Sturgis Bike Rally motorcycles in 2011.

Sturgis Bike Rally motorcycles in Hill City, South Dakota.

Every biker in North America has heard about, talked about, thought about–or attended–the annual Sturgis Bike Rally.

It’s all about the rap of the Harleys, and pretty much every other brand of motorcycle made in the last few decades, as they fill the streets and the parking lots and the alleys and the sideroads. Motorcycles are everywhere!

Just click on the bar below and close your eyes to imagine you’re part of the action.

harley sounds

The Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally has come a long way from its humble beginnings back in 1938, when it was a one-day event organized by Pappy Hoel, and featured a half mile race on a dirt track. That first day, August 14, about 200 spectators gathered to watch 9 motorcycles perform at what was called the Black Hills Motor Classic.

It grew gradually, as you can see with this timeline:

But grow it did. Rally attendance hit 400,000 in 1990, and increased 50% in the next decade, to reach 600,000 by 2000. And that doesn’t count the interested who don’t take their own bikes or register for any events–which is where me and my family fit in.

Bikers on a highway in the Black Hills near Sturgis, South Dakota.

Bikers on a highway in the Black Hills near Sturgis, South Dakota.

While the majority of events happen in Sturgis, it’s really the this whole piece of South Dakota’s Black Hills that’s part of the lure for Bike Week. The terrain is perfect for bikers with winding roads, the Missouri River, Mount Rushmore, pigtail bridges, hills and valleys, pine trees and rock outcroppings. Visit this guide to area routes for motorcyclists rated by other bike riders:

Bikers stay in a number of towns near Sturgis. We were in Deadwood–a gunslinger’s old west town for sure, although Rapid City, home to Mount Rushmore, Hill City, and Spearfish are also great choices.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Events

Bikers at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, South Dakota, for the 2011 Alice Cooper concert.

Bikers at the Buffalo Chip in Sturgis, South Dakota, for the 2011 Alice Cooper concert.

The Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally is the first full week of August, Monday through Sunday, when preceded by a full weekend. However, participation has grown so much over the years that there are a number of events leading into the rally and of course, it takes a while to wind down as well. Here’s the calendar of annual dates:

Of course the list of events has grown and grown and grown over the years. From concerts to light shows, to indoor and outdoor stages and saloons, to machine gun shooting to burnouts in the sky, to stunt riders to the Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame, to a motorcycles as art exhibition, to motocross racing and freestyle jumping, to manufacturer demo rides, and so much more. See the full event calendar at:

Check out the rally events yourself with this video from Sturgis on the mayor’s ride:


So, how did the Sturgis Rally make it to #27 on my list of trips I’m revisiting for my 2012 summer staycation? My family has three generations of bikers–my husband, our son, and our grandson–and we all went. Me, I’m seriously just along for the bike ride, as I can’t even keep a bicycle upright. However, anybody who enjoys biking (which I do, even if it’s from the passenger’s seat) has to be curious about what it’s like to be surrounded by a few hundred thousand motorbikes and the biking culture. Sons of Anarchy, after all, is one of my favorite t.v. shows.

Alice Cooper in concert at Sturgis Buffalo Chip.

Alice Cooper in concert at Sturgis Buffalo Chip.


The events we attended were excellent–particularly Alice Cooper’s outdoor concert at the Buffalo Chip, where motorcyclists rolled in, of course, on their bikes. I’ve never heard a concert with better sound or a more enthusiastic crowd.

We’ll be heading back in the future, as there’s still plenty we didn’t do to try out another year at the world’s largest motorcycle rally!

If you go: For more information see: and

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