The countdown has begun. In less than 30 days, motorcyclists from the four corners and beyond will begin their annual pilgrimage to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Because while the 76th Anniversary Sturgis Rally officially begins August 5, many like to get there early to avoid the crowds, while others take pride in being in the middle of the mid-week madness.
Of course, there would be no Sturgis without the vision of an Indian Motorcycle dealer Clarence “Pappy” Hoel and his wife Pearl. “Pappy” opened up his motorcycle franchise in Sturgis in 1936 and formed the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club the same year. By the following year, the Jackpine Gypsies had an official American Motorcycle Association charter. A year later, the first Sturgis Rally took place on August 8, 1938, with races at the old half-mile horse track at the county fairgrounds. Like many rallies, the history of the Sturgis Rally is steeped in motorcycle racing, a tradition the Jackpine Gypsies strive to keep alive as the group continues to host races daily during the rally, from traditional vintage flat track to the ever-popular pro hill climbs.
And while “Pappy” will forever be associated with the rally, Pearl Hoel deserves just as much credit. You see, Pearl served as a county official, was an active supporter of her church, and was a well-respected woman in the community. In her job at the courthouse, it’s said Pearl “knew everyone in Meade County by name.” Locals liked and respected Pearl, which helped when she lobbied community leaders to embrace the rally. In the early years of Sturgis, she and “Pappy” would pitch a circus tent in their back yard so riders would have a place to meet, greet, and sleep, and pitching a tent in yards around town is a tradition to this day. Pearl’s ambivalence included making coffee and homemade donuts for riders in the evening who were returning from the Gypsy Tour. Even after “Pappy” passed away, Pearl continued to be an ambassador for the event, welcoming riders and hosting parties. In 2004, Pearl was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame as she deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as her husband for creating what has become the biggest, baddest motorcycle rally of them all.
With a little background on the rally out of the way, there’s many new storylines surrounding the 2016 Sturgis Rally. The new access road they’ve been pushing for that provides a shortcut to campgrounds east of town and will hopefully alleviate some of the congestion downtown is finally open. “Fort Mead Way” can be accessed from Pleasant Valley Road at Exit 37 off of I-90. The new road is about a mile up on the left and spits out at the entrance to the Sturgis Buffalo Chip off of SD-34. Our friend and fellow editor Marilyn Stemp says the road is hard-packed gravel, narrower at the entrance before widening out nicely. Stemp said the speed limit on the first section is 25 mph but bumps up to 45 mph on the wider stretch of road. Count us among those excited to see this new thoroughfare.
Undoubtedly, this road benefits the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, just in time for the 35th anniversary of the “Best Party Anywhere.” The Chip offers a Five Finger Death Punch of fun. Literally. The Buffalo Chip’s new Moto Stampede will culminate with powerhouse Five Finger Death Punch trying to blow the speakers on the Wolfman Jack main stage. The Stampede starts with motorcycle drag races in the outdoor amphitheater, the first Buffalo Chip Street Drag Invitational featuring Crazy John. The Seattle Cossacks brings its acrobatic, precision-riding spectacle to South Dakota to entertain Chipsters after that. Next, Roland Sands Design and its “Super Hooligan” friends will be ripping it up inside the amphitheater for the first-time ever, The Chip cobbling out a short dirt track with the concert stage in the background. The RSD SuperHooligan Indian Scouts, super Sportsters, and bikes of all ilk will be bangin’ bars in these dirt track melees whose popularity has been sweeping across the country. The races will barely be over before Low Volts and the Reverend Horton amp up the crowd for the headliners.
When headliners finish, the real party begins at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip as it spreads to late-night hotspots like Bikini Beach and small stages spread about the campground. It then filters into the campground itself, a place where seeing is believing as there’s no telling what you might witness there.
The Sturgis Buffalo Chip also hosts many long-standing staples like Michael Lichter’s “Motorcycles as Art” exhibit, the Legends Ride, and Freedom Celebration. Between the craftsmanship demonstrated on the motorcycles in Lichter’s exhibit to the moto-themed collection of artwork, photography, and curios, the project is always a highlight of Sturgis. The theme of this year’s Lichter exhibit is “Skin & Bones: Tattoo Inspired Motorcycles & Art,” and includes artwork of the late Richie Pan. The Legends Ride has raised over $400,000 to-date for local Special Olympics programs and other charities, the star-studded combination of celebrities and custom builders making it a big hit with riders. Finally, the Freedom Celebration is the Buffalo Chip’s way of honoring U.S. veterans, a full-day celebration with ceremonies at the Flag of Fields that will bring a lump to your throat.
And while The Chip will be on the throttle at Sturgis 2016, it will be interesting to see how one of its primary competitors, the Full Throttle Saloon, rebounds from the catastrophic fire that burned the old location to the ground. FTS proprietors Michael and Angie Ballard and Jesse James Dupree have moved the Full Throttle a bit further out of town to the former Broken Spoke location. After Ballard and Dupree bought the Broken Spoke Campground, they renamed it the Pappy Hoel Campground and Resort. The place has been getting a makeover, including the construction of a new Full Throttle Bar. The old Broken Spoke bar you could ride through has been gutted as they’re turning it into a grocery/convenience and camping supplies store. The building will also house all-you-can-eat breakfast and dinner buffets. Luckily, the famous swimming pool is still there, and like before the pool and FTS bar are free to get in. To celebrate its new beginnings, the Full Throttle Saloon is planning on burying a time capsule in the concrete at the front door of the bar with intentions of breaking it open at the 100th Sturgis Rally.
Which leaves us with the question of what about the Broken Spoke Saloon? The Spoke used to be one of the major players at Sturgis with two streams of revenue, the bar at the end of Lazelle and the campground out by Bear Butte. The Chip closed up its Lazelle location a few years back and now has sold off its big campground. Apparently, The Broken Spoke is returning to its old downtown Sturgis location at 905 Lazelle Street for the 2016 rally. And while once upon a time The Spoke hosted its own lineup of big musical acts, this year it’s opting to promote the concerts going on at the Iron Horse Saloon located next door.
This leads us to the Iron Horse Saloon itself. The Iron Horse has long been a Daytona Beach icon. Seems like now it’s trying to stake a claim in the Sturgis mine. The Iron Horse Saloon has moved into the former building and property formerly run by Easyriders. It’s a prime location on Lazelle consisting of a multi-story restaurant and an outdoor concert area. We can see why The Spoke is promoting their concerts. The Iron Horse has a pretty strong lineup of free shows, kicking off its nightly party with a big Hell Yeah August 6. The venue shifts gears to country the following night with country star Jerrod Niemann (Aug. 7) in a diverse lineup that includes Scott Stapp (Aug. 9), Yelawolf (Aug. 13), and rally favorites Hairball and Cold Hard Cash.
As for us, in addition to bringing you daily reports and photos from the 2016 Sturgis Rally on our website, we hope to meet plenty of you in-perosn as American Iron Magazine takes part in the Harley-Davidson Ride-In/Editor’s Choice Bike Show. Sign-ups for the show are from 8 a.m. to noon at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point on the corner of Main Street and Harley-Davidson Way. American Iron will be looking for a Harley that really stands out to present our award to and feature in a future issue of American Iron Magazine. If you haven’t seen the Harley-Davidson Rally Point yet, now you have reason to. From its industrial design to the photo platform where you can have your picture taken next to your motorcycle with the Sturgis hillside sign in the background, it’s a great addition to downtown Sturgis. Even if you don’t enter a bike in the show, come on out and say “Hi” as we hope to see many of our readers there.
With motorcycle racing at the core of the rally’s history, Sturgis still hosts its fair-share of racing events, from hill climbs to drag racing. Top fuelers take to the strip to find out who’s “King of the Sturgis Drags” early in the week, the festivities firing up Saturday, August 6 when Sturgis Dragway hosts a “Move In, Drag Race School, Test and Tune and ‘Run What Ya Brung’” event. Over in Rapid City, the finest flat trackers around will compete in the AMA Pro Flat Track Sturgis Half-Mile on Tuesday, August 9. The “Pappy Hoel Classic Half-Mile” vintage dirt track races also go down August 9 at the Meade County Fairgrounds. The event features “20th Century Racing, Harley vs. Indian, and Vintage Racing” at the historic track where the original Sturgis races were held. The Jackpine Gypsys keep their tradition alive with a full slate of races, starting with Moto-X and ending with the crowd favorite Pro Hillclimbs Friday, August 12.
Custom bike shows are also a Sturgis tradition. What better place to show off your prized ride than a place than attracts hundreds of thousands of bikers annually? The Rat’s Hole will hold its 28th competition in the Black Hills at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip CrossRoads Thursday, August 11. Overall, its history of judging custom bikes stretches back 40-plus years. The “Big Cheese” Ted Smith creates some of the coolest trophies around, and traditionally the Rat’s Hole “Best of Show” Sturgis winner has been paraded out onto the main stage of The Chip in front of thousands of screaming fans right before the headliner as icing on the cake. This year builders will compete in 16 classes ranging from “1-250cc” to “Most Unusual” to “Over 1000cc Super Radical.” Harley Sportsters will have their turn in the spotlight Tuesday, August 9, during the Sportster Showdown also at the Buffalo Chip CrossRoads. The show is sponsored by a slew of companies that know a thing or two about Harley’s versatile Sportster, including Biltwell, Led Sled Customs, Rusty Butcher, S&S Cycle, Chop Cult and Street Chopper. From the Full Throttle to Lazelle, FXRs to baggers, there’s no shortage of custom bike competitions slated for the 2016 Sturgis Rally.
And while Sturgis is synonymous with the non-stop party scene at popular joints like the Knucklehead Saloon and One Eyed Jacks on Main Street, there’s more to Sturgis than what is depicted on TV. There’s plenty of rides that raise big bucks for charitable causes, like the Legends Ride we’ve already mentioned which has raised a ton of money for the Black Hills Special Olympics. Indian Larry Motorcycles hosts another ride for a great cause, the second annual Aidan’s Ride taking place Monday, August 8. Money raised goes to the Aidan Jack Seeger Foundation for its battle against the childhood disease Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). The 14th annual Sturgis Mayor’s Ride is also scheduled for Monday, August 8. This year, popular American road racer Ben Bostrom will be “Grand Marshal.” The ride is a fundraiser for the Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department, Ambulance Service, and Police Reserves. So while the wild party scene at Sturgis is always sensationalized, there’s plenty of honorable events happening in the Black Hills too if you scratch beyond the surface of what’s shown on TV.
If group rides aren’t your thing, then just get out and ride. The incredible scenery and destinations in the Black Hills and surrounding countryside are one of the things that set Sturgis apart from other rallies. Where else can you ride by incredible monuments like Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial then travel through tunnels blasted through mountains and cruise with the buffaloes of Custer State Park all in one day? Head east and in a couple of hours you’re in the midst of the fantastic formations of the Badlands or go west and visit the enigmatic presence of Devils Tower. For quick getaways, Spearfish Canyon, with its vertical cliffs, verdant forest, and abundant hiking trails, is a great way to get away from the hustle of Main and Lazelle. There’s plenty of local destinations that deserve a visit, too, from Deadwood’s “Wild West” sceen to the mini-rally that takes place annually at Black Hills Harley-Davidson on the cusp of Rapid City.
This preview barely scratches the surface of the Sturgis experience, but hopefully it’ll provide a few helpful tips and points out some of the events and destinations you might want to put on your planner. For those that can’t make, be sure to check out American Iron online the second week of August, from our website to our social media channels, as we bring you stories and shots from the scene.