Sturgis traffic — Five traffic lessons

Sturgis 2004

There it is, Sturgis, 2004, about sundown, Main Street.  I wasn’t sure how things were gonna turn out this year, but I was willing to try.   It became my most expensive rally trip ever.

Usually I figger for a week at the Sturgis rally, I’ll need $1,000 in my pocket, $1,000 in my checking account at $1,000 open credit.  Hopefully I won’t spend all that, but it’s good to have. Just in case.

However, that year, $3,000 was not enough.  I spent about $20,000.  THAT oughta deliver a good rally experience. Right?

Well at least it’ll be a good ride. I admit,  the $20,000 wasn’t all mine.  I borrowed it from the Credit Union to buy sight-unseen a 2005 FLRCI – Road King Classic.  Yep, bought it right off the show room floor in Bismarck.  Hadn’t even seen it, bought it over the phone from my home 150 miles north.

New bike/burned out hill

Three days later I got to Bismarck and took delivery of the two-tone blue machine.  I rode it back home to New Town, so I could put on the pack and head to Sturgis.

On my old bikes, I rarely put on more than 6,000 miles a year.  Little did I know how things would change when I swung my leg up over that Road King and headed to Sturgis.

In my journal of that August night of 2004 I wrote, “It is so nice to ride! I had no concept of the way new bikes rode. Ya know though, I still miss my (1978) Shovel(head).”

It was just an emotional whim because there is no practical way that shovelhead could ride as nice with as much power as this Road King.  I loved the ride down there to the rally.  No complaints. No breakdowns. No stalled engines. No sore tailbone.

On the way down when we stopped, I’d joyfully brag, “Wow!  This cruise control really helps.”

“Man! I had no idea what a difference a windshield could make!”

“I love being able to stretch out my legs!”

My partner had the low-rider she had just bought the fall after our tense Sturgis ride last year.  A new bike didn’t make her that much happier than the year before, and she definitely wasn’t about to enter in to my joy.  She let me know she was suffering with a lesser machine.  (Years later after we went our separate ways,  she got her own Road King.)

We got past the traditional rounds of my riding partner’s buttock-reducing attitude that first day. We headed down Highway 85 to Belle Fourche and set up camp at Bobby Whitlock’s campground.  By 4:00 that afternoon we were riding again, this time from B.F. to Hulett, Wy. for supper and a couple of the world’s most expensive Sloppy Joes: $16 for the two of us to eat a couple of messy burgers.

I guess maybe it was the atmosphere I was paying for and not just the food. There was plenty of atmosphere.  Sight, sound, smell, dust of millions of dollars of machines.  Heck if there were only 10 bikes they’d be worth $150,000.  But there were hundreds to make the environment for my expensive sloppy sandwiches.    Probably three or four million-dollars worth.

We got such a late start that day and it was late when we got to Hulett; it wasn’t long before things started quieting down.  The evening’s coolness was settling in on the riders.  So, when the steady stream of motorcycles let up a bit in the evening, we headed back to our tent. We figgered we needed to turn in early because it had been a long day of riding – besides the excitement of the rest of the week would mean we’d need our strength, and that meant getting ready for the concerts.

The music that year included ZZ Top. That’s one reason we moved our camp the next day from Belle Fourche to Sturgis and found a place at Lamphere Campground.  It’s just a couple miles east of Sturgis nestled in the same neighborhood as the Full Throttle Saloon, Glencoe Campground and the Truck stop travel center.   We thought the move would  mean fighting less traffic.

Wrong. Actually it was the opposite – traffic was worse!

Descending down to Main Street

It’s not just traffic that can be a strategic nightmare, but parking, too.  It turns out that was easier to conquer than traffic jams.  We learned a stress-free technique. Up the hill to the south from One Eyed Jacks is an old brick schoolhouse. The parking lot and playground become a supervised parking lot for bikes.  The local Spanish/French/German/Pig Latin classes charge $5 to park your bike in their lot.  It’s worth it.

What’s even better is that getting there is a cinch, too.  Avoid the hassles of Main Street and Lazelle by shun-piking around the east and south sides of Sturgis through the residential districts.

Here’s Lesson #1 – explore the residential streets but be careful at intersections. Park at least 2 blocks up the hill from Main Street in secure parking.  You pay for it, but it’s worth it.

During the day the bike congestion is a bit less because people are out riding the Black Hills. The evening is a different story; come concert time, the traffic is intense.

That’s where Da Bus is a good thing. Da Bus is a fleet of used beat up school buses that make allegedly scheduled stops downtown and at the area campgrounds including our new home for the week, Lamphere.

That night we walked out of Lamphere to where Da Bus was to pick up riders.  We waited.  Then we waited some more.

Then we waited even more.

Every bus that stopped was one headed to town, not out to the Chip.  The bus headed to the Chip kept forgetting to stop to get us.

We’d already paid the $70 dollars apiece for the concert tickets, but we couldn’t get there unless Da Bus stopped.  Other bus drivers would stop and find out we were waiting for the ride to The Chip, and they’d call dispatch to let them know.

We waited. Then we waited. We waited and waited more.

Cop stares me down

Cops hassle biker

I got bored and almost got in trouble. Cops were hassling a biker over at the gas station.  Somehow the cops got the idea that it was a bad thing for me to take photos of them doing their “doody.”  I stood my ground. I was in a public place photographing a public event.

Technically, I was on gas station property.

The owner came over and asked me to stop taking photos of the cop hassling the biker.  So, I complied.

Finally a bus stopped, we got to the Chip to hear the last four songs.  That was all the time I had to capture as good as picture as I could.

To make up for the bad service the night before, Da Bus let us ride free the next day and even that night when we went out to see the Beach Boys.

Lesson #2 Da Bus is a good way to get around, but don’t expect timely or consistent service.

Lesson #3 Gotta be somewhere by a certain time? Leave early, and don’t plan to schedule your day around the Da Bus.

The next day I felt more bonded to the powerful new Road King.  So my riding partner climbed on board instead of riding her own and we headed out to Wall, SD — specifically to the South Dakota Badlands.That actually turned out to be a good run.  She and I could converse and share the moment.  I guess for me, that was when I had one of those “Ah-ha” moments.  It occurred to me that much of her tension was because she was stressed by the traffic when riding her own bike.  She was just taking it out on me.  The more I could do to relieve her stress, the more of my buttocks would remain intact with my body.

Lesson #4 if you’re comfortable, double up riding partners on one bike to reduce the traffic hassles.

She about got herself killed, though.  She got off the bike to snap this photo. She was so caught up in the moment she walked right across the highway without looking.

Bikes honked.

People yelled.

Tires squealed.

Lesson #5 You’ve got as good a chance getting killed as a pedestrian as you do a rider.  Like your mom said, “Look both ways before you cross the street.”

(Oh, this note:  See Lesson #4 up there, “Look both ways before you cross the street?”  She didn’t learn her lesson.  A couple years after we went our separate ways, she got nailed by an off duty cop riding the highways during the Sturgis rally. She walked right out in front of him. She got messed up pretty bad, but she lived.)

After the Badlands, we got back to civilization early enough to head out to the Chip for the Beach Boys.   The Brrrrr….Beach Brrrrrr….. Boys.  Man it was cold.  These surfer dudes were out on stage all cloaked in with hoodie sweatshirts pulled up around their heads.  That night, it got down to 22 degrees at Custer.

22 degrees. In a tent. In the Black Hills.

Not good.

If the heat don’t git ya, the cold will.

If the traffic don’t git ya the parking will.

And if you’re hoofing it — look both ways.

Can you relate?  What kind of experiences like that have you had with rally traffic?

5 Responses to “Sturgis traffic — Five traffic lessons”

  1. Awesome blog! You tell it in such an interesting and precise way that I could envision it every step of the way. Keep writing! Looking forward to reading more!

  2. It’s like I was there!! You are awesome. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Thank you so much for the info, Im taking my first ride this year on my 883 iron and i wasnt sure what i was getting myself into, now i know, IM GOING!

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