Saturday, August 1st - Saturday, August 9th 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily

Indian Motorcycles
2100 Whitewood Service Road (I-90 on Exit 30)
Saturday, August 1st - Saturday, August 9th 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily

Star and Yamaha Motorcycles
Sturgis City Park, 591 Lazelle Street, Sturgis, SD 57785
Saturday, August 01, 2015 - Saturday, August 08, 2015 9am - 6pm

Slingshot, Honda, Victory, Can-am, Suzuki
Rice Victory Dealership - 301 Cambell St, Rapid City, SD 57701
Hersrud's of Sturgis - 2100 Whitewood Service Road (I-90 on Exit 30)
Saturday, August 1st - Saturday, August 9th 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. daily

Generally speaking, to enjoy a demo ride bikers must be 18 years of age and provide proof of endorsement along with a helmet and appropriate riding attire. Passengers are also welcome to ride, no endorsement needed.

5. Ride your heart out part 2

Sturgis is a motorcycle rally after all and one thing we bikers like to do is ride. Fortunately Sturgis sits in an amazing part of the country which offers scenic rides hard to find anywhere else in the world, let alone around the United States. Whether heading out on the open road or going on one of the many organized rides such as the Mayors Ride, Poker Runs or BozBros Benefit Ride, it’s hard not to enjoy your saddle time.

For those heading out on their own, the local favorite is the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway. This 70-mile loop will take you through the winding pigtail bridges and granite tunnels of Iron Mountain Road, into Custer State Park, past the Needle’s Eye and Cathedral Spires of the Needle’s Highway, Harney Peak, and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. This byway is surrounded on three sides by the historic mining communities of Custer, Hill City, and Keystone; all of which offer a host of unique shops, excellent dining, and attractions along the way.

There are ten organized rides and two poker runs currently on the Sturgis calendar.

6. If you can’t ride it, ogle at it

There are no fewer than eleven bike shows taking place during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Known designers such as Roland Sands are featured as well as those hosted by motorcycle magazines. Every type of motorcycle style is covered including choppers, vintage, baggers and street bikes.

Depending on how far attendees have come and how hard the daily riding has been, a bike show is always a great excuse to stretch the legs and find some inspiration as well as idea's on their own customization.

A full list can be found here along with dates and locations.

7. Famous faces, final ride

The Broken Spoke Saloon and Campground has teamed up with Easyriders Saloon to present ‘The Complete Sons of Anarchy Experience: The Final Ride’. Billed as an ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ it allows riders to not only meet cast members from the hit show ‘Sons of Anarchy’ but actually join them in a ride.

Cast members attending the event are Tommy Flanagan “Chibs”, Mark Boone “Bobby”, Ryan Hurst “Opie”, Rusty Coones “Quinn”, Niko Nicotera “Ratboy”, David Labrava “Happy”and Michael Ornstein “Chucky”.

On Tuesday August 4th all seven cast members will ride from the Easyriders Saloon to the Broken Spoke Campground and while there is no charge to participate in the Sons of Anarchy Final Ride, packages are offered to ‘meet and greet’ the stars as well as attending a pre-ride cast party.

8. Park on Main Street

The famous image of rows and rows of motorcycle parked on Main Street should be incentive enough to get up early at least one morning, find a parking spot and snap a picture for that motorcycle memory.

This will require an early start however or incredible parking karma for one of these sought after spaces.

There you have it, eight things every rider should put on the Sturgis ‘to-do’ list.

If you’re looking for more rally tips, check out Clutch and Chrome’s article ‘Ten things to know for your next motorcycle rally’.

Something not included on the list but certainly should be on the top of everyone’s mind in being safe. Riding there, coming back and all the travel in between should be done is a safe, sober but fun manner.

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