Sturgis South Dakota on a Sunday afternoon in May is frighteningly quiet, kinda spooky and almost anti-climactic.
The day we visited in May, we could at least hear ourselves think. We walked the streets of Sturgis without jamming elbow to elbow with leather clad, doo-rag-wearing biker dudes and dudettes participating in the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that overtakes this otherwise docile town of 5,800 residents each August.
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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota
An estimated 600,000 people, the majority of them on motorcycles and the majority of those motorcycle being Harleys, fill not only Main Street and all of Sturgis, but all of the Black Hills and surrounding region for more than 300 miles. It is recognized as the single largest multi-day sporting event in the world. And as one might expect, few people ever attend any of the official races that were the beginning of this hoopla.
Of course, that’s not at all what the 25 members of the Jackpine Gypsies, a local motorcycle club, were thinking in 1938 when they organized the first event.
History of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
The story of what started out as a little weekend fundraiser that has grown to become an economic savior for little towns throughout the region is told at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, located in the former post office on Main Street, a building coincidentally built in 1938, the year the rally started.
Inside are about 90 motorcycles dating back to a 1905 Excelsior-Henderson, including a motorcycle on snow skiis once used by a local doctor.
There’s the obligatory replica of the 1965 Harley-Davidson chopper featured in the cult classic “Easy Rider.” A 1949 Sundance built for a Texas oilman that, at the time it was built, was considered the most expensive bike in the world. The jewel encrusted bike with engraved images of lions, snakes and eagles was considered beautiful at the time, but now receives much laughter and ridicule from many visitors.
Another popular exhibit is “The Bush Bike,” a custom-designed chopper-clone built by Desperado Motors in Houston for George W. Bush. Autographed by The President and Mrs. Bush, it is recognized as the only motorcycle made for a sitting president.
We had the place almost to ourselves when we were there in May. And we kind of liked it that way.