The city of Sturgis, South Dakota is desperately trying to convince a million motorcycle enthusiasts to attend this year’s Black Hills Rally. The rally dates this year are August 3 through 9 and it is officially the 75th rally.
An Indian dealer named Clarence “Pappy” Hoel started the rally 77 years ago in 1938. But the rally was cancelled in 1942 and 1943 on account of a war and gas rationing so that makes this one number 75. About 416,000 people attended last year. That’s 30 percent less than the estimated 604,000 riders who attended in the most crowded rally in 2000.
Million Bikers To Sturgis
This year there is an endless chant that a million bikers, including their personal entourages will attend. It is a theoretically possible attendance goal. There are eight million registered motorcycles in the United States. About half of them are Harleys or other V-Twins. Maybe half of them are ridden more than 3,500 miles a year. That amounts to two million riders who might actually make the trip. If only a quarter of them go to Sturgis this year carrying a passenger the little town in the Black Hills will host a million guests.
That assumes everybody who can ride to Sturgis has the money to pay for it. The Rapid City Ramada still has rooms available for $339 a night. The Rapid City La Quinta still has rooms for $494 a night, plus tax and all that. On the way there, a night at the Motel 6 in Grand Junction will cost you $75. Ahh, but the ambiance!
We Grow Old
There is also the fact the pool of bikers who would be inclined to ride to Sturgis is growing older and smaller. Harley-Davidson has been jumping through hoops the last couple of years to find a younger and “less traditional” customer base. “Exactly,” Sturgis Police Chief Jim Bush told Rapid City television station KOTA Sunday. Bush calculates the average age of bikers to be “around 50-years-old.”
“Anniversaries tend to draw more people usually,” Chief Bush managed to say with a straight face. “And, if that’s the case, the average biker is 50, this is probably the anniversary they’re going to attend if they’re going to attend one. I think that fact alone may drive a lot of people.”
His logic seems to be that if you only go to Sturgis every quarter century or so you might lose interest by the time you are 75. After all, shouldn’t every real American try the Legendary Steak Tip Dinner at the Loud American Roadhouse (no colors policy strictly enforced) at least once?
The million biker attendance number has been thrown around a lot lately. A couple of weeks ago Christina Steele who does public information and planning for Sturgis said, “The 50th was a huge year. So was the 60th. You hear a lot of estimates, anything from 850 to 1.3 million. Who knows?”
Steele doesn’t know where all the visitors will be sleeping. “We’ve heard a lot of businesses reporting that they’re already booked.” Even in the down years, like last year, virtually every motel room and campground within 150 miles of Sturgis is booked. Not every biker wants to commute to Main Street every day from Cheyenne. Or Fort Collins.
But Steele remains upbeat. “The price of gasoline is awesome right now,” she said. “So if that continues to hold throughout the summer a lot of people who maybe wouldn’t come otherwise still may just hook onto that RV and come on out.”
And then they, whoever they are, can say they finally did Sturgis and mark it off their lists.