The 75th anniversary next year of the world’s biggest motorcycle rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota is expecting to attract one million riders.
And that means that a lot of riders have not attended this year, holding off to attend the special anniversary in 2015.
While officials are saying the crowd will be 450,000 this year, local businesses and residents are saying it hasn’t been this quiet in years. Motel owners also still have vacancy signs out, which is very rare during the rally.
However, if you are thinking of coming next year, you’d better be quick. Our accommodation in nearby Spearfish is already booked out for 2015.
The rally is centred on Sturgis, but the fun and actiopn isn’t restricted to the small town of 7000.
Bikers fill up motels, campsites within a 100km radius and further through the stunning Black Hills. Towns such as Deadwood, Custer and Hill City are so alive with bikers, they close off the main streets for motorcycle traffic and parking only. These other towns are alive with bars, live music, gift shops, parties and Harley merchandise shops.
And the myriad canyon rides through the spruce and pine forest of the Black Hills attract riders away from the trade stalls and massive bars of Sturgis.
Here, it’s nice to be on roads where bikes are the dominant species.
While the roads are wide, winding and smooth, there are so many motorcycles, it’s difficult to get stuck in for a spirited ride. In fact, most riders cruise along at 5-10mph under the speed limit, taking in the views and stopping at the many quaint country cafes, diners and bars along the route.
Unfortunately, there are still crashes. Emergency services expect daily calls to jump from 5 to more than 20. There were six deaths last year and already one rider has died. Thursday for some reason is the worst – it’s known as Black Thursday. From 1994-2013, 147 people have died.
However, the local paper reports that as the riders attending the rally are getting older, emergency services are treating people more for heart attacks, strokes diabetes and dehydration, than for road trauma.
The Black Hills Life Flight service picks up crash victims from remote areas, but also had to pick up a biker one year who was gored by a buffalo while riding in Custer State Park.
Hospital casualty wards report they get a lot of head injuries because almost no one wears a helmet here as the state only requires riders under 21 to wear a helmet. We have looked very conspicuous as part of the 1% who wear helmets when we ride.
Police say bike crashes are caused by tricky roads, the high volume of traffic, a mix of big pick-up trucks and small bikes, alcohol, unfamiliar roads, inexperience and inattention because they’re here for a good time, not to watch what they are doing.
Surprisingly, speed is not listed as a big factor, but that’s probably because most riders are just out cruising.