Sturgis Motorcycle Rally – Touring The Week BeforeThe 2015 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota has kicked off, and I’ve already returned home from my visit. I am not partial to crowds nor do I like waiting and mingling with lots of strangers in close quarters. Little wonder why I’ve never been to Mardi Gras or the Sturgis Rally, notwithstanding all the great stories I have heard.My pal King lives in Sturgis and says it’s Mayberry 51 weeks a year. He has invited me more than once to visit and sample the air, the great roads and majestic scenery, yet the opportunity to visit has been elusive – until now. But there’s a catch. King rents his place, for two weeks, to one of the big vendors at the rally for their employee housing. He’s got to clear out a few days before the festivities begin at the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, so if I want to visit the Rally, and have a free bunk, it would require my attendance during the last weeks of July – and that is just fine with me.
This invitation, the concurrent postponement of another tip leading to an opening in my schedule, and the thought of visiting Sturgis and riding the Black Hills before the crowds choke up all the great roads was all I needed to start packing and leave on one day’s notice. The fact that Honda’s 2015 Gold Wing F6B Deluxe is sitting in my garage, has cruise control, is gassed and ready to go clinches the deal.A quick check of the weather from the Los Angeles area to South Dakota shows that temperatures will be warm to hot with no cold, but precipitation is looming. We had a short but frog-throttling rain here just two nights before departure with more in the forecast. I’ll wear Held’s handsome Camaris/Ravero suit, pack the Gore-Tex liner/rainsuit and wear their Air Stream II gloves with Dainese’s Course Air Out boots and Schuberth’s C3 Pro helmet. I like the way the boots feel and don’t mind getting my feet wet if rain does come my way (it does but the Gold Wing lower fairing keeps them dry). I’ve got room on the F6B to stash a Dainese Air Fraser full-mesh jacket and evaporative vest if things really heat up, and they will.It turns out that Sturgis, and its environs of Rapid City, Deadwood and Lead (say “Leed”), and ever further away, are chock full of tourists and vendors are rapidly setting up if they are not already open for business. The gorgeous new Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle buildings downtown were crawling with workers trying to put the finishing touches on the construction by the start of the Rally on August 1. Four days later it appeared as though they did finish in time. Yet with all the people there are no crowds, traffic or lines anywhere and it’s a perfect balance of enough people to make things interesting.By now, T minus about 10 days, the town’s vendor areas are either close to being set up or completed, yet Main Street, famous for photographs of bikes lining both sides of the street and down the middle, is still full of cars and diagonal parking. Along Main Street all of the shops are open and ready. I’ve heard that half of these shops are empty for 11 months a year. This Sturgis Motorcycle Rally period is the town’s whole economic year.I’m told that during the Rally, for example, the 10-minute ride from Sturgis to the Buffalo Chip can take an hour and a half. When we rode through Spearfish Canyon, the parking area at Bridal Veil Falls observation area had a dozen bikes and cars, and was fairly empty given its length. King tells me the during bike week one might creep along in congested traffic for half an hour just to get a spot to park a bike and view the falls and the traffic is bumper-to-bumper.The Black Hills Badlands routes and destinations live up to their reputation as simply amazing to ride and experience. They are perfect for cruisers and bikes that do their best at 70-80 mph and below, to match to tempo of these roads. The nature of the long sweepers would make these great sport bike roads, too, but the speed attainable might land one in jail quickly.I’m warned that riders might get away with excessive speed in the spring or fall but not during bike week and the weeks before and after. I am also warned that this area may be the full stop capitol of the world. No rolling touch-and-go stops are tolerated here and some offenses require immediate cash payments or off to the hoosegow goes the offender. And since the area is replete with state, county and city thoroughfares they are patrolled by every combination of state trooper, regular and part-time police. Come here to have fun but keep your cool. After 74 years of these rallies law enforcement has pretty well figured out what it takes to keep everyone in harness, and in their clothing.So the choice is yours. Come early for small crowds and open roads. Come during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for the insane number of people, long lines, snarled roads but lots of interesting happenings and camaraderie.The roads around the Black Hills are some of the cleanest and smoothest I’ve seen anywhere, many with new surfaces. We ride the lovely Vanocker Canyon to Nemo on my first day then circle back through Bear Butte and through Deadwood then pickup sushi for dinner at a Korean restaurant. This was risky and not exactly like being in Tokyo.Our next day and ride took us out in Spearfish Canyon past Bridal Veil Falls, all of which is stunning. Temperatures range from 75 to high 80s depending on the route and the area averages about 5,000 feet altitude. It’s hottest in town, with plenty of 90+ days, and Deadwood and Lead are cooler and cool to visit. Did you know that gambling and casinos are legal in South Dakota? They’re right on Main Street in some towns, like Deadwood, a town etched in American history and lore.Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer discovered gold in the Black Hills in 1874 and Wild Bill Hickok was shot in the back of the head in Saloon #10 in Deadwood. Colorful stuff and it keeps modern tourists coming in droves.On our last big riding day we managed to visit all the major monuments including Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial and Devil’s Tower in nearby Wyoming. We covered 330 miles, spent 10 hours in the saddle and stayed on two-lane roads exclusively. This would not be possible during Rally Week and was well worth the time spent and the exhaustion we felt upon returning home. I’d always wanted to see these historic sights and to do so in one loop, that King calls his secret local’s ride, was simply breathtaking. He said he’s been planning the route in his head for some time and I was lucky enough to test it out with him.There are probably only 90-100 frost-free days a year in these parts. No matter when you choose to visit I wholeheartedly recommend you make it a priority.