The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is an annual American tradition that has been going on for 78 years in Sturgis, South Dakota. This celebration started in 1938 and is usually held during the first two weeks of August. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was founded by Clarence “Pappy” Hoel, and was intended for motorcycle enthusiasts to spectate and participate in stunt shows and races. Hoel had purchased an Indian Motorcycle Franchise in Sturgis, South Dakota two years prior to his founding the Sturgis Rally event and also established the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club that same year.
"Pappy" remained an integral part of the Sturgis Rally for five decades. He worked to expand the rally offerings to incorporate different motorcycle events and competitions. "Pappy" is also famous for standing up to the Sturgis city leaders that opposed the increased presence of “outlaws” within state borders during the Sturgis Rally. Motorcyclists gained the unfortunate reputation of being outlaws starting from the 1950’s with the advent and rise of criminal motorcycle gangs including the Hells Angels in 1960.
The former president of the AMA (American Motorcycle Association) in the in the late 1960’s, coined the termed “1 percenter”, in a public relations effort to redeem the status of motorcyclists as law-abiding citizens. He declared that only 1 percent of the motorcycling community were involved in the criminal, and outlaw motorcycle gang subculture activity. Regardless of public perception, “Pappy” believed that the majority of motorcyclists were good, law-abiding and revenue-generating citizens.
The Jackpine Gypsies motorcycle club and non-profit organization, held the first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on August 14, 1938. The first event was called the “Black Hills Classic” and sources state that nine racers and 200 spectators attended the event, and the number of attendees quadrupled the following year.
The Jackpine Gypsies still currently own and operate the tracks and field areas used for the racing and stunt events during the Sturgis Rally. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has grown to become one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world, and had the highest attendance in 2015, with 729,000 motorcycle enthusiasts showing up to the event.
Sturgis, South Dakota with a population of only 6,627 has experienced a significant surge in the local economy as a result of the success of the motorcycle rally. The city of Sturgis has calculated that the rally brings over $800 million to South Dakota annually and makes up 95% of the city's annual revenue.
The Lakota, and other nearby Native American tribes have protested the high quantity of alcohol distribution as well as the disruption of sacred land, bearing religious importance on Bear Butte, by the Sturgis Rally. The Lakota and other Native American Plains tribes use these mountains for fasting, praying and holding religious ceremonies. The tribes have attempted to prevent development on Bear Butte land and had gained the support of Governor Mike Rounds to deter biker bars and other potentially disruptive businesses from developing on sacred land. Rounds proposed using state, federal and private money to preserve the beauty and peace of the Native American religious site. Despite the opposition, the Native American tribes also acknowledged that income from the Sturgis Rally event was important to the region and also benefits members of the tribes.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally now welcomes motorcycle riders and aficionados from all over the world and this behemoth event shows no signs of slowing down or decreasing in size. The Sturgis Rally is an economic engine that drives state tourism, along with the presence of other well-known national monuments including the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments. Every August in the Black Hills of South Dakota, multitudes of motorcyclists from all over the world will flock to see the races and shows in Sturgis, where the streets are teeming with leather, tattoos, pasties and motorcycles of all different origins. As stated by many that have joined the celebration, this is truly a one of kind, unique event that showcases the American motorcyclist tradition at the height of its glory.