Sturgis Rally

Background

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a motorcycle rally held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota, and the surrounding Black Hills region of the United States. It began 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. 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.

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. 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 Motor Classic.” The founder was Clarence “Pappy” Hoel. He purchased an Indian motorcycle franchise in Sturgis in 1936 and formed the Jackpine Gypsies in 1938. The Jackpine Gypsies were inducted to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1997. Hoel was inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame the following year.

The focus of a motorcycle rally was originally racing and stunts. In 1961, the rally was expanded to include the Hillclimb and Motocross races. 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. In 1942, the decision was made by the Black Hills Motor Classic Committee to not hold their regular event until after the war was over. The reason given for not holding the event was the “inability to obtain high-class talent.”[9] The Sturgis Rally would not be held again until 1946, when the Black Hills Classic Reorganized and made plans to revive the motorcycle rally.

Originally the rally was composed of two separate events that spanned three days. Starting of the event was a Gypsy tour, where riders would be guided through the Black Hills by an escort of Jackpine Gypsy club members. The following two days would be filled with motorcycle and automobile races. Additional events would be held in the downtown district of Sturgis, including parades, dances, and animal shows.

Through the 1970s and early 1980s, many attendees camped in City Park. When a record 40,000 visitors arrived in Sturgis in 1980, local residents became concerned with the behavior of these attendees. 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. 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. Although the referendum was defeated 1,454 to 826, the City of Sturgis followed the mayor’s committee recommendation to prohibit camping in City Park and eliminate downtown street vendors.

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

In October 2016, the city of Sturgis expanded the city’s dates to 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.

If you would like to check out more about the Sturgis motorcycle rally, please visit their website.

If you have any questions, please contact us.

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