Every year many of us begin the preparation to heading to Sturgis and quickly learn that Sturgis is more than a ride it is an adventure and one that requires preparation and planning. Sturgis Rally is more than just getting on your bike and riding. If you are a new rider or this is your first year going to Sturgis, we have compiled a few tips to get your ready for a great Rally.
Filled with every type of bike imagined, giant parties and too many live concerts to count, it’s quite the experience. Also, it’s one of the few times you’ll see an entire town overrun with motorcycles. Like, the whole dang town. Unreal. When I first attended Sturgis in 2009 it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to experience it, and nothing like I expected.
In 2015, a record 739,000 motorcycles rumbled in from across the nation to attend the 75th-annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Many riders will attend this 79th annual this year and stay away from next year’s 80th, so 2019 will be a monster of an event.
Reserve Your Accommodations Early
Considering that hundreds of thousands of bikes descend upon the Sturgis area each August, it’s not surprising that the most popular accommodations book up quickly. So, it’s important to book your lodging of choice early to guarantee that you’ll have a place to stay in or near Sturgis.
Hotels: They book up fast and are expensive. Need help finding a room? The Sturgis motorcycle rally’s website is one of the best resources for finding campgrounds, hotels and other accommodations in the Sturgis area.
Camp: Don’t Stay in a Hotel
Grabbing a night in a run-of-the-mill hotel, like a Best Western or Holiday Inn could cost you more than your motorcycle is worth. The week can range around in excess of $3,000 depending on the location. It’s not worth it. Places like the Buffalo Chip, Glencoe campground and many others have great campsites and limited cabins. A lot of the real riders don’t stay in the town of Sturgis but surrounding towns like Rapid City or Deadwood, but even then, the rates are normally considerably marked up for Rally.
Do the Maintenance on your Bike
When you prepare your motorcycle, keep in mind the number of miles you will be accumulating on your trip. If you have been putting off getting your maintenance done, make your appointment NOW, as your local dealerships and other shops begin to book up in July and if you need a lot of work done, they might not be able to fit you in. Remember, you may be adding thousands of miles to these fluids in the course of a week. The same applies to your tires, cables, spark plugs, air filter, etc.
The popular, highly accepted standard for motorcycle pre-trip inspection; is the T-CLOCS check list.
Tires and Wheels: Check your tires for tread wear, it is recommended that the tire has at least 50% of its tread. Check for any deep cuts or embedded objects such as stones, etc. In addition, the rear tire will get a flat spot and the front tire will get cupped eventually, this affects the handling ability of your motorcycle. While traveling long distances you may encounter conditions that can become harsh and climates that perhaps you’re not typically exposed to. Heavy rain is highly likely at some point during your trip, it is important that you have good tread for traction in rain conditions.
Check your rims for any dents or cracks. If you have spoke wheels, make sure they are tight and straight. A loose spoke can cause a slight wobble in your wheel and/or damage to spoke, rim and hub.
Cables and Controls: Check your brake, clutch, throttle, and shifter. Your clutch should operate smoothly. Your brakes should be firm and hold the bike from movement. Visually check all cables for any wear or frays, if you detect any problems they should be replaced. Check your brake pads for enough pad thickness, use a flashlight if necessary, to see without removing calipers.
Lights: Check your headlight, tail light, brake light, and turn signals every time you ride. If you have an additional load from camping gear, clothing, etc. . . and/or are traveling with a passenger, check the clearance under the rear fender. It is possible that the wiring can rub the tire; this will cause a break in the wire.
Oils and Fluids: Change your fluids according to your maintenance schedule. Check the levels of your fluids prior to your road trip. Consult your owner’s manual for proper levels.
Check your battery: If you have a battery that uses water, check the water levels. If you have a HD battery it is sealed and there is not any maintenance to be performed, other than ensuring the terminals are clean. Unless you have a REALLY old HD battery. In that case, you might want to replace your battery anyway.
Chassis: Inspect the chassis for cracks at gussets and accessory mounts. Check the steering for smoothness by turning the handlebars through the full operating range. Test the suspension for smooth, damped movement, and be sure to adjust it according to the load you’re carrying and your riding style, consult your owner’s manual. Harley-Davidson recommends for high-mileage bikes, that you inspect the drive belt and sprockets. Check all the fasteners for tightness. DO NOT tighten above manufacturer recommend torque ratings. Be sure you consult your owner’s manual for correct torques.
Sidestand (Kickstand): Check your kickstand for tension to be sure it remains in the up position when not in use. It is useful to bring a metal plate or piece of wood for the kickstand to rest on; you may encounter mud or extremely hot asphalt which will allow your kickstand to sink.
Give Your Bike a Pre-trip ride
If you do decide to take or ride your own bike to Sturgis, make sure to conduct the pre-ride checkup and you should also consider taking your iron horse out for a day ride to make sure that everything is running smoothly. I just had a rider who spent $1,500.00 to have a dealership get their bike tuned up, and 100 miles into another state the bike broke down. The costs he incurred including towing, hotel and the stress of trying to find another dealership to fix the repairs he had made cost him an additional couple thousand dollars.
Ride or Trailer?
The weather in the South Dakota area can be very fickle in August and, depending on where you live, it could be a very long ride to Sturgis. If you have never made that long of a ride, you might want to considering hauling or trailering it yourself.
While many will tell you, you didn’t do Sturgis if you didn’t ride there, when camping and wanting any level of comfort while camping, trailering allows you to pack with all the essentials that you will need. Forgetting things and buying them there, can really be costly, so if cost is an issue… make sure you bring it with you
Gas Stations and other services can be few and far between on the roads in and leading up to South Dakota. So, it’s important not to play chicken with your gas tank. To be safe, top off your gas tank whenever it gets to be about half empty.
Follow the Rules of the Road
The police force in town seem to make their bonuses during this week – often camped between the bars on the outskirts of town, like Full Throttle and Buffalo Chip, where it’s a 35-mph speed limit. They’re in heavy force looking for drunk riders and speeders.
Don’t even roll through a stop sign or run 5 mph over the speed limit unless you want to take home a souvenir from the cops. Make sure that you don’t ROLL thru stop signs and NOT put both feet down before going thru. Also, it is important to know that if you receive a ticket or fine during Sturgis, Law Enforcement will require you to pay the ticket/fine right there on the spot.
Last and most important, don’t drink and drive! Enjoy your ride and then pop a cold one when you get back to camp or your hotel. If you do have drinks while you are riding, call a cab, use the bus transportation, but please don’t try to ride your bike back to camp. Many of the biker bars in Sturgis understand wanting to have fun and will help you get home safe and sound. Also remember that the Sturgis police department will tow your bike on main street if it is left past 3am, but you will want to look for the signs to be sure.
Watch Your Money
Everything in Sturgis costs money. Everything. If you want to explore any of the numerous state and national parks you can expect to pay admission (these parks offer great scenery, so you may want to consider getting an annual pass – especially in the case of national parks). The Crazy Horse Memorial, which has grown in popularity over the years, also charges admission but is worth the admission and the Crazy Horse center provides a lot of information and an opportunity to cool off on a hot day.
Not a Harley-Davidson Only Event Anymore
Sturgis once had a reputation for being a Hogs-only event. And while most of the motorcycles at this rally are still Harleys, bikes from other manufacturers are showing up in larger numbers than before. If you own an Indian or a Kawasaki, you don’t have to leave your bike at home in order to enjoy the festivities
The roads leading up to Sturgis go past and through some of the West’s most iconic and beautiful sites. So, if you can, make sure to leave time for side trips to:
- The Black Hills and The Badlands
- Mount Rushmore
Better Safe than Sorry
If you are planning on riding to Sturgis, you should:
- Make sure to keep loved ones up to date on your planned itinerary and check in with them daily.
- Consider getting trip insurance to cover you in case your vacation to Sturgis has to be interrupted or canceled.
- Invest in motorcycle roadside assistance coverage. BikerDown has a 35.00 per year membership that includes motorcycle roadside from a motorcycle towing company.
- Call your motorcycle insurance company and make sure you understand the coverages that you have and decide if you need to up your policy to include un-insured motorist and under-insured motorist. Accidents happen and you will be riding next to or around thousands of riders who aren’t local, and you will need to make sure that in the event of an accident that YOU have the coverages to keep you safe in the event of an accident
Be Road Wary
Certain roads around the Sturgis Rally have earned deadly reputations, including:
- Highway 14A, between Sturgis and Deadwood.
- Nemo Road, between Sturgis and Rapid City
- Highway 85, between Spearfish and Deadwood
Be especially wary if you are planning on traveling through or near any national parks, such as Custer State Park or Yellowstone, as you could encounter many large animals, including bison and elk, on the roads.
Lastly, and most importantly, HAVE FUN and enjoy the Ride!