Biker Heaven in America’s Heartland
Sturgis, South Dakota
Sturgis, in the southwest corner of South Dakota, happens to be close to the geographic centre of the United States. Every August a swarm of half a million bikers and tourists come for the Annual Black Hills Rally. The town is transformed into a world where a week-long schedule of hill climbs, races and rallies are held in and around Sturgis and the city of Grand Rapids, both on Interstate 90.
Organized rallies and tours take bikers through the beautiful pine-draped granite pinnacles and outcrops of the Black Hills of South Dakota, even out into the Badlands National Park to the southeast. Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, which features the carved 30-metre granite heads of four American presidents – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt – is close to Sturgis. This remarkable sculptural feat, created in the 1930s, is an imposing added attraction to visitors.
Apart from the throaty roar of tens of thousands of Harley Davidsons painted in every possible hue and design, the scene in Sturgis was friendly and chatty, rather than having an edge of expectant trouble. The Hells Angels of San Francisco were on Main Street selling their T-shirts, among an inviting throng of thousands of stall-keepers promoting all types of leather gear and innumerable rally mementos.
Picture a scene with 10,000 bikes parked down the centre of town and along the verges for nearly a mile. Anything goes for dress code, with men and women in their leathers and do-rags. It is not uncommon to find women parading in the street with leather chaps, a leather bikini top or small vest and high heels.
Many bikers were in their mid-40s; some confessed they had missed out on a wilder young adulthood, having entered business jobs with a suit in the 1970s. Several middle-aged bikers brought Dodge pick-up trucks with a hoist and a trailer, and waited until about 200 miles from the centre of activities to mount up and come in on their bikes.
A couple I met from New Zealand were not bikers. They had flown to Denver, spent a week in Colorado, hired a car and toured north to the Devils Tower and Black Hills forest areas of southeast Wyoming before crossing into South Dakota to attend the rally. They were heading back to Denver via the Sand Hills National Parks of Nebraska. They claimed the varied landscapes and small western towns of character on their journey made for an exceptional tour not offered by travel agents.
When one tires of the ceaseless roar of swarms of bikes, the countryside around southwest South Dakota is a feast for the eyes. Day trips can be taken to the Jewel Cave, Custer National Park and the famous Mammoth paleontological site at Hot Springs. A longer trip to the Badlands National Park, with its cavernous and twisted landscapes of moon-like white and yellow clay, is worth the effort. As a biker couple from Oregon said, “Sturgis is biker heaven for a week, and it is the rally which keeps them in touch with biker friends from all over America.”
Places To See
Sturgis Rally web site