Survivors guide to Sturgis

August 15, 2017

As promised this blog is how I think you should go about Sturgis so that you maximize your fun without getting killed!

Sturgis Rally is held in the black hills of South Dakota on the first week of August each year. It runs for 10 days and over that period attracts well over 500,000 motorcyclists. The main towns involved are Sturgis, Deadwood, Spearfish, Lead, Belle Fourche, Custer, and Rapid City. Sturgis is obviously the most expensive re accommodation but all surrounding towns are as well. Whether its a camp site, RV site, motel room, Airbnb, or private house rental – for ‘Rally Week’ accommodation generally goes up about triple the normal cost. 95% of revenue for the area is generated by the event.

The first rally was held in 1938 where a group of local Indian Motorcycle riders ran a hill climb contest. The only year the event was not held was 1942 due to gas restrictions (WW2).

I stayed at Carsten Cottages, a small hobby type farm 11 miles outside Lead. This meant it was about a 30 – 40 minute ride to Sturgis. I booked this via the black hills vacation website. I paid roughly $75 USD per night for a spot on the grass to put my tent. The price outside of Rally week is $25 USD. The benefit with this particular place was the kitchen, shower/toilet amenities, space (huge amount of room on the property, and being away from the constant rumble and noise made by Harley riders. The downside is the distance of travel and you are limited re time (unless you want to ride in the dark and take your chances with the deer/drunks).

Make no mistake the noise from the bikes in the towns does not stop and will keep you awake. It is like listening to a loud thunderstorm above your head 24/7. It drives the locals crazy and a lot of them rent their house out and go elsewhere.

It really depends on what type of experience you want to have. It was enough for me to go to Sturgis during the day to have a look around. I wasn’t interested in going to the huge parties at night although there were some excellent bands that were on (George Thorogood, Steve Earle, Ozzy Osborne, etc.) I also never went on the scheduled rides.

Just on the scheduled rides – you put your life in others hands if you want to go on one. Talking to ‘real’ riders most of them steer clear of them. Reason being is that there are a hell of a lot of guys/gals who can’t ride for crap and trailer their bikes to the event and ride around like they are in a scene from Easy Rider (they are commonly known as parade riders). I rode out to see a couple of things and experienced it first hand. Most have no idea of cornering, braking, lean angles, etc. Its scary stuff to be riding among them! I was riding Fred without any luggage and going around most of them and they certainly didn’t like a 600cc dirt bike passing a 1400cc Harley! Now if you think I am over dramatizing the risk, consider this. This years Rally had 8 fatalities and 59 injury accidents. Also there were 161 DUI arrests, 237 drug arrests and 1,084 traffic citations. 2015 was the 75th Anniversary of Sturgis and had over 740,000 people attend the event. The stats for that year are incredible (13 fatalities).

The risk relates to who is actually riding around you as there is a reasonable chance that they are drunk, drugged, or can’t ride! Its not uncommon to see an accident where 1 rider takes out 5. If you want a laugh you only have stand at a intersection and watch them trying to take off or stop.

I should mention that there are many good careful and competent riders that attend the event. Some of these guys do trailer their bikes as they simply do not have the holiday time that allows them to ride their bike (there and back). Talking to these guys there seems to be a trend to come earlier to ride around the hills and then park the bike when the event is on.

Would I go again? Absolutely and I certainly intend to as I had a ball;

I would stay at the same or similar place as I did for this years event. The difference however would be that I arrive 2 weeks before the event starts – this allows for much safer riding and a much cheaper accommodation fee. I would also stay in a cabin/room and not a tent. A couple of weeks sounds like a lot of time but seriously if you haven’t been before you would need that to cover all of the brilliant black hills rides (even then you would miss some).

Once the numbers start increasing (near the event start date) I would move to closer accommodation (3 or more nights) in Deadwood. I found Deadwood to be amazing in its history and what is on offer there. It will be expensive but worth it. You will however only get minimal sleep if noise bothers you. I got the feeling that the more traditional riders like hanging out there. This way you will get to see the night life without the worry about getting back to camp. I had no issues in going to Sturgis during the day time to check it out.

So there it is – like I mentioned before, it really depends on what you want to see, do, and spend your time.


  1. Comment by Donns

    Donns Reply August 15, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Great information Noel. If you’re concerned about you schedule, the date on your blog had been a day ahead since about August 12th. Do you have an extra day!

    • Comment by Noel

      Noel Reply August 15, 2017 at 2:45 am

      Yes but its the current date for Australia.

  2. Comment by Sonia Tiner

    Sonia Tiner Reply August 15, 2017 at 11:12 am

    Excellent information.

    • Comment by Noel

      Noel Reply August 15, 2017 at 12:32 pm

      You say that because I checked with you…ha.

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