Friday, April 25, 2008

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Okay here's my first attempt at a photo idea guide for the infamous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It may not be the last because there are so many different aspects to the rally.

This is by far South Dakota's largest tourism event/festival/convention/party. Traditionally held on the first full week of August, the Rally builds for at least a week before and dwindles off rather abruptly at the end of the week.

Upwards of 500,000 motorcycle enthusiasts attend. Keep in mind, this is in a town with a year-round population just over 6,000. For that one week each summer, Sturgis is the largest city in either of the Dakotas. Think of it this way - the entire state of South Dakota's population is only around 780,000 and North Dakota's is 635,000 according the US Census Bureau.

My theory is that there is no event anywhere in the United States where the impact can be seen and felt in a larger radius around the central point. Not Mardi Gras, not the Super Bowl, not the Daytona 500. In early August if you are anywhere within 600 miles of Sturgis I bet you will notice a large amount of motorcycle traffic and Sturgis t-shirts and trinkets for sale in many convenience stores.

I also like to say as you travel around the Black Hills during the rally it feels as if there can't be a motorcycle anywhere else on the planet. It seems that they are ALL here.

So, with that in mind, the photographic opportunities are endless. Where and what do you choose to shoot?

Epicenter for the rally is Main Street Sturgis. Over six blocks are reserved for motorcycle parking only, with two rows down the curbs and two rows down the center of the street. It's more chrome, rubber and leather than you will see in any other place.

Towers are stationed at each end of the street, and a small fee charged to climb to the top for picture taking. You can see one of the towers under the Jack Daniels banner in this shot. A 600mm telephoto lens compresses the mass of humanity and motorcycles into even more congested chaos here.

And the opposite extreme of lens, a fisheye from the top of the tower gives an overall view of Main Street.

A more conventional 24mm wide angle emphasizes the absurd length of this chopper.

You never know what's going to show up next on Main street, from custom bikes to crazy costumes.

As the rally has grown over the years, it has expanded far beyond the boundaries of Sturgis proper. Bikers traveling the highways of the Black Hills make great photos anywhere. Simply choosing a scenic spot and waiting for motorcycles to come by works pretty well.

This is Boulder Canyon, or Highway 14a, between Sturgis and Deadwood. Again, shot with a 600mm lens.

And Highway 79, east of Sturgis with Bear Butte in the background. This was shot out of the back of a moving min-van with the rear hatch open. Not the safest of camera platforms, but it worked.

Here is Highway 87 between Hill City and Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park.

Badlands National Park is a favorite cruise for many rally attendees.

For a little variety from the hordes of bikers, check into special events during the rally. Many motorcycle races and stunt performances are held, some in towns, some at the various campgrounds surrounding Sturgis.

Kaptain Robbie Knievel has successfully completed three spectacular jumps in recent years at the Buffalo Chip Campground. Here he is in 2003 leaping over 100 Harley-Davidson motorcycles parked between his ramps.

This wheelie show was performed in downtown Custer during the 2005 rally.

Freestyle motorcycle jumping shows have grown in popularity and are offered at several venues during rally week. This one was outside the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City.

Concerts, don't forget the concerts! Sometimes I think all the hard rock bands from the '70s and '80s must feel like the Sturgis Rally is actually a family reunion for them. The Glencoe and Buffalo Chip campgrounds east of Sturgis are the leaders in musical entertainment, but there are bands playing all over the Black Hills during that week. Recent performances have included ZZ Top, Tom Petty, Journey, REO Speedwagon, Poison, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Lynrd Skynrd, Def Leppard, etc, etc.

Here are Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and Cheap Trick at the Glencoe's "Rock'n' the Rally" event.

This has been a very brief overview of what you can find at Sturgis. The amount of costumed characters, custom vehicles of all kinds, and outrageous behavior is legendary. Bike building competitions, celebrity appearances, art exhibits, and even machine-gun shoots and professional wrestling have all been part of the rally. There's no way I could cover it all in one post, and probably not in a blog dedicated solely to that.

For more information on specific events and locations check out these links:

Weather during the rally is usually hot - into the 90s or higher. A thunderstorm or two is also not unusual during rally week. A few years ago I remember creeping up Boulder Canyon in a blinding hailstorm as bikers took any refuge they could under trees alongside the road. We actually stopped and offered to let some in our van, but they said it was too late for that and toughed it out in the hail.


Real Live Lesbian said...

I've heard of Sturgis...but your pics brought it to life. Joan Jett?! I've missed her!

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks for posting those pictures, and yes I also believe that the photo opportunities at Sturgis could be amazing and endless. Sturgis sounds like a truly awesome experience. It’s great that all types of people from the moderately interested to hardcore bikers can come together and enjoy a weekend of all things motorcycles.
I just started working for progressive motorcycle insurance and I have become fascinated with the whole motorcycle culture. It’s so cool. Since delving more into the whole “Motorcycle Culture” I have heard nothing but how amazing Sturgis is and I can’t wait to check it out. We’ll be at Thunder Road at Sturgis giving away a FREE Exclusive Sucker Punch Sallys custom-designed T-shirt. All you have to do is visit, go to where it says Events and Rallies and print out the coupon. Present that coupon at our booth at Thunder Road and get your free exclusively designed Sucker Punch Sallys T-shirt , only given away at Sturgis. We’ll also have some other free fun stuff you got to check out, you’ll see once you get there. Oh, and while you’re there you can also enter to win a custom Suck Punch Sally’s bike. It’s an old school beauty.
Are you going to Sturgis this year?
Hope I didn’t over step my bounds by posting on your blog, and if you have any questions or want more info please feel free to shoot me an e-mail!
Hope to see you there. Ride Safe.
Gia Anderson
Brand Ambassador