Sturgis and Harley Davidson go hand-in-hand.

Photos by Tom Wallace

From August 9-15 in the Black Hills of South Dakota, home to Mount Rushmore and rolling farmland, the small town of Sturgis grows 5 times its actual population with the annual gathering of motorcycle fans from around the continent. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which many people simply call “Sturgis,” reached its 70th Anniversary this year, attracting an estimated 650,000 riders.

Started in 1936 by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, their first rally featured only 9 racers and a small audience of fans. A year later, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally gained its official American Motorcycle Association (AMA) charter, which then provided it with the promotional backing of the AMA. What also makes this rally/event so classic is while the average length of most motorcycle clubs in America lasts about 3 years, the Jackpine Gypsies which is still around, is one of the oldest motorcycle clubs in the country, and they give all profits that they make as a motorcycle club to various charities.

Streets lined with motorcycles during Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 70th Anniversary.

This year, 616 temporary vendor licenses were issued, which by most estimates makes this the largest temporary merch-world in the world. When Label Networks was on site, streets were just getting lined with merch booths, with everyone claiming to be the “official Sturgis T-shirt” merch stand. Sturgis merch, including T-shirts, workwear shirts (which are ever popular), an incredible assortment of accessories from belt buckles to boobie patches, have become an American iconic statement piece. Meaning if you went to Sturgis, or wore a shirt given to you from someone you know who went to Sturgis, you’re a bad-ass American and probably own a motorcycle (or at least know someone who owns a motorcycle).

The event includes of course motorcycle rallies, organized rides through the Black Hills, and motorcycle club meetings, but also mechanical bullriding, a beauty contest, and an intense line-up of music which also tends to attract many top celebrities. This year, Jay Leno (an avid auto and bike buff) made the trip yet again and covered it live starting with Pee-wee Herman’s kick-off at the legendary Buffalo Chip where he led literally tens of thousands of bikers in the “World’s Largest Tequila Dance.”

The rally also featured Guns ‘N Roses who used this event to make their first U.S. appearance in more than nine years. Other musical guests included Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, Motley Crue, and Creedance Clearwater Revival.

In the end, Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is one of those things that you just have to go witness at some point in your life–like the Grand Canyon or Graceland. It’s an American Institution.

The “official” Sturgis T-shirt. Lots of USA flags sold also.

Temporary merch booths line the streets of this small town totalling 616 temporary vendors overall.

Sturgis after the bikers leaves return to it%uFFFDs normal small-town routine, however it%uFFFDs a major vacation destination for campers and RV%uFFFDs.

Mount Rushmore nearby adds to the Americana feel of the motorcycle rallies and organized rides.