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69th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

By Shadow

One wet whirlwind

Entertainments abound even as all hail breaks loose

Sturgis, S.D., August 3–9—As I rode through Newcastle, Four Corners, and other tiny Wyoming towns into the western edge of South Dakota, the scenery changed dramatically from rolling farmland and arid prairies to dense forests, craggy cliffs and cascading waterfalls. The magnificence of the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota nearly took my breath away. This is easily one of the most spectacular touring areas in America, a place of scenic grandeur and deep historical significance. The longevity of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, now in its 69th year, pales in comparison to its locale—the Black Hills geology was formed several billion years ago—but putting things into perspective, the rally has been around longer than most of us have been on two wheels. And this year, the spirit of the rally seemed to draw its inspiration from days past.

Legends and icons
Monday morning was the first day of the rally, but don’t let the designated dates fool you. Many riders share the penchant for traveling to the Black Hills the week before the rally to enjoy some quality touring before the crowds arrive, and vendors and entertainment venues happily accommodate them. Most major rally activities, though, aren’t scheduled until the official opening day. One such event was Monday’s Legends Ride, a star-studded charity extravaganza jointly produced by the Legendary Buffalo Chip and the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce. The full-day event centered around the Silverado-Franklin Gaming Complex, one of the event’s sponsors, where a block of Main Street in downtown Deadwood was closed off.

An art exhibit and a custom bike builder display took place at the Deadwood Tobacco Company and the Lucky Nugget Gambling Hall, the other two event sponsors. Riders paid $150 to hobnob with celebrities like custom builders Sugar Bear, Paul Yaffe, Cory Ness, and stars of the new movie, Easy Rider II, The Ride Back, Phil Pitzer and Sheree Wilson. If you really paid attention, you would also have noticed Kid Rock and Toby Keith who, in their full-face helmets, were trying to remain incognito.

Lorenzo Lamas of Renegade fame was present and promoting his new venture, Lorenzo Cycles. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler showed up accompanied by his Dirico Custom Motorcycles partners Mark Dirico and Stephen Talarico. Since Tyler’s appearance last year, it appears he’s grown quite fond of the rally, and this year’s official Sturgis Motorcycle Rally bike was a 2010 Dirico Custom FLH Springer. (Aerosmith played at the Buffalo Chip on Wednesday night, and while the band was experiencing technical difficulties with the sound system, Tyler fell off a catwalk extending from the stage as he was trying to keep the audience engaged. He was airlifted to Rapid City Regional Hospital, and as a result of the head, neck and shoulder injuries he suffered, the rest of Aerosmith’s tour was interrupted. Let’s hope Tyler’s newfound love affair with Sturgis doesn’t end over this unfortunate incident.)

After a group photo, the ride took us on a scenic 50-mile route through Nemo and Vanocker Canyon, arriving at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis for a private party at the newly-built Lichter Exhibit Hall. This year’s art exhibit, Rebel Rousers, featured icons that inspire us to ride. An auction raised more money for charity, money that included the Silverado casino’s winning bid of $24,000 for the official Legends Ride motorcycle, the retro-inspired Deadwood Special built by Kyle Shorey of Shadetree Fabrications. The day’s events ended with performances by Lita Ford and Toby Keith. In total, $61,600 was raised for the Sturgis Children’s Hospital and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum.

Retro redux
Tuesday brought us another run, the Cycle Source Ride to the Ranch. We departed from the Broken Spoke Campground sometime around noon and headed to a horse ranch about 40 miles north where we were treated to some great barbecue, horseback rides, roping practice and a kickass biker rodeo. No superstars, no charities and no cover charge—just a bunch of bikers enjoying some good ol’ fun and games. Thanks to Cycle Source editor Chris Callen and Jay Allen of the Broken Spoke for hosting this third annual event.

Just like the rallies of years past, much of the action took place in the campgrounds. New this year at the Broken Spoke Campground was the Legends Gallery. It featured painter David Uhl, who focuses on turn-of-the-century motorcycle art; painter John Guillemette; photographer Jeff Cochran of Sucker Punch Sallys; and photographer Colleen Swartz. The show also displayed bikes by Billy Lane and Ron Finch, as well as Jay Allen’s Indian that had been ridden by the late Wall of Death stunt rider Samantha Morgan during her first and last trip to the Bonneville Salt Flats.

The most ambitious undertaking at the Broken Spoke Campground this year was the Good Ol’ Days Raceway, a combination dirt oval and motocross track designed and built by national motocross champion Gene Stull. Thursday morning, AMA Grand National flat track champion and Bonneville Land Speed Record-breaker Chris Carr christened the track by giving a history lesson on flat track racing and afterwards giving a few demos. Some racing hopefuls then joined in the fun, showing what their old iron could do.

Other vintage-flavored Broken Spoke Campground attractions included the American MotorDrome’s Wall of Death, performing the type of stunt riding that’s been around since the early 1900s; the Lucky Daredevil Thrill Show, reminiscent of old-time vaudeville acts; and the Limpnickie Lot, a collection of next-generation builders who got to show off their old-school sensibilities at the open-to-everyone ride-in bike show on Thursday.

The Buffalo Chip campground, nearing its 30th year as a rally venue, also had a full slate of activities, including various biker competitions, model contests, military tributes, stunt riding, and mud racing. There’s always something new at the Buffalo Chip, and this year the campground hosted Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, as well as Guns of Freedom where Second Amendment proponents got to shoot machine guns.

The Chip hosted a great concert lineup, and along with the aforementioned Aerosmith, Lita Ford and Toby Keith, performers such as George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Billy Squier, Cheech and Chong, Buckcherry and The Guess Who played on the Wolfman Jack main stage. The Broken Spoke Campground also hosted some top-notch national acts such as Foghat, the Kentucky Headhunters, .38 Special, and Nashville Pussy.

Bike shows, burnouts and big storms
Sturgis has turned out to be quite the scene for bike shows, with at least one held every day of the rally. The Horse held its third annual bike show at the Full Throttle Saloon on Monday, with top-name bike builders judging the hardcore, homebuilt choppers. And if you were at the Full Throttle anytime during the week, you might see yourself on TV! Full Throttle has teamed up with Jesse James Dupree, lead singer of Jackyl, to create a four-episode reality show about the bar patrons and workers that’ll be aired on TruTV in the fall.

The 7th annual Metzeler Custom Bike Show held on Tuesday shared the Lichter Exhibit Hall with the Rebel Rousers exhibit. The Metzeler show had the highest number of entries ever, and Todd Silicato of Todd’s Cycles took Best of Show two years in a row. A VIP party to kick off the Rebel Rousers exhibit followed the show, and later that evening, a violent thunderstorm whipped through Sturgis and its environs. The stormy weather shaped much of the week. Not a single day went by without at least a rain shower.

On Wednesday, an old-school bike show was held at the original Broken Spoke on Lazelle Street. The awards presentation for the four-day AMD invitational custom bike show took place the same day. For the first time since the international competition’s beginnings in 2004, an American bike builder, Dave Cook of Cook’s Customs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, won top honors.

Rat’s Hole held its venerable Custom Bike Show on Thursday at Champions Park, which by then had been vacated by the AMD bike show contestants. The Custom Bike Show was followed by the Rat’s Hole Old School Show on Friday at the same location. Sharing the tent inside Champions Park for the second year was the Ace Café, a watering hole that recreates the famous London, England, motorcycle hangout renowned as the home ground of the 1950s Ton-Up Boys’ café racer culture and the black leather jacket tough-guy image of the ’60s Rockers.

What used to be spontaneous, individual outbursts of equal parts horsepower and testosterone has now been organized into group burnouts, complete with an emcee and judges. Thursday night, the Broken Spoke Campground rounded up a number of bikes with the intention of staging the world’s biggest burnout. Unfortunately, a heavy rain intervened, and only the hardiest of the bunch bellied up to the burnout bar. Even with the smaller numbers, the noise, smell and smoke were nearly overwhelming. Jay Allen promises that next year there’ll be 500 bikes smoking—and shredding—their tires.

Friday afternoon brought the worst storm of the week, with baseball-sized hailstones and high winds causing damage to hundreds of cars and bikes, vendor tents, and even windows in homes. (We met an unfortunate couple that was on the road when the storm hit, and they displayed huge bruises all over their arms, legs and even their faces.) By evening time, the storm had cleared and the BAKER Burnout contestants at the Buffalo Chip were ready to rumble. There were 12 contestants, and Mike “Kiwi” Tomas of Kiwi Indian Motorcycle Company primed the crowd with a burnout performed on a 1938 Indian Chief with sidecar that he’d restored. The contest finally narrowed down to two contestants: Bill Dodge defending his 2008 win, and Ken “Wolfey” Wolf of S&S Cycle. Ken was declared the winner of the best-of-three finale, although some claim that Bill should have been the winner. Well, guys, there’s always next year.

In keeping with the organized burnout theme, the Sturgis Rally Department sponsored the Loud American Burnouts, emceed by Lorenzo Lamas and kicked off by Jeff Clark on the Budweiser Burnout Bike. The rally committee also sponsored stunt riding on Main Street, a rifle giveaway and a custom bike build.

The more things change, the more they stay the same
Several rally venues have folded up their tents for one reason or another. The heavily-promoted Boneyard Saloon that opened in Whitewood in 2007 had a very slow first year and an even slower second year. The place didn’t open at all this year. The Top 50 Rally Park in Piedmont that had hosted vendors, manufacturers, bike shows and other entertainment for the past few years has closed, but not because of any financial problems. On the contrary—the park has been quite successful. Owner Jesse Jurrens, who is also the proprietor of Independent Cycle Inc./Legend Air Suspension in Rapid City, plans to develop a new location combining all three business entities on Junction Avenue in Sturgis near the I-90 entrance ramps, and close to a plot of land that has been purchased for the relocation of the Sturgis Harley-Davidson dealership, currently on Junction between Main and Lazelle. The new Top 50 Rally Park is slated to open in time for the 2010 Sturgis rally. The Sturgis Harley-Davidson relocation will take somewhat longer.

The biggest new venue this year was Monkey Rock, an entertainment center constructed by new owners on the former Thunder Road property near Glencoe Campground. Outside the dome were a number of vendor booths and exhibits including Tom Zimberoff’s fabulous Art of the Chopper mobile museum where many of his photographs from his best-selling Art of the Chopper books, as well as some of Tom’s recent photographs, were displayed. Also exhibited was El Peligroso, a custom bike built by Discovery Channel’s Biker Build-Off winner Trevelene. Inside the dome was a David Mann museum exhibit that included over 50 of his paintings. Appearances by model and actor Michele Smith, Playboy model Michelle Manhart, and the Purrfect Angelz were scheduled throughout the week, but the only activity going on while I was there was a body-painting demonstration. The rest of the huge dome housed the Monkey Rock Girls and several bars, but there was no band on stage and not a lot of visitors. For Monkey Rock to be successful, it’ll have to offer more compelling attractions for both men and women.

After the rally, Sturgis Rally Department Director Brenda Vasknetz said, “Every comment I received indicated it was one the smoothest rallies. Attitudes were very good, and everything was very positive.” The South Dakota Department of Transportation stated that motorcycle traffic in and around Sturgis during this year’s rally was slightly down from the 2008 rally (394,009 in 2009 as compared to last year’s vehicle count of 405,475). However, the Sturgis Rally Department, using a different set of indicators, estimated that this year’s rally attendance was up to 456,000 from last year’s estimate of 414,917. The rally department’s numbers take into consideration increased traffic at Mt. Rushmore—considered one of the barometers of rally size—and the realization that the rally is spread out through several South Dakota and Wyoming counties.

In spite of the somewhat rainy conditions, this year’s rally was one of the best I’ve attended. It seemed that the retro vibe produced a less frantic, more relaxed rally experience. The streets didn’t appear nearly as crowded as past years, and no one seemed to be in much of a hurry. This ride down Memory Lane seemed to suit us just fine.

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