STURGIS, S.D. — They’re here. They’re there. They’re … well, you know the rest.
The 61st annual Sturgis motorcycle rally officially begins Monday, and arriving bikers are spread throughout the region. Sturgis is not large enough for the whole crowd, although hundreds of thousands have managed to squeeze in each year for at least brief periods.
For the week, Sturgis is all about beautiful, gleaming Harley-Davidsons and other motorcycles. Blocks-long rows of bikes decorate the main drag each day, as motorcyclists seek to see and be seen.
The spectacle is ever-changing and sometimes downright bawdy. Scantily clad women are common. Scruffy and well-groomed bikers ride one after another.
Rally officials estimated about 650,000 people attended the 2000 rally, based on state Department of Transportation counters showing that 773,538 vehicles entered Sturgis over an eight-day period. This year’s rally is expected to draw fewer people, since the 2000 rally was the "new millennium" and the 60th anniversary of the Sturgis classic. There are no such milestones this year.
"Our sense is it will be a little softer this year," said Ronda Oman, director of Champion Rally Productions, which manages the rally for the city of Sturgis. Lon Nordbye, promotions manager at Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City and Sturgis, agreed.
"Last year was the granddaddy of them all, so we don’t think we’re going to be there," Nordbye said. "Estimates we’re getting are in the 350,000 to 450,000 range."
That’s still a lot of people for western South Dakota, and the overflow from the event is an economic bonanza for Black Hills businesses that seem to sprout from around every corner.
People are arriving earlier each year, said Carol Hallock, owner of Town N’ Country Plumbing in Sturgis. Many come early and leave early to avoid the throngs.
"A lot of people want to experience the rally, but they don’t want to experience the traffic," she said.
J.D. Weaver of Palm Springs, Calif., who had traveled 1,380 miles on his motorcycle since Tuesday and spent Thursday night in Newcastle, Wyo., was planning to make the final jaunt to Sturgis on Friday. It will be his first trip there, he said as his girlfriend, Penny Reid, was getting ready for the ride.
"We’re going to lollygag for about four or five days in the Black Hills, and then we’ll hit the road again," Weaver said.
Such a long trip is an adventure, he said.
"It’s the ride itself, and hearing other people say it’s something you need to do," Weaver said.
Hallock moves all the plumbing equipment to the back of the store for 11 days each year to cash in on the rally. She has done so for the last 15 years, turning the store into an espresso bar that also features sandwiches and ice cream.
Many of the visitors are more upscale than ever before, Hallock said. "They definitely have more money to spend."
Not all of them look it. Although he has nothing against shiny, new bikes, Steve Forster of Springfield, Minn., admittedly has a downright homely motorcycle. Rusted almost uniformly, it is draped in all sorts of welded-on paraphernalia — such as an old lunch box and a faucet handle.
"I wanted a bike that I didn’t have to wash," he said, bike backed up to the curb, smoking a cigarette and watching the traffic. "You wouldn’t know it, but I own a body shop. I just wanted a bike I could jump on and ride."
His Harley was made in 1946 and runs just fine despite its appearance, Weaver insisted.
And what’s he call his bike? "I call it ugly."
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