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10 Things First-Timers Must Do at the Sturgis Rally

Jul 10, 2019

It’s got a history 79 years strong, that deep-rooted history founded on dirt track races and gypsy tours.  It’s a tale of a visionary Indian Motorcycle dealer called Pappy Hoel and his Pearl of a wife with her wealth of hospitality. What once went down in City Park is the stuff of legends to this day, even though the city banned camping in the infamous park long ago. Then there’s the magic of the Black Hills itself, intangible but undeniable, from the whispering winds of Devils Tower to the legendary tunnels blasted through solid rock of Needles Highway, all within easy striking distance of downtown Sturgis.

While there’s no shortage of motorcycle rallies across America, there’s only one Sturgis. The Sturgis Rally is something every motorcyclist should experience at least once in their lifetime.  But if you’ve never been to Sturgis before, it can be a little intimidating, especially when a half-million people roll into town. Not to mention the rally spreads out in every direction, from Rapid City to Deadwood to Spearfish and beyond. That being said, we’ve put together this handy little guide of “10 Things First-Timers Must Do at the Sturgis Rally” to help steer newbies in the right direction.

Things heat up after dark at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. It's one of the few bastions left where the true spirit of the Sturgis Rally still thrives.

Visit Main Street – Main Street is the heartbeat of Sturgis. Motorcycles squeeze into just about every inch of the street. Music spills out of signature venues like One-Eyed Jack’s Saloon and the Loud American Roadhouse. Vendors busily hawk their wares as a steady stream of bodies flow up and down the sidewalks. The aroma of grilled meats and fried food fills the air. Find you a good corner, post up, and just people watch because there’s always a cast of characters on Main Street. If you’re feeling adventurous, go on a treasure hunt and see if you can find The Dungeon Bar, my favorite dive bar on Main Street

Take a picture of you and your motorcycle at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point with the Sturgis sign in the background. Who knows, maybe Bill Davidson might even be around for a cameo.

Take a Picture of You and Your Motorcycle with the Historic Sturgis Hillside Sign in the Background at Harley-Davidson Rally Point – Backin 2015, Harley-Davidson built an outdoor pavilion called the Rally Point smack dab in the heart of the rally at the corner of Main Street and Harley-Davidson Way. It’s a hub of Harley activity, from live music to guest appearances to special events. One of its coolest features though is a platform they built which you can ride your motorcycle up on so riders can have their picture taken with the iconic “Sturgis” sign that sits on the hill in the background. It’s one shot every Sturgis visitor should have. That said, most likely you’ll have to wait your turn get that epic pic, but usually there’s plenty going on around you to keep you entertained while you wait. And all it’ll only cost you is a little patience because it’s free!

Things heat up after dark at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip. It's one of the few bastions left where the true spirit of the Sturgis Rally still thrives.

Visit the Sturgis Buffalo Chip – The Sturgis Buffalo Chip goes above and beyond to provide the ultimate rally experience. Headliners grace its main stage for nine days straight, this year’s line-up ranging from Keith Urban to Disturbed to Snoop Dogg. Racing action is non-stop, from professional flat track to the ever-popular hooligan races to head-to-head drags down the middle of its amphitheater. If you love custom bikes, there’s bike shows just about every day, many of them at the CrossRoads, the Buffalo Chip’s free-access area in front of the main campground. Speaking of the CrossRoads, the Chip just built a new Big Engine Bar at the CrossRoads and I hear it’s pretty sweet. If you want the full Chip experience, stay at the campground, you won’t be sorry. After the headliners are done, the party moves to smaller stages spread about the campground. My favorite after-hours hang is Bikini Beach. Hope to see ya there.

Visit Deadwood – Take a trip back to the days of the Wild, Wild West at the rustic little town of Deadwood. Brick and stone storefronts add to the charm. There’s plenty of quaint shops and curios to visit, along with restaurants and a casino. Be sure to visit Old Style Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, a living museum full of historic Deadwood memorabilia including the chair Wild Bill Hickok was purportedly shot in while playing poker. The original bar where Hickok was said to be gunned-down at burnt in a fire a while back, so Old Style Saloon No. 10 took over as the symbolic haunt of the fabled Westerner. Live music, gaming, and “South Dakota’s largest whiskey selection” add to the saloon’s ambiance. Thanks to the HBO series, I know there’s plenty of Deadwood fans out there who’d love to visit the namesake town.

The Full Throttle Saloon is always on the gas. It gets a little crazy at the FTS when Jesse James Dupree and Jackyl play on Thursday night.

Visit Michael Ballard and Jesse James Dupree at the Full Throttle Saloon – The Full Throttle Saloon, aka “The World’s Largest Biker Bar,” became a household name thanks to the popular TV show of the same name that aired for five seasons on truTV. The show not only depicted the craziness that goes on at the Throttle during the rally, it also showed how truly challenging it is to run a successful bar in the competitive Sturgis environment. The Full Throttle Saloon lives up to its name by always being on the biker entertainment throttle, from big name bands gracing the largest stage in South Dakota to parties poolside at its Olympic-sized swimming pool. The Full Throttle has 300 cabins, 1,000 RV hook-ups and tent camping for days, all with a grand view of Bear Butte. If you can only make it there one night, I recommend hitting them up Thursday night when Jesse James and his band Jackyl play because the house is guaranteed to be rockin’.

Mount Rushmore is a special place. Seeing it on the back of a motorcycle makes it even more special.

Take a Ride to Mount Rushmore – Mount Rushmore is one of those things you need to see to believe. Seeing it from the saddle of a motorcycle makes it even more special. You can’t help but wax a little patriotic when you see the larger-than-life granite faces of some of our greatest leaders carved into the side of a mountain for the first time. There are a few roadside spots you can pull over and snap a quick pick with the monument in the background. And while the national treasure is breathtaking, make a day of it and take a spin over to the Crazy Horse Memorial and add a ride through Custer State Park while you’re at it. Mount Rushmore is only a little over 50 miles away from Sturgis and the route is well-marked, so it’s easy to find and a definite must for Sturgis first-timers.

Between the custom motorcycles, photos, and artwork, Michael Lichter's "Motorcycles as Art" exhibit is always extraordinary.

Check out Michael Lichter’s Motorcycles as Art exhibit - Michael Lichter has been capturing moments in motorcycling history through the lenses of his cameras over 40 years. His photography has graced the covers and pages of just about every motorcycle magazine imaginable, particularly Easyriders. For the past 19 years, he’s curated a wonderful exhibit of custom motorcycles, artwork, photography and memorabilia called “Motorcycles as Art.” The caliber of work is consistently extraordinary. Each exhibit centers around a theme. For 2019 the show is called “What’s the Skinny: Motorcycling Without the Fat” and will feature more than 40 custom bikes tailored to that theme. You can check out the show at the Buffalo Chip Event Center located just outside The Chip’s east gate. To boot, it’s always free, and free is always good. It also gives you another reason to visit the Sturgis Buffalo Chip.

Need a break from the craziness of the rally? Spearfish Canyon offers the perfect solution.

Ride Through Spearfish Canyon – Spearfish Canyon is stunningly beautiful. A good part of the road runs parallel to rushing water as it cuts through 1,000-foot-tall cliff faces that rise above the dense tree-line. Pack a lunch and some walking shoes because there’s plenty of places to pull over and hike, including several waterfalls. Or you can just stop and take in all of its natural splendor. Spearfish is only 20 miles away from Sturgis, and it’s the place I like to go to escape the crowds and the noise of the rally.

Visit Black Hills Harley-Davidson – Black Hills Harley-Davidson annually hosts its own mini-rally. The place is always surrounded by top-name vendors and it’s the place to go if you’re itching to demo ride the latest Harleys. There are stages with a steady rotation of live music along with plenty of food booths eager to sate hearty appetites and slake thirsty rally-goer’s thirsts with frosty beverages. It’s quite the dealership, definitely worthy of stopping in and checking out. Black Hills Harley-Davidson is only 25 miles away from Sturgis, a quick blast down Interstate 90 E.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, down near the end of Main Street, is a must-see for fans of vintage motorcycles and history buffs.

Visit the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame – If you love vintage motorcycles, memorabilia, photos, artwork, and history, then a visit to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum is a must. They just expanded the museum last year, which means it houses more moto-treasures than ever before. There’s two stories to explore and the collection features just about every make imaginable. My favorite motorcycle in the museum is Dave Zien’s “Million Mile” 1991 Harley-Davidson FXRT. All one million miles of the motorcycle has been documented, and every time its owner reached another 100,000-mile milestone, he logged the date on the side of his topcase. Zien is a veteran and former Wisconsin state senator who has been inducted into both the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame for his feats. The museum’s got a great list of special guests scheduled for this year’s rally including land speed record holder and one of the fastest women on two wheels, Valerie Thompson, the V-Twin Visionary himself, Jeff Holt, who will have his incredible M8FXRP on display, in addition to multi-talented artist Darren McKeag, the first person featured in J&P Cycles Artist series