Sturgis Grows Up


Dennis Johnson and I were walking down Main Street in Sturgis on Monday evening. We'd just left the Oasis tavern, where two young women were belting out a Dixie Chicks tune during karaoke night. We were on our way to meet people at One-Eyed Jacks — when we saw her: five-foot-two, weighing about 400 pounds I would guess, and with absolutely nothing on above her waist save for white pasties with long, dangling tassles.

We walked in silence for about a block when I turned to Dennis and said, "Are you all right?" He responded, "I don't know; I think my eyes are bleeding."

Main Street Sturgis has always had a (insert clearing-throat noise) carnival-like atmosphere, and I'm sure it doesn't even compare to the nude biker parades at some of the campgrounds that, even though I've been to the rally several times, I've never had the (insert more clearing-throat noise) benefit of attending.

I should have been used to seeing this, I thought. And then it struck me. This woman with the white tassled pasties was the exception — at Sturgis? How odd.

When I first rode to the rally in 1991, I was wearing a full-face helmet and a protective jacket, and I was the nerd. Most of the guys were in the uniform: jeans, engineer boots and a black Harley t-shirt. No helmets anywhere. The women dressed in similar fashion, unless they were sporting the bikinis, g-strings or even elaborate Indian costumes (even though, as best I could tell, they had no direct ties to any particular Native American nation).

Fast-forward to this year's Sturgis, where I saw twice as many riders wearing DOT-approved helmets, where $600 Icon armored jackets were selling out at Jesse Jurrens' Top 50 Rally Park, and where RVs seemed to outnumber tents at the Buffalo Chip Campground.

The T-shirt and cheap leather vendors reported scattered sales. But if you were an exhaust, seat or other P&A vendor who offered "while you wait" installations, business was booming. Cobra Engineering, J&P Cycles, Kuryakyn and Mustang Motorcycle Seats, for example, all seem to have generated some sizeable business. Riders were investing in their motorcycles, and buying quality equipment.

I remember not being able to get through the bumper-to-bumper bike traffic on Junction or Lazelle streets. This year, it was pretty smooth sailing. But according to initial statistics by the South Dakota state government, traffic was down.

Where were the riders? They were out riding. I saw more sportbike enthusiasts this year, no doubt finally clued into the fact that the Black Hills of South Dakota offer probably the best on-road riding in the country. And to my delight, there were many more women riding their own motorcycles. Many more women.

Is Sturgis changing? Sure. It's a more regional event. It's attended by many types of enthusiasts — male, female, families, young, old. It's no longer what you ride; it's the fact that you are riding. Rally director Pepper Massey ventures so far to say that in 10 years it might be more of a sportbike rally. I doubt that, but we'll see.

Back to downtown Sturgis: Black T-shirts and jeans still ruled, but there were many others wearing tan shorts and flip-flop sandals. You were more likely to see a woman in a pink tank top than in white tassled pasties. And that may be a good thing. On many levels.

Mary Slepicka, Editorial Director