Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Begins Today


The 74th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins today, bringing with it nearly 500,000 bikers to the state of South Dakota, nearly doubling its population. It also brings much-needed revenue to the state, in the form of sales tax dollars, but with it comes crime, drugs, drunk driving, gang violence and a strain on resources.

Most of the half-million bikers who come to Sturgis are of the Baby Boomer generation, sporting knee replacements, pot bellies and gray hair. In 2013, 466,000 people came to the rally, which officially runs from Monday through Sunday, although many come early or leave late trying to beat the crowds. Sturgis city manager Daniel Ainslie estimates the impact of the rally on the state of South Dakota at $500 million. Rally director Brenda Vasknetz says reservations for this year are up from last year. She also estimates the average attendee of the rally is between age 45 and 65.

The world-famous Motorcycle Rally officially begins today in Sturgis. Verizon Wireless has to boost its network for the event by deploying mobile cell towers to handle the influx of people. Last year it deployed two extra towers, this year it is adding five. This is the eighth year Verizon has boosted coverage for the rally.

Concerts are a big draw during the rally and rally venues book many big names from past decades, catering to the mostly older crowd. Many of the campgrounds are legendary for their party status, although in recent years facilities have cleaned up and become not family-friendly, but at least less prone to fights and extreme drunkenness. Things kick off tonight at the Buffalo Chip with the Zac Brown Band. Tomorrow night look for Motley Crue, followed by ZZ Top on Wednesday. Thursday will feature Train, and on Friday, Cheap Trick. Things wrap up there Saturday night with A Course of Action, Sevendust, and Buckcherry. The Full Throttle Saloon is another popular concert venue, popularized by their reality TV show. They kick off tonight with Bret Michaels and follow up Wednesday with Ted Nugent. Thursday night is the Jackyl show. There are smaller venues in town with concerts planned this week as well.

During daylight hours, Harley Davidson offers free test rides on their 2014 models at their store in downtown Sturgis throughout the rally. Motorcycle stunt shows are produced three times a day. There are also areas just for women riders and even a bike wash for those who got dirty while out riding.

An extra 500,000 motorcycles on the road creates a lot of extra congestion on Black Hills roadways. Captain Kevin Karley of the South Dakota Highway Patrol recommends exercising caution around motorcycles. Last year during the rally six traffic fatalities were reported in the short time period. That accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the total motorcycle-related annual fatalities in the state.

Emergency responders call the week a “planned disaster.”  This week their town of 7000 people expands to half-million and their number of emergency calls will jump from five per week to 20 per day. The local regional hospital adds an additional 30 people per day to cover shifts and spends an extra $100,000 per day in operating costs. In addition to injuries, hospitals treat heart attacks, diabetes, strokes and dehydration, in part due to the aging population of the rally attendees.

Bring on the party, the noise and the chaos. The legendary Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins today.

By Stacey Wagner









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