Also at RideApart
While the thought of attending the largest motorcycle rally in the world may seem a bit overwhelming, Sturgis can appeal to any rider, noobie and experienced biker alike. At Sturgis, it doesn’t matter if you’re on a tricked out custom Harley-Davidson, a sweet Honda café racer or a even a little scooter. Sturgis is whatever you want to make it and we at RideApart applaud that.
In 1936, a group of bikers from Sturgis, South Dakota teamed up with the local Indian Motorcycle franchise to form the Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club with the idea to start annual motorcycle races. Two years later, on August 14th, 1938, the Black Hills Classic was held with nine racers and a small audience. The Sturgis motorcycle rally was born.
Fast-forward to 2014 and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is now the world’s largest, bringing in people from all across the globe to ride, hang out and party. Held yearly in early August, the rally turns this sleepy, little South Dakota town into a week-long party with roughly 500,000 people in attendance.
We at RideApart decided to experience Sturgis the hard way: no map, no tour guide, just a motorcycle with a full tank of gas and the gear on our back. We hit the road to find the best spots to party, to ride and also, the best creek to rinse off in when it’s all done.
Here are the top 10 picks for what to do, what to see and where to ride while attending Sturgis.
Main Street is where you go to buy that T-shirt you’ll show off at your local bike night back home. Main Street is motorcycles only (as it should be!) and a great place to walk around, soak in the sights and sounds and, of course, bar hop. We recommend One Eyed Jack’s, the Loud American and Easy Rider Saloon. Remember! Don’t drink and ride; there are plenty of shuttles and cabs in town. Despite popular belief, there are still laws against indecent exposure, but, this being a biker week, pasties and airbrushing are allowed.
The Legendary Buffalo Chip
They call it legendary for a reason. The Legendary Buffalo Chip is the self-proclaimed center of activity. Once a place too rowdy for police, the Buffalo Chip has it all: a bike show, a roller derby, food and vendors that will service your bikes... and that’s just on the outside. Once inside there’s camping, concerts, truck races and a big old swimming pool.
While it may cost anywhere from $50 to $80 a day to attend, depending on entertainment, you’ll see and hear it all. . This year’s line up featured artists like ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, Buckcherry and, of course, Lynard Skynard. Located a few miles outside of town, the Buffalo Chip marks the edge of the Sturgis motorcycle rally and start of something weird.
Full Throttle Saloon
Only a couple miles down the road and closer to the center of town is the world’s largest biker bar, the Full Throttle Saloon. Only open 11 days a year—just for Sturgis—it’s a week-long party with lots of music and multiple themed bars. We like both the Jesse James Bar and the Topless Bus Bar, which is a converted school bus with its roof missing and a nice big bar set up inside.
They also have all the campy stuff you love in a ridiculous bar like a zip line, Mechanical Bull, Burn Out Pit and a Wall of Death. While it’s sort of quiet during the day, the Full Throttle Saloon turns into a rowdy party at night. Also, of note, TruTV recently started airing a reality (if you call it that) show focusing on the place:
If you get tired of all the noise and crowds of Sturgis, then ride out to Bear Butte and its adjoining lake. Only a few miles south of the city, it’s a short ride and the closest place to get some peace and quiet.
Pictures of Bear Butte don’t do it justice; it’s a magnificent sight. After a long day—and night— of partying, Bear Butte gives you unique and deep feeling of calm. Also, a law prohibits any commercial expansion at the base, so luckily for us Bear Butte will remain peaceful for a long while.
Broken Spoke is a 600-acre campsite with a suspended burnout pit, indoor and outdoor music stages, lots of places to grab a drink and a some seriously great food. Also, you can ride your bike through the bar! What else could you ask for at Sturgis?
Nestled on the back side of Bear Butte, the property is massive, and on a clear day, sitting outside you can see for miles across the roaming Black Hills. It’s a perfect place to grab a drink and some BBQ and catch your breath. Bored of the quiet? Head inside to do a burnout against the bar.
Maybe you visited when you were a kid, spotting the famous stone faces from the backseat of a minivan, but there is nothing like seeing Mount Rushmore from the seat of a motorcycle. As anyone who ever attended can tell you, Sturgis isn’t really about Sturgis, to those Real Riders out there, it’s about all the places around Sturgis.
Head eastbound from the center of town and bounce between Hwy 90 and the backroads until you end up on Hwy 16/Hwy 16A and the small town of Rushmore. Take a ride down Rushmore’s Main Street—it will reminded you of an old Western town, all that’s missing are the cowboys looking at you from the top balcony and their horses parked out front. Continue east from Rushmore for a magnificent view of the mountain from the road or head into the park to get a close up view.
Tight switchbacks lead into a one-way road that enters the mountain. It’s about two hours south of Sturgis, but definitely worth the trip.
Leaving Rushmore, you can take Hwy 16A back to town or, better yet, do what we did and head over to Sylvan Lake by way of Hwy 244 to Hwy 87/Needles Hwy. Possibly the most crowded road in South Dakota during Sturgis, it is considered a must-do while in town. Needles is a great road with some with some tight switchbacks to test you mettle. We suggest a stop at Sylvan Lake, where on a clear day, you can see the reflection of the adjacent rock face in the lake.
Crazy Horse, named after the Lakota leader, is aiming to be the world’s largest sculpture – even larger than Mount Rushmore. We say ‘aiming’ as it isn’t quite done yet. That’s not to say from lack of trying, as they’ve been working on the sculpture since 1948. We recommend checking out the museum to learn more about the history of the stunning Black Hills and the Lakota leader. After spending some time at Crazy Horse, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the area you’re riding through.
Leaving Crazy Horse, we ventured up Hwy 385, a small, two-lane black top that carved through the Black Hills National Forest on the way to the old gold mining town of Deadwood. Deadwood seemed like a smaller, more down to earth version of downtown Sturgis. Just good food, a lot of bikes and some interesting people congregating on the old brick-laid street. Deadwood is a great place to grab lunch, check out the bikes and relax in a cool old western setting.
Spearfish Canyon wasabsolutely our personal favorite stop in the Black Hills. Maybe it was the sun setting, the empty road and the sound of the big bike we were riding, but Spearfish Canyon was one of the best roads we’ve ever ridden.
Jump off Hwy 90 and make a turn between a golf course and shopping mall onto an unsuspecting two-lane road. As you travel roughly a mile, you find yourself between two 10-story rock walls filled with Ponderosa and Spruce Pine tress. The path through the canyon was thought too treacherous to build, but when a flood washed out the railroad in 1933, a road was finally installed.
Spearfish Canyon is a slow going road with a 35 mph speed limit, but the turns are so tight, it makes those 40 mph runs feel faster than they really are. We stopped off on a pull-off to wash ourselves in the cool stream that was so clear, you could see the five feet to the bottom. This was a fitting way to end our time here, rejuvenating ourselves physically in the stream and spiritually on the bike.
Sturgis, at the end of the day, is a really great place to ride. Most attend the rally to party, but that being said, a lot of the people come to Sturgis to put some miles down on some of the most beautiful roads in America, alongside some the most interesting people you’ll ever meet too.
We made this list to encourage you Real Riders to get out and experience this for yourselves. If you think we missed something in our list or you want to know more about particular venue, please comment below.