History of the Sturgis Bike Rally

Motorcycling History

The Sturgis Rally, the single biggest motorcycle event in the world, drawing in close to a half a million bikers each August, has helped the small South Dakota town to become known as "Motorcycle City USA." In contrast to today’s annual turn-out, the rally’s beginnings were humble-to say the least.

In 1938 a local Sturgis motorcycle enthusiast, J.C. "Pappy" Hoel, founded the Black Hills Classic. The rally began life as a race with just nine motorcycles showing up. In the years since it has grown into an iconic motorcycle gathering as well as a major tourist event for the state.

Founded in 1878, the town of Sturgis sits just off I-90 (exits 30 and 32 to be exact). It was a boomtown catering to off-duty U.S. Cavalry soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Meade (how’s that for a bloodline of partying and good times relevant to today’s biker culture?). Sturgis was named after Ft. Meade’s commander, Colonel Samuel D. Sturgis.

Each summer since the original 1938 rally, the sleepy little town-with a population of 7,000-is descended upon by hundreds of thousands of bikers from all over the world.

Although the founding element of racing is still alive at the Sturgis event, with two half-mile dirt track races, four short-track races, and two hill climbs, the majority of attendees come for the awe-inspiring gathering of motorcycles, chrome and characters on Main Street, as well as taking part in the nine-day event’s various activities and tours.

The Sturgis event has had its troubles over the years, with incidents small and large that threatened to cast a negative shadow over the event. However, the Rally has survived and today is welcomed by the locals as a vital tourism event that bolsters the local and State economies.

The rally’s rich history can be traced at the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. Traditionally the weather is hot and sunny in August in that part of the country, making for perfect motorcycle riding.

Further Exploring the History of Sturgis…

Fort Meade Fort Meade Cavalry Museum: The fort today is home to Fort Meade Museum, many original buildings, parade grounds and a Veterans Administration Hospital.  History buffs who want to experience the days when Fort Meade was a frontier cavalry post should make sure they stop by the historic Fort Meade Cavalry Museum to learn more about the history and the culture of military life in the late 1800s. The museum is opened mid-May through August, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily; located two miles east of Sturgis on State Hwy. 34.

Bear Butte State Park: Visitors will learn the geological story of this almost-volcano; its role as a pioneer landmark; and its continuing role as a holy mountain and founding place of religion for several tribes of Plains Indians. From here, a two-mile trail makes the climb to the summit, the first trailhead of the 111-mile, Black Hills Centennial Trail. Summer hours at the Education Center are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame: Home to an ever-growing variety of motorcycles, from vintage classics to modern customs. On display are a large selection of American and metric bikes dating form 1905 that are on loan from private individuals. Also featured are exhibits, photographs, memorabilia, and Sturgis Motorcycle Rally History. The museum is open year around.

Record Crowd: 400,000 attended the 50th Black Hills Motor Classic in 1990.