August 3 through 9, 2015 is the 75th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Over a million motorcyclists will descend on this small town; the largest assembly of motorcycle enthusiasts in the world. I stopped by Rally Headquarters, hoping to snatch a few moments with the organizers to talk about tomorrow. Tammy Bohn and her rally gals spent over an hour with me, explaining the details of this mammoth event, its impact on Sturgis, how it evolved and will continue to evolve in the future.
JC ‘Pappy’ Hoel organized the first rally in 1938. 200 motorcyclists came to Sturgis to ride through the Black Hills in high summer. The Jackpine Gypsies Cycle Club sponsored the event, with a few lost years during World War II, until the 1980’s, when the Sturgis Rally had grown so large the city took it over. Tammy and the other three rally organizers are actually part of the City of Sturgis ‘Rally Department’. They work out of City Hall.
When I arrived Tammy was in the middle of a phone call with one of the events many suppliers. A few moments of eavesdropping helped me fathom the complexity of coordinating crowd barricades, snow fencing, dirt hauling, ambulance procedures, medical supplies, grandstands, and trash hauling. When Tammy got off the phone she explained it was for only one smallish activity. This is what Tammy does all day, every day – work out the details no one much considers so people can roll into town for a good time.
Which is what biking enthusiasts do, not only for Rally Week, but all year long in Sturgis. Between May and December, Sturgis will host 31 events, most centered on two-wheeled vehicles. Road bikes, off-road bikes, bicycles, motocross – they each have special rallies. There’s even a few events for four wheeled machines like Volksmarch and a Camaro Rally. As Tammy puts it, “We know how to host over a half million people. We have the campgrounds and motels and event spaces. We also have incredible rides through the Black Hills. We can make a unique four to five day experience. Since we know how to run these, we might as well run many.”
I ask Tammy what makes Sturgis so special. “People meet up here for fun times. It’s an America we don’t get to see anymore. We all puts aside our differences and enjoy ourselves. The gangs know that when in Sturgis, there is no trouble. Everyone here is passionate about riding, and that is what brings us together.”
The rally defines Sturgis, and is also a significant part of the city’s budget. The city puts out $1.5 million to run the annual rally, but it’s a worthwhile expenditure and the city’s claim to fame. Tammy admits that the rally used to be a drain on the city, but Sturgis’ new city manager operates the city – and the rally – in the black.
Tammy is a natural party planner. Before I leave she stuffs my panniers with Sturgis goodies, gathers me with her staff for a group photo, gives me a warm hug and wishes me Godspeed. She wants me to come back in September for the Grand Fondo, Sturgis’ road bike rally through the Black Hills. I wish I could loop back for that.
When I leave City Hall and pedal through downtown, Tammy’s report of the positive economic impact of the Sturgis Rally is evident. A new plaza is being built for this years anniversary rally, and every third store is undergoing improvements in advance of August 3.
How will we live tomorrow?
“When we look at the world and our country and our politics, we just want to have a great time. That’s why people come to Sturgis, where everything is fun and everyone gets along.”