Sturgis is one of those mythical places that all riders have heard of. Love it, hate it, or think it’s overrated; you can’t deny the place Sturgis has in American motorcycle culture and history. For my family, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was something we always wanted to do. We wanted to see it all: the sites, the rides, the vendors, and the general atmosphere.
Why We Went to Sturgis
My father has owned and ridden motorcycles his entire life. He took a brief pause when I was little but then went back to it when I was old enough to ride with him. As soon as I turned 21, I got my own license and bought my first bike. Riding motorcycles has turned into something that our family loves to do together. We had always wanted to go to Sturgis but hadn’t gotten our act together to commit and go. So when the opportunity presented itself, we couldn’t miss the chance to check this motorcycle rally off our bucket list.
I worked for an online 3PL in the marketing department at one point in my career. The company was terrible, but it did give me a unique opportunity. While one of the directors hated motorcycle riders, he was overruled, and the company decided to run a motorcycle shipping promotion. It was my job to turn the idea into reality. The first thing I did was go home and tell my dad that I was going to make Sturgis happen; all he had to do was find a place to stay.
I worked with our best motorcycle shipping company to arrange shipment from St Petersburg, FL, to Sturgis and back. Not only that, but the truck would sit there for the entire length of Sturgis. You could pick up and drop off your bike whenever you wanted. We worked with Full Throttle magazine to promote the event. My company thought I wouldn’t get enough interest to fill one truck. I filled two.
The whole thing was a huge success, and people were asking about booking for next year as we were loading the trucks. I left the company a few months after this promotion, but I got word they didn’t do it again. It is a shame they let one man’s negative opinion of bikers ruin a great opportunity.
We flew from Tampa to Rapid City, SD. Our last flight into Rapid City was full of people dressed in jeans and black leather. The overhead bins had very little luggage but a lot of helmets and boots. It was the strangest and most pleasant and polite flight I have ever been on. A shuttle took us to the hotel. The next day, we woke up ready to pick up our bikes and ride.
Where We Stayed
We stayed in a private home for the week. This was a time before Airbnb and VRBO, but it was essentially like that. The owners of the home left for the week to stay with their son. We stayed in their two-story, multiple-bedroom home. They left their truck in case we needed to run to the store. They encouraged us to eat whatever we wanted in the fridge and freezer, leaving them fully stocked. If we wanted to stay a few extra days, all we had to do was let them know.
Honestly, this was the best way to experience Sturgis. Sure, the campgrounds have all of the action. But that also means they are loud 24/7. At the end of the day, you will want to lay your head down and get some sleep. You can’t do that with people screaming and yelling drunk outside your tent or camper. Your other option is to stay in a hotel or motel. However, many of these are a pretty far ride away from the action. This means you will have a long commute. You also won’t have access to a kitchen.
Motorcycle Rides in Sturgis
There are a ton of rides you can take in and around Sturgis. A lot of the rides feature some curves and elevation. However, it is nothing like the mountain rides of the Blue Ridge, if you have been there. What I found most impressive was how vast the countryside felt. You could see for miles, and it made me feel so small. Some can’t-miss routes include the Spearfish Canyon, Hot Springs, Nemo Road, Devil’s Tower, Needles Highway, and Jewel Cave Rides.
Places to Visit Around Sturgis
We didn’t spend all of our time in the town of Sturgis, and neither should you. The house we stayed at was closer to Deadwood. It’s this Wild West town that is super cute with old-timey brick buildings. The dining there was top-tier. Another great town to stop in is Spearfish. It’s cute with its main street and small shops.
Buffalo Chip isn’t a town, but definitely a place worth visiting. Technically, it is a campground where you could stay during your Sturgis trip. However, you can also just stop by and visit for the day. You’ll find plenty of vendors serving food and alcohol. Every night, there is a concert with some of the biggest names in rock, country, and hip-hop.
I got to visit Full Throttle Saloon before it burned. It was quite the experience, like an adult playground with alcohol. The place is HUGE. It isn’t just a bar; it’s a campground, concert venue, and entertainment mecca. The owners rebuilt after the fire, and while it is impressive, it isn’t quite the same as it used to be. However, it’s definitely a place worth visiting.
Wall Drug is a charming shop that offers dining, souvenirs, and shopping. It’s a perfect place to hop off the bike for a break and cool down while riding to or from Badlands National Park. Other towns you can ride through and explore are Lead, Whitewood, and Tilford.
Tourist Sites to See
One of the most popular tourist spots to stop is Mount Rushmore. I found it to be a bit anti-climactic. It always looks so big and imposing in pictures. Then you get there, and it just doesn’t live up to my expectations. However, if you’ve never been, it’s cheap and great place to stretch your legs.
Needles Highway is another road that was insanely popular. I think this one would be worth doing outside of rally days. During Sturgis, it was crowded and a lot of stop-and-go. You make your way through some breathtaking scenery and stone tunnels. It would have been more enjoyable to go when it wasn’t so busy so that I could enjoy the rock formations more and worry less about the other riders.
While technically in Wyoming, Devils Tower is a great place to visit while at Sturgis. I struggle to get excited about rocks. However, this one is pretty cool. It’s a super tall rock that rose up out of the ground, and no one is sure how or why. You can stop at the Aladdin general store during your visit. It’s a cute shop with all kinds of interesting things.
How much does it cost to go to the Sturgis Rally?
Technically, the Sturgis motorcycle rally is free to attend. Just like any other bike event, you show up, park your bike, and start walking around. Now, there are some caveats to the free statement. Many establishments will charge you an entrance fee or require you to purchase something to avoid the cover charge. There are also several events that you must purchase tickets for to attend. So, while the overall rally is free, not everything there is free.
There is also the cost of drinks, food, and housing while you are there. This could be very cheap or very expensive, depending on your budget and lifestyle tastes. The cheapest of accommodations involves sleeping in a tent and using communal bathrooms. The most expensive accommodations are a large private home rental or hotel. The closer you are to the action, the more expensive your accommodations will be.
If you decide to ride or drive to Sturgis, you will have to pay for gas, meals, and accommodations during your travel to and from the rally. If you do as we did, you will have to pay for motorcycle shipping and flights. So, as you can see, Sturgis is free, but the rest of your trip is not. How much you spend will depend on your budget and the type of trip you want to have.
What really happens at the Sturgis bike rally?
The majority of people who go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally are just there to ride their bikes and go sightseeing. They walk around vendor booths, attend events, and eat at local restaurants. It is the same thing that happens at any other motorcycle rally.
The videos you see online of outrageous behavior are what happens at specific places. These are the videos of dancing girls, burnouts, and acting out. Of course, these videos get all of the attention on social media. However, this is not what happens everywhere. Sturgis is what you make it. There is something for everyone, and the different experiences are pretty well separated.
Is Sturgis family-friendly?
Yes and no. I grew up around motorcycles, so for me, there is nothing scary about being around bikers. Riding during the day, seeing the sites, and visiting the vendors’ booths are all activities you could do with the entire family. There are places and events that are not family-friendly. These will serve alcohol, have barely dressed women, inappropriate music, and adults behaving badly. These areas and events are not family-friendly. The town of Sturgis is family-friendly. Every local we met was kind, welcoming, and helpful. If you aren’t ready to attend the motorcycle rally but want to see Sturgis, go just before the event starts. Things are getting set up, but the bulk of the attendees haven’t arrived yet.
You will see concerts advertised for every night of Sturgis. From small, barely known bands to major international performers, you can see it all. Typically, performers are in the rock and classic rock genres. However, you can find other options here and there. When I went, Ted Nugent, Motley Crew, and Pretty Reckless performed at the Full Throttle Saloon. Tickets were available, but we could have gone earlier in the day and just hung out until the concert for free.
I bought all of the things. Seriously, for riding a sport bike, I bought a TON of stuff. Every time we stopped, I was in a different booth or shop. I bought motorcycle gear, motorcycle parts, clothing, jewelry, home decor, and pet accessories. My backpack was always full every time we got home at the end of the day. Embarrassingly, I still have shirts in my drawer from that trip.
There are a lot of independent vendor trucks and booths. The quality and price were all over the place. There are also a lot of corporate vendors. If you’ve been to any other motorcycle rally, you will immediately recognize these booths. These booths are typically grouped together so you can walk through many of them at one stop.
There are several towns around Sturgis that embrace the motorcycle rally. You can spend the day riding from one town to another. We stopped at several of them and walked around the local shops. You will find some of the stores have cheap touristy stuff. Other stores will have handmade traditional items. Then there are the local shops selling fashion, accessories, and shoes.
Why do bikers meet in Sturgis?
At this point, bikers go to Sturgis out of habit and tradition. The first rallies were held by Clarence “Pappy” Hoel as a way of promoting his local motorcycle dealership. The idea took off, and now it’s a massive event that takes over the entire area. Bikers continue to go to experience the events, wide open countryside, and camaraderie with fellow bikers.
Where do bikers sleep at Sturgis?
Bikers traveling to Sturgis stay in a wide variety of accommodations. You will see people tent camping, staying in an RV, camper, motorhome, hotels, and renting a private home. Campgrounds are popular for many people.
Do you have to wear a helmet at Sturgis?
Adults are not legally required to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle in Sturgis, South Dakota. If you or your passenger are under the age of 18, a helmet is required.
Is Sturgis Bike Week safe?
You should always be careful when traveling somewhere you are unfamiliar with. You should also be careful anywhere that has a large gathering of people. However, with that, Sturgis is not dangerous because it is a motorcycle rally. While some places are more dangerous than others, you don’t need to worry. Everywhere that is designed for the general public is safe for you to go and visit.