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.