If you ride a V-twin and live in North America, you’ve heard of Sturgis, South Dakota. For 77 years, if you believe the mythology, thousands of bikers – 99% of them on bikes are Harleys or want to be Harleys – have made the pilgrimage to Sturgis to not act their age, enjoy the company of others who love bikes, and basically, take a vacation surrounded by biker culture.
Now, I’ve always been a bit of a Doubting Thomas when it comes to legends, but I have enjoyed the times I’ve been to Sturgis. I’m sure I’ll go again, but I won’t ride there like I did last year. In fact, in many ways, the success of the Sturgis Rally, and actually being there, is a good indicator of where this sport and industry is and I’m not convinced that everything is so good.
In the last year, we’ve seen the closing of the Victory brand, Harley is building fewer bikes at a higher profit, and the average age of the riders keeps right on getting older. In the United States, the average rider is 48 and the largest sector of the market? Men, age 51-69.
To be sure, it’s a group with disposable income who are able to travel, so in the short term, big rallies like Sturgis are going to continue to grow and make money hand over fist.
What will it evolve into, though? Sure, it’s kind of a moot point for most of us – what is an annual event going to look like in two decades?
Still, though, you have to wonder – are these the good times or are they long gone? From a vendor’s point of view, having half a million people within spitting distance is a sweet way to make a lot of money. From the point of view of a participant, how can you possibly see everything and experience enough of that much to say that you got the full flavor of an event when it takes place over 10 days?
No matter what, a spectacle like Sturgis is amazing and cannot be described. You have to immerse yourself in it – speak the language of bikes and bikers to be able to understand it.
Sure, there will be some folks there that have never sat on a bike, but they’ll stand out. Come in at 12 and be gone by 4. They won’t look at the newest stuff being sold for performance, they’ll be there to buy a t-shirt. They’ll drink a beer and talk about the bike they almost bought and then get back into their rental car or RV and keep on driving to see Yellowstone or Mount Rushmore and go home to get the kids ready for back-to-school.
Sturgis is, in a lot of ways, a perfect synonym for the motorcycle culture that exists in America. For the other 50 weeks out of the year, it’s under the radar, lurking, and then, finally, it can come out and see the light of day and remind people that riding a bike can be fun and safe. Work hard and play hard. Pay the bills, cut the grass, and then, go out and have a good time.
Now I want to go…