Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

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Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Main Street Sturgis South Dakota Bike Week.jpg
Motorcycles lined up on Main Street during the 2006 event
GenreMotorcycle rally
DatesStarts first Friday in August (for 10 days)
Location(s)Sturgis, South Dakota, U.S.
FoundedAugust 14, 1938 (1938-08-14)
Most recentAugust 7–16, 2020
Next eventAugust 6–15, 2021
Attendancehighest: 739,000 (2015)[1]
Websitesturgis.com

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a motorcycle rally held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota, and the surrounding Black Hills region of the United States.[2][3] It was begun in 1938 by a group of Indian Motorcycle riders and was originally held for stunts and races. Since then, the rally has become a pluralistic endeavor that consists of events put on by many different groups.[2] Attendance has historically been around 500,000 people, reaching a high of over 700,000 in 2015. The event takes place over 10 days and generates around $800 million in annual revenue.[1][4]

History[edit]

Indian Ed Spilker, One of the original Jackpine gypsies and cofounder of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

The first rally was held by Indian Motorcycle riders on August 14, 1938, by the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club.[5] The club still owns and operates the tracks, hillclimb, and field areas where the rally is centered. The first event was called the "Black Hills Classic" and consisted of a single race with nine participants and a small audience. The founder was Clarence "Pappy" Hoel. He purchased an Indian motorcycle franchise in Sturgis in 1936 and formed the Jackpine Gypsies that same year.[5] The Jackpine Gypsies were inducted to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1997.[6] Hoel was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame the following year.[7]

The focus of a motorcycle rally was originally racing and stunts. In 1961, the rally was expanded to include the Hillclimb and Motocross races.[5] This could include half-mile track racing (the first year in Sturgis, there were 19 participants), intentional board wall crashes, ramp jumps and head-on collisions with automobiles.

The Sturgis Rally has been held every year, with exceptions during World War II. For instance, from 1942 to 1944, the event was not held due to gasoline rationing.[5]

Originally the rally was a two-day event.[8]

Through the 1970s and early 1980s, many attendees camped in City Park.[9] When a record 40,000 visitors arrived in Sturgis in 1980, local residents became concerned with the behavior of these attendees.[10] In 1982, a referendum was presented to the city asking them to no longer provide municipal services such as parking on Main Street, law enforcement and allowing camping in City Park.[11] City attorney Dale Hansen advised that any vote would be non-binding and could not stop the rally because the motorcycle rally is sponsored by private groups.[12] Although the referendum was defeated 1,454 to 826,[13] the City of Sturgis followed the mayor’s committee[14] recommendation to prohibit camping in City Park and eliminate downtown street vendors.[15]

To serve the needs of future rally attendees, the Buffalo Chip Campground was established outside of town. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally venue first hosted campers in 1982. Over the years, the venue evolved to include vendors, campsites, cabins and stages,[9] becoming one of the biggest entertainment hubs of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.[16]

For many years, the rally was a seven-day event[17] starting on a Monday during the first full week of August.[18]

In 1987 the Buffalo Chip expanded its Sturgis Motorcycle Rally entertainment to the current 10-day and nine-night format. Bands that performed July 31 through August 9th included Black Oak Arkansas, Country Joe McDonald, Canned Heat, Mitch Ryder, among others.[19]

In October 2016, the city of Sturgis expanded the city’s dates to match the 10-day format and have the rally start on the Friday before the first full week of August and end on the second Sunday. In 2017, the Rally became a 10-day event starting on the first Friday in August.[20]

Attendance[edit]

The South Dakota Department of Transportation provides official traffic counts, which sometimes differ from official attendance figures.[21] Attendance is higher on major anniversaries (e.g. 75th in 2015) and one or two years prior to the anniversary, and falls off the following year or two.[22] “Attendance” is defined as vehicle crossings at about a dozen roads around Sturgis for 10 days, not the actual number of people attending the Rally. Most attendees are counted multiple times, so the actual number of people attending is much lower than the listed “attendance.”

Year SDDOT traffic count Official attendance
1990 528,676 400,000
1999 539,475 325,000
2000 604,441 633,000
2001 530,667 410,000
2002 561,752 450,000
2003 605,140 502,000
2004 547,370 514,951
2005 524,656 525,250
2006 449,527 456,968
2007 461,507 507,234
2008 405,475 414,917
2009 394,009 442,163
2010 459,968 466,769
2011 415,367 416,727
2013 516,378[22]
2015 c. 1,000,000[23] 739,000[1]
2016 c.360,000[24] 448,000[25] – 463,412[26]
2017 376,033[24][27]–469,100[22] 480,000[25]
2018 505,969[22]
2019 499,654[28] 490,000[29]
2020 462,000[30]

Trademarks and Ownership[edit]

There is no official owner of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, as it is not organized by a single entity. For many years, the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce falsely claimed ownership of the words “Sturgis,” “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally” and “Sturgis Rally & Races” through an attempted trademark claim. Those false trademark claims were later transferred to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc., who made efforts to enforce the claims.

In 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Court ruled the trademark invalid in a dispute between Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc. (SMRI) and Rushmore Photo and Gifts. In their ruling, the Court stated that the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a pluralistic endeavor promoted by multiple organizations. They further stated that the City’s involvement does not extend beyond the provision of municipal services.

The record stated, “We agree and hold that the jury could not infer from the onerous planning that the City undertakes to provide infrastructure for the rally that the City was the organizer or sponsor of the rally. To allow such an inference would be tantamount to saying that it would be reasonable to infer that the City of New York organizes the sessions of the United Nations General Assembly because of everything it does to assist their occurrence. One cannot infer from the fact that a city augments its municipal services to accommodate those who attend an event-e.g., a funeral or political protest-that it organizes, promotes, or sponsors the event in a way that would permit it to acquire ownership over the event or its intellectual property."[2]

For many years the city has been in an agreement with SMRI, and its predecessor-in-interest, the Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce, to license use of the words “Sturgis,” “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally” and “Sturgis Rally & Races.”[2] That agreement involving invalid trademark enforcement generated millions of dollars in royalties and sponsorship dollars.[31] On December 11, 2019, Federal Judge Jeffery Viken ordered that SMRI may no longer attempt to claim ownership of “Sturgis,” Sturgis Motorcycle Rally” or “Sturgis Rally & Races.” The court order called for trademark cancellations to be sent to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.[32]

Rally impact on community and nationwide[edit]

The City of Sturgis has calculated that the Rally brings over $800 million to South Dakota annually.[31] The City of Sturgis earned almost $270,000 in 2011 from selling event guides and sponsorships. The rally makes up 95% of the city's annual revenue.[33]

There were 405 individuals jailed at the 2004 rally, and approximately $250,000 worth of motorcycles are stolen annually.[34] Rally-goers are a mix of white-collar and blue-collar workers and are generally welcomed as an important source of income for Sturgis and surrounding areas. The rally turns local roads into "parking lots",[35] and draws local law enforcement away from routine patrols.[36] Furthermore, the large numbers of people visiting the town and region served as a model for the state of Oregon in preparation for the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, given the expected impact on emergency services.[37]

The Lakota Indian tribe in coalition with other tribes has protested the large amount of alcohol distributed at the event so close to the sacred Bear Butte, but also acknowledged that income from the event was important to the region and also benefits some members of the tribes.[38]

There have been a few deaths at the Rally.[39]

2020 rally and COVID-19[edit]

Concerns about the possible spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions were expected to lead to lower attendance in 2020.[40] While some health officials and local leaders wanted to cancel the rally, that proved impossible since many events take place beyond the city limits.[41][16] The 250,000 participants were recommended but not required to wear face masks in a state that had seen 9,371 confirmed cases, and 144 deaths due to the coronavirus (0.016% of the population).[42] Several checkpoints to stop outsiders were put up on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, an action that state and federal officials consider illegal.[43] The 2020 final traffic count was about 462,000, with many attendees not wearing masks or observing social distancing.[30]

Cell phone data showed that by August 25, 61% of US counties had been visited by a Sturgis attendee.[44]

As of August 20, seven COVID-19 cases in the Nebraska Panhandle had been traced to the Rally, and 22 cases had been reported among out-of-state attendees.[45][46] As of August 21, Minnesota had 15 cases traced to the rally, with more cases expected,[47] and a few cases had been reported in Wyoming.[48] Public health notices were issued for One-Eyed Jack's Saloon, The Knuckle Saloon, The Broken Spoke, and Asylum Tattoo in Sturgis, and for the Bumpin’ Buffalo Bar and Grill in Hill City.[49][50][46][51] Some exposures in Minnesota could not be traced to specific locations. A Minnesota public health official urged all rallygoers to monitor for symptoms for 14 days, adding that "if you are feeling ill after returning from the event, please get tested and self-isolate while you wait for the test results."[52][53]

By August 24, there were a total of 76 cases linked to the rally, in four states, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wyoming, with additional reports of cases in North Dakota and Washington State.[54] The number rose to 103 on August 24, in at least eight states, including 37 cases in South Dakota, and cases in Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Washington and North Dakota.[55][56] On August 26, 6 cases were reported in New Hampshire.[57] On August 27, over 20 cases were reported in Colorado.[58] Two of the cases reported in Minnesota were people who had been Sturgis event employees or volunteers.[59][55]

On August 27, the results of mass testing in Sturgis became available. Out of 650 tests there were 26 positive results, all asymptomatic.[60]

As of August 28, 46 cases in Minnesota had been linked to the rally, including two hospitalizations, with one person in intensive care. An additional cluster of secondary transmission from the rally was identified at a wedding.[61][45][62][53][54][55] The number of infections increased substantially although health authorities suspected the real number could be far higher because many attendees refused to cooperate with contact tracers.[63] On September 2, the first COVID-19 death related to the Sturgis rally was reported in Minnesota.[64] A paper by economist Dhaval Dave and colleagues at IZA Institute of Labor Economics estimated the number of cases that could have been caused by the rally, at which few attendees wore masks, could have infected 267,000.[65][66] A partnership between Slate magazine, New America, and Arizona State University, questioned the methodology and thereby contested the findings of the study. The Slate analysis did find the IZA estimates for Meade County, South Dakota, between 177 and 195 cases, to be consistent with the raw data.[67]

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem said the study was "fiction," and an "attack on those who exercised their personal freedom to attend Sturgis...Predictably, some in the media breathlessly report on this non-peer-reviewed model, built on incredibly faulty assumptions that do not reflect the actual facts and data here in South Dakota." State epidemiologist Joshua Clayton stated, "From what we know the results do not align with what we know." By September 8, South Dakota reported 124 residents had become ill after attending the rally.[65]

On November 20, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified 51 people from Minnesota who were infected at the rally and another 35 who got secondary infections from attendees; four of the 86 were hospitalized and one died.[68] Researchers noted that the actual figures were probably higher since many people who attended the rally refused to speak to them. They also pointed out that the study only involved one state, although rally attendees came from across the country.[69]

Transportation to Sturgis[edit]

Most who attend Sturgis with families drive campers towing motorcycle trailers to the rally, and ride their motorcycles the last few miles. The director of the rally estimated in 2005 that fewer than half the attendees actually rode there. Shipping companies transport thousands of motorcycles to Sturgis for attendees who arrive via airline.[70]

Black Hills Run[edit]

The Black Hills Run is a route favored by motorcycle riders, across the Black Hills from Deadwood to Custer State Park, South Dakota. It reached the height of its popularity between 1939 and 1941. The popularity of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally attracted additional attention to the route in recent years. The pine forested mountains of the Black Hills make for a unique scenic motorcycle ride.[71]

Media coverage[edit]

Print and online[edit]

The Rapid City Journal features daily coverage of the Sturgis Rally.[72]

The Seattle Times covered some of the 2008 Sturgis Rally while rock band Judd Hoos was playing at the Loud American Roadhouse.[73] All Gas No Brakes covered the 2020 rally.

Television[edit]

In 1997, notable attendees at the rally included the crew from the television series COPS, and basketball player Dennis Rodman.[citation needed]

From 1996 to 1999, World Championship Wrestling held a pay-per-view event called Road Wild (Hog Wild for the 1996 event).[74]

Television coverage of the festival by the VH1 Classic network includes interviews and performances as well as rock music videos from the Buffalo Chip Campground.[75][76][77] The rally was featured in 2005 as part of the ESPN SportsCenter promotion 50 States in 50 Days.[78]

Starting in 2009 an American reality television series began airing on the truTV network: Full Throttle Saloon, showing the inner operations at the world's largest biker bar just prior to the rally opening and for the duration of the rally each year.

Sturgis was also featured on American Pickers Season 4, Episode 6, "What Happens In Sturgis ...". Originally aired January 2, 2012, on the History Channel. "... When Mike tells Frank let's pack up for a trip to South Dakota, Frank says he can't. He's secretly going to his 30th annual trip to the legendary Sturgis motorcycle rally, but says he'll cover the shop ...".[79] Sturgis has also been featured in the TV Show Pawn Stars in which Richard and Corey Harrison visit Sturgis with Chumlee Russell on his birthday.

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]


Coordinates: 44°24′52″N 103°30′32″W / 44.41444°N 103.50889°W / 44.41444; -103.50889