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At the beginning of August every year sleepy, small town Sturgis, SD blossoms into the bustling center for the Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. In its 71st year, The Rally, as locals often call it, has grown from a small club of motorcycle bikers interested in getting together to have a few races into a huge seven day rally that attracts a wide variety of people.
Hundreds of thousands of people from all stations in life flock to the Black Hills area of western South Dakota for this annual event. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally began on August 14, 1938, when the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club sponsored a nine-person motorcycle race that weekend with a small number of spectators.
Over the years it began to grow from a single race to a number of events including motorcycle shows, races and hill climbs. By the 1970s it became a much bigger event with vendors beginning to show up on Sturgis’ Main Street, and bikers staying in the Sturgis City Park.
The Sturgis Rally began to have a reputation for being fairly dangerous and populated by a number of biker gangs such as The Hells Angels, and the Bandidos. It also grew from being a single day event into seven days. By 2000, record attendance was reached at over 600,000 people.
Millions of dollars in revenue are made during this yearly event for the city of Sturgis, the state of South Dakota, local businesses, and vendors from all over the five-state area.
In more recent years the Sturgis Rally has attempted creating a safer, more family friendly environment as it began to grow into hundreds of thousands in attendance. In the 1980s officials began placing a number of restrictions on allowed activities. Rally goers were not happy and a number of bikers protested the changes by burning several outhouses.
But despite opposition from the bikers, locals were determined to keep the changes in place. As a part of these changes, in the last ten years or so, more and more Rally participants have begun to trailer their bikes with trucks instead of making the trek the traditional way. This has created a rift between the so-called “true” bikers and the “fake” bikers.
Tensions have increased between these two groups and vendors have begun selling biker patches with the words “I rode mine” as a way for people who want to ensure that others know they are actual dedicated bikers, and not just pretending to be one for a single week out of the year.
In addition to complaints about how dedicated the bikers who come to The Rally really are, the strict enforcement of city ordinances and a strong police presence has created a much safer environment for those wanting to check out one of the world’s largest motorcycle rallies. During the day, often small children and families are seen walking up and down Main Street looking at merchandise and snacking on food from one of the many vendors.
Of course this does not mean that it is strictly a family friendly event. Numerous bars are open during The Rally and by around 8 p.m. many people have begun to become intoxicated. With the large number of people drinking, there is still the danger of violence, car accidents, and alcohol related injuries.
Every year between 5 and 15 deaths occur, usually in vehicular accidents. In addition, a number of biker gangs still come to the rally every year, and conflict between these gangs does occur even though they try to keep The Rally a place of neutral ground.
Despite the changing demographic in the last few years, the wide variety of events, coupled with the opportunity to see thousands of unique bikes in one location, are sure to keep the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally a fun and successful event for years to come.