We blinked and it was over. The 2016 Sturgis Rally had come and gone. But not before the spirit of Wrecking Crews wandered the Black Hills, manifesting in a last lap Bryan Smith block on Jared Mees in the half-mile and a Carey Hart scramble against RSD forces in the SuperHooligan shindig. The spirit was in the eyes of Indian Wrecking Crew alumnus Bill Tuman and Bobby Hill when the new Indian flat track machine was unveiled, Tuman the last man to win a pro flat track race for the heritage-rich company. It stampeded down the middle of the Buffalo Chip in a nitro-fueled fury in head-to-head drags. Yes, the spirit of racing upon which Sturgis is built was alive and well at the 2016 Sturgis Rally, lively as a Brad Baker outside-inside move on Chad Cose in the SuperHooligan Pro finals.
The 2016 rally included Michael Lichter honoring the spirit of RichiePan in his “Skin & Bones: Tattoo-Inspired Motorcycles as Art” exhibit at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. The famed photographer and artist had talked about featuring his work in Lichter’s exhibit before RichiePan’s life was tragically cut short. This didn’t prevent forces from aligning to follow up on that idea, and through due diligence by his wife, Cindy Panarra, a panoply of RichiePan decorated the walls of Lichter’s 2016 exhibit. In a sea of polished pieces and intricate engraving sat his rigid Panhead “Viola” wearing its scars of the open road with pride, a pool of oil spooled beneath it, looking like RichiePan had just ridden it to the rally.
Lichter’s exhibit wasn’t the only place we saw extraordinary craftsmanship on display. The turnout for Harley’s “Editor’s Choice Bike Show” was phenomenal, a custom motorcycle bonanza about 100 strong. With so many deserving builds to choose from, narrowing it down to one for a feature in American Iron Magazine (AIM) was a daunting task. In the end, what American Iron Garage Editor Tyler Greenblatt calls “one of the most original takes on the FXR platform” helped Matt Anderson’s 1982 FXR stick out from the crowd. Part club-style, part chopper, with a two rear cylinder Shovelhead engine, look for a spread on the stellar work of Gilby’s Street Dept. manager in a future issue of AIM.
Another standout chopper rode away with top honors in the first-ever Sportster Showdown hosted by LedSled Customs and Biltwell, companies at the forefront of the current Sportster movement. Mike Shcrickel’s “Best of Show” winner started as a 1997 Sportster Custom before evolving into an ultra-clean, raked-out sled with a 38-degree rake. With a high-necked frame Schrickel designed dolled up in white set off by shined-up covers and fork lowers, the tidiness of Schrickel’s “White Chocolate” chopper earned him the unique 40 oz. PBR trophy created by LedSled’s Pat Patterson.
Speaking of unique trophies, the tongue-waggin’, big-eared “Best of Show” Rat’s Hole trophy is a highly coveted prize. While the original take on a Harley Street 750 by the cats out of Japan’s MotorWorks Zon created a buzz at the show and the industrial strength triple-wheeler of Russ Dueker, comprised of 140 3/8” steel plates bolted together, garnered its own share of scrutiny, Ned Amin’s supercharged super radical with the hubless wheels always had a crowd around it. Tall in front, wide in back, slammed with air ride and draped in smooth bodywork with intricate paint and pinstripes, Amin’s “Tough Luck” was tough luck on the competition as it earned top honors at the 2016 Rat’s Hole Bike Show at the CrossRoads. Things heated up after the show as big baggers started blowing off steam by shooting ten-foot flames off the backs of their bikes.
We blew off a little steam ourselves by twisting the throttle of a CVO Road King equipped with Tilting Motor Works three-wheel bolt-on conversion kit. The creation of Bob Mighell places two wheels up front that tilt into turns and countersteers like a traditional motorcycle. With leaning linkage, two coil over shocks, and a patented steering knuckle, Mighell has accomplished something The Motor Company couldn’t with its Penster – create a trike that provides almost the same riding experience as a motorcycle. We were impressed with its performance at lean and by the ability of its dual front shock’s to smooth out the road. Watching people’s reaction to Tilting Motor Works’ Harleys was a hoot, almost as fun as riding the reverse trike itself. We don’t want to give away too much because we intend on running a full-length article in an upcoming feature.
In the whirlwind of Sturigs 2016 events, we came a little too close for comfort to one of the rally’s big storylines. We were waiting patiently to get into the pit area of the Sturgis Buffalo Chip to shoot the Kid Rock concert when Roland Sands rolled off the main stage on an Indian/RSD SuperHooligan bike and into the crowd gathered in the pit. We saw the bike go over, heard emcee Hank Rotten desperately calling for emergency crews, saw the scramble to help the wounded. The bike went off cattycorner to where we usually stand to shoot headliners. Injuries were relegated to one broken nose, a banged-up leg, and perchance a slightly bruised ego. Considering a 500-plus pound vehicle tumbled onto people, results thankfully weren’t much worse.
Another big storyline was the opening of the new shortcut between the Buffalo Chip and I-90 via Exit 37 called Fort Meade Way. Constructed in part to alleviate some of the downtown Sturgis traffic, it’s a 5.6-mile long hard-packed dirt road covered in light gravel. All of the turns on the new shortcut are gradual with a couple of rolling hills to climb. Traction was good, even on a big Harley Road Glide Ultra, and we were able to maintain the 45 mph speed limit with no problem. After taking Fort Meade Way for the first time we were hooked, using it three more times after that. Since we were staying at The Chip, anytime we had to go to Rapid City we jumped on the new shortcut. Not having to do the biker crawl down Lazelle every day was greatly appreciated.
Down time was spent sitting on the porch of our cabin watching the never-ending shenanigans of The Chip’s South 40. Situated right across from the Hoyt Axton Stage, a constant cycle of entertainment filtered in and out of the Patriot Pavilion, from bawdy lyrics coming from the comedic duo known as The Reformed Whores to a high energy, USO-style show by the Flaunt Girls in honor of American vets. When the clock struck midnight, Charlie Brechtel began strumming guitar and belting out tunes with his band, supplying our nightly rock and roll lullaby. We had the pleasure of befriending the guys from MMS who were staying in the cabin behind us. Playing a blend of rockabilly, punk, and good old fashioned rock and roll, the trio from Japan played one hell of a set on the Bikini Beach stage after the Miranda Lambert show. The Living Deads joined in for an impromptu jam session. Throwing Symphony Tidwell’s electricity on stand-up bass into the mix took the session to the next level. MMS is living proof that music is a universal language.
During those rare quiet moments, our favorite pastime was watching the crowns of cumulonimbus grow in the distance then sweep across the plains. Thunderstorms swell almost daily in this section of South Dakota. Watching lightning striking over Bear Butte, feeling the winds that front storms whip across The Chip, then smelling the sweetness of freshly fallen rain on Dakotan grasslands is almost existential. Sitting on our cabin’s porch gave us a front row view of the region’s daily cycles.
Without doubt, the 2016 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was a kinder, gentler rally than the crush of the 75th last year. In a Sturgis Rally Traffic Twitter post, “total traffic entering Sturgis for the official Rally dates 8/8 – 8/15 was down 39.7% from 2015 (508,610 to 830,503).” Monday, August 8, was the busiest day of the 2016 rally with traffic counters ticking off 54,619 vehicles. This might not have boded well for vendors, but there’s something to be said for slower years. There’s less hassle to get to destinations, you get more one-on-one time, people are a little more relaxed and there’s less stress overall in the daily grind. We arrived thinking we had all the time in the world, blinked, and the rally was over. Next thing we know we’re back in the saddle of the Road Glide Ultra making the 1400-mile journey home with the eight-track of 2016 Sturgis Rally memories on replay in our head.