10 Gems of the Sturgis Rally to Put on Your To-Do List | Black Hills Travel Blog

10 Gems of the Sturgis Rally to Put on Your To-Do List

  • 10 Gems of the Sturgis Rally to Put on Your To-Do List
    10 Gems of the Sturgis Rally to Put on Your To-Do List
By : 
Bryan Harley

Experiencing Main Street for the first time, music spilling out of virtually every venue as it mixes with the melody of a thousand motorcycle engines, a perpetual tide of people flowing up and down the sidewalks, can trigger sensory overload. There’s so much to see and do during the Sturgis Rally, there’s never enough hours in the day to squeeze in everything. Plotting your plan of attack can be a daunting task, even more so if you’re a first-timer. In order to help maximize your trip to the Black Hills, I’ve pulled out a few nuggets from the treasure trove of things to do at the Sturgis Rally to facilitate the planning process.

Jackpine Gypsies Pro Hillclimbs
Motorcycle racing and the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club have been a part of the Sturgis Rally since the get-go, so what better way to honor the spirit of the Rally’s roots than by checking out the Jackpine Gypsies Hillclimbs? Bodies and dirt are guaranteed to be flying up the steep, slippery slope. Hangin’ on to these high-powered machines while they rocket up the hill is like trying to stay aboard a bucking bull. Hillclimbers are a fearless lot with a special skill set. Many have seen the Jackpine Gypsies’ hill before and not even realized it. It’s on the west side of Interstate 90 just before the Lazelle Street exit. Something’s going down there pretty much all week long at the Jackpine Gypsies compound, from short track races to moto, but if you can only make it to one event, there’s nothing like the excitement of the hillclimbs. This year’s competition is slated for Friday, Aug. 10. Gates open at 7 a.m. while the first races kick off at 10 a.m.

Michael Lichter’s “Motorcycles as Art” Exhibit
Michael Lichter has been capturing and archiving moments in motorcycling history through the lenses of his cameras for the past 40 years. The work of the talented photographer has graced the covers and pages of innumerable magazines and books. Over the course of his career, he’s befriended the best custom bike builders in the business and undoubtedly has an eye for upcoming talent. For the past 18 years, he’s curated a splendid exhibit of custom bikes, artwork, photography, and memorabilia called “Motorcycles as Art.” Each year Lichter picks a theme and the work in the show reflects that subject in some manner. This year’s theme is “Passion Built – Garage to Gallery” featuring bikes built by people who “all support themselves by other means, yet are building professional-quality custom motorcycles outside of a professional workplace.” The caliber of work in the show is always extraordinary. For the past 10 years, Lichter’s Motorcycles as Art exhibit has been housed inside the Buffalo Chip Event Center outside the east gate. The exhibit is free to the public from 2 to 10 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 4, through Friday, Aug. 10, so make an effort to get out to The Chip and check it out!

Harley-Davidson Rally Point - Motorcycle Photo-Op with Sturgis Sign in Background
Harley-Davidson built a wonderful outdoor pavilion called Rally Point on the corner of Main Street and Harley-Davidson Way back in 2015. During the Rally, it’s a hub of activity as a steady rotation of live music and special guests cross its stage. If you’re lucky, you just might rub elbows with Harley royalty like Willie G. or Bill Davidson. It’s an architectural wonder, an industrial assortment of steel cross beams and stones. Incorporated into its design are 74 bricks from Harley-Davidson’s famed Juneau Avenue headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of its featured attractions is a dais you can ride up on and take a picture of your motorcycle with the legendary “Sturgis” hillside sign in the background. This is the one shot that every rider wants as it makes a great keepsake. Best of all, it’s free! You might have to wait your turn in line, but that’s a small price to pay for a once-in-a-lifetime shot. Rally Point is smack dab in the middle of Main Street while the picture plateau is over by the alleyway.

Hike Bear Butte
Granted, hiking isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Sturgis, but making the climb up Bear Butte is a great way to get away from the crowds and noise and clear your head. Hiking up the 1.85-mile Summit Trail will get your heart pumping as you make your way up a series of switchbacks to the 4,426-foot peak. At the top, you’ll reap the rewards of an unparalleled view of the Black Hills and beyond as four states are within sight. Bear Butte is a sacred place to local tribes and “Mato Paha” has hosted sacred ceremonies for centuries, so please honor the reverence it’s held in when you hike. One of my favorite pastimes is watching Mother Nature’s light show over Bear Butte from my spot at the Sturgis Buffalo Chip, white bolts punching through purple skies, the butte resolute as it weathers the storms. To get there, head northeast out of Sturgis and you can’t miss it because it’s the last peak before the plains. The turn-off for Bear Butte State Park is off SD Highway 79. You’ll find the Summit Trail trailhead by the parking lot near the Education Center.

Old Style Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood
Pop into Old Style Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood and step back in time to the wild, Wild West. While the original bar where ol’ Wild Bill Hickok was purportedly gunned-down burnt up in a fire a while back, Old Style Saloon No. 10 sprung up to take its place as the symbolic haunt of Hickok. Thanks to historical reenactments and hundreds of old photographs portraying Deadwood’s history on its walls, walking inside Saloon No. 10’s doors is like turning back the clock 100 years. Live music, gaming, and “South Dakota’s largest whiskey selection” add to its signature ambiance. Upstairs is the Deadwood Social Club that serves “handcrafted meals and homemade, award-winning desserts in 19th-century dining rooms.” You can belly up to the bar downstairs or get your grub on upstairs, take your pick. From its décor to its collectibles to its costumed characters, it’s fun to indulge in the ambiance of the living museum.

Buffalo Chip’s Bikini Beach at Night
While the Buffalo Chip’s Bikini Beach is a great place to cool off and go for a swim during the day, it takes on a whole ‘nother personality at night. Its small stage comes alive as talented under-the-radar bands play their hearts out under the stars. It’s the place that people gravitate to after headliners on the main stage call it a night. Even though the days have been long and the sun strong, Chip diehards have a habit of getting a second wind at Bikini Beach after dark. It’s the type of place you inevitably run into a friend or acquaintance unexpectedly. It’s a great place to grab a cold one, decompress, and wind down at. Grabbing a slice of hand-tossed pizza at Pies for the People is a must. I’ve seen several bands there I’d never heard of before but have since become a fan of. Bikini Beach at The Chip after dark always has a funky, fun vibe, especially after the clock strikes midnight, and is one of those things I could talk about until I’m blue in the face but is better-experienced first-hand. One caveat though – you’ve got to be staying at The Chip or attending that night’s concert in order to have access to the beach.

Black Hills Harley-Davidson
Every year, Black Hills Harley-Davidson attracts some of the leading aftermarket parts and accessories manufacturers in the industry. Black Hills Harley-Davidson is your one-stop shopping destination, the place you can see all of the latest Harley motorcycles, test drive them, then haggle a deal on a new motorcycle to ride home. For those who already own a motorcycle, you can buy new tires, exhaust, seat, handlebars, controls, gauges, and gadgets and have everything mounted on the spot. Last year over 140 vendors set up shop at Black Hills Harley-Davidson. There’s always a long list of entertainment to liven up the atmosphere along with numerous food and beverage booths. The dealership is right off of Interstate 90 outside of Rapid City and is one of the best places to check out the hottest new products all in one spot.

The Olympic-Sized Pool at the Full Throttle Saloon
It can get pretty toasty at the Sturgis Rally, and one of the best places to cool out and have some fun is the pool at the Full Throttle Saloon. It’s the spot to soak sore riding muscles while enjoying a fantastic view of Bear Butte. A steady stream of music adds to the party atmosphere and Vegas-like poolside games, like belly flop and bikini contests, have been known to amp up energy levels. Michael Ballard moved the Full Throttle Saloon into the old location of the Broken Spoke a couple years back and renamed it the Pappy Hoel Campground in honor of the founder of the Sturgis Rally. Since moving to the new location, Ballard’s been working hard to give it the same character as the original Full Throttle Saloon, which burned down in a fire. Luckily he was smart enough to realize he had a winner in the pool, which already had a legion of fans. This year the Full Throttle Saloon is hosting its inaugural Off-Road Rally the week before Sturgis, then will shift into full Rally mode the week after. Blackberry Smoke is scheduled to play on Sunday, Aug. 5, which would be the perfect way to wrap up a great day of poolside sun and fun.

The Dungeon Bar
A trip to the Dungeon Bar should be on your Sturgis to-do list. Even if alcohol’s not your thing, you should pop into the Dungeon Bar just to take in its matchless décor. The Dungeon has a habit of attracting its share of interesting Main Street Sturgis characters, so there’s seldom a dull moment in the joint. The iconic establishment is the oldest biker bar in Sturgis and its walls literally ooze with history. While we’re not going to spoil what decks those walls, becoming a part of the bar’s history is encouraged. “Join in the lasting tradition and leave something behind,” states the Dungeon Bar website. “Then come back next year, and find a piece of you that has become part of the Dungeon Bar. Ask the bartenders for Sharpies and ‘The Staple Gun.’" And that’s all the clues you get. The Dungeon Bar’s located in the heart of the Sturgis action at 1030 Main Street.

Million Mile Harley at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame
Between its vintage motorcycles and memorabilia, a visit to the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame already comes highly recommended. If you’re a motorcycle history buff, particularly in regards to the Sturgis Rally, then paying a visit to the museum is a must. It packs a lot of history into what used to be an old post office building. And while there are treasures galore inside, be sure to seek out one of the most interesting motorcycles in the collection, Dave Zien’s “Million Mile” 1991 Harley-Davidson FXRT. Any vehicle that lasts a million miles deserves recognition, but to accomplish this feat on one motorcycle makes the feat even more special. The old Harley wears the scars of the road openly, from the frayed tape of its grips to the collection of faded stickers on its windscreen. Zien, a veteran, and former Wisconsin state senator has been inducted into both the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame and the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame for his accomplishments. All of the motorcycle’s travels have been painstakingly documented, and every time he reached another 100,000-mile milestone, Zien logged the date on the side of his topcase below his homemade verse “Gold Wings and BMWs Dream & Weep, This High Mile Harley Ain’t Gonna Sleep.”

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About the Author

Ten days each August, Bryan calls the Black Hills home during the Sturgis Rally. He’s been covering the rally for 10 years thanks to his job as a motorcycle journalist, penning stories for many of the leading magazines. He considers himself very blessed that his job merges two of his passions, riding motorcycles and writing stories. Bryan lives in a small town in Oregon where he and his wife Angelyne raise two kids surrounded by the natural splendors of Oregon.  

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