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A History of the Sturgis Rally

A History of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally - About the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and Sturgis.com

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is the largest motorcycle rally in the world. It is held annually in the Black Hills and in Sturgis, South Dakota for 10 days during the first week of August. You can register for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to get your ride pin, souvenirs and free welcome packet at Sturgis.com. It is also where you will find answers to all things Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It is the original online “Official Home of the Sturgis Rally” and remains the most up to date comprehensive guide for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Find the best places to visit and events you do not want to miss. Follow our Sturgis blog and sign up for the newsletter for Sturgis Rally opportunities, updates and support during your Sturgis Rally planning

 What is the Sturgis Rally?

Motorcycles, Friends, Entertainment.

Ride. You will experience the best riding in the world. We’re a true riders’ rally.

Rally. You will meet and connect with people from all areas of the globe and all walks of life who share a common love for motorcycles.

Rock. You will live your life to the fullest through powerful live experiences such as concerts and other entertainment.


What is different about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally from other rallies:

We are the largest motorcycle rally in the world

We have the best riding roads in the world

We are the first rally to pair motorcycles with world-class concerts and entertainment

How did the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begin?

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was started by local Indian dealer Pappy Hoel in 1938. Since its beginning, private area businesses throwing events such as races, concerts, and rides have made, and continue to make, the Sturgis Rally what it is today. 2021 will mark the 81st annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It continues to be organized and promoted by many private businesses and municipalities across the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota.

What was the original name of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally?

The first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was named the “Black Hills Classic.” Over the years it has also been promoted as the “Black Hills Motorcycle Rally”, “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally“, “Sturgis Bike Rally”, “Sturgis Rally”, and simply “Sturgis”.

What is the History of the Sturgis Rally?

See the historic timeline of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally below.

What was the first year of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally?
(August 12-14, 1938) The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally started in 1938. It was originally called the Black Hills Classic. It had organizational help from the local Sturgis businessmen. There were 9 racers for that Saturday. 8 Indian bikes and 1 Harley. The over-all named champion was Johnny Spiegelhoff.
Pappy Hoel crashed through a ‘burning wall’ which became a common practice for many future Sturgis Rallies.

So why is 2021 the 81st Rally? (The numbers don’t add up!) 
The newly formed JackPine Gypsies advertised the ‘1st Annual Rally’ in 1938, but they had unofficial races and gathering in ’37.  In 1946, just after WWII, they started counting the unofficial/unorganized rally gathering from ’37 to make the Rally numbers match the given year. 
So ’37, ’38, ’39, ’40, ’41 were the first 5 years. When the Rally resumed in 1946, it was the 6th Annual Rally.

Did anyone die at the 1st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally?
One person died at the first Sturgis Rally. Edward Borron slid into a guard rail in Boulder Canyon and died the next morning after riding home to Rapid City after the accident.

The 3rd Annual Black Hills Classic Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 11-13, 1939) The third Sturgis Rally had 55 riders participate in the Black Hills Tour from Sturgis to Mt Rushmore (followed by a Dutch Lunch), The Needles Highway, the State Game Lodge, sylvan lake. Johnny Spieglehoff was again named Black Hills Speed Champion.

1942 – 1945
The Jackpine Gypsies cancelled the Sturgis Rally due to WWII and related gas rationing.

The 4th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 16-18, 1940) This was the first year printed T-shirts (all maroon colored) advertising the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally were sold.

The 5th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 1-3, 1941) Pearl Hoel spoke at the gathering about driving the Sturgis Rally Ride chase vehicle to pick up stranded riders, and one time giving their leftover tea to a tourist who needed water for his radiator to cool down his over-heated Ford along Needles Highway.

The 6th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 9-11, 1946) Johnny Spiegelhoff was once again named the Sturgis Champion.

The 7th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 8-10, 1947) The 7th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally had over 400 riders register for the Gypsy Tour. Saturday’s races were successful (Bill Tuman was named the Sturgis Champion), but Sunday’s races were cancelled due to heavy rain.

 The 9th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 12-14, 1949) This was the first year that Main St. in Sturgis, SD was partially closed off to Motorcycles, but only for 2 hours on a Friday night.

The 12th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 8-10, 1952) The 12th Sturgis Rally was the first year of the AMA 5 Mile National Championship Race (to a crowd of 7500!)  

Motor Maids
The Motor Maids of America held their 5-state convention in Sturgis, during the Rally.

 The 13th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 6-9, 1953) The 13th Sturgis Rally was the first rally to run for 4 days.

The 17th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 8-11, 1957) The 17th Sturgis Rally was the first year of the Hill Climbs at the Jackpine Gypsy’s property.

The 25th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 11-15, 1965) The 25th Sturgis Rally was the first year it was expanded to a 5-day event. This was also one of the first years where housing the visitors became a real problem.

 The 32nd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 8-13, 1972) Some of the Gypsy Tours were 8 miles long! The tour was organized into groups over 2 days the following year.

 The 35th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 4-10, 1975) The Sturgis Rally was expanded to a 7-day format.

The 36th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 9-15, 1976) Over 18000 visitors attend the 1976 “Classic,”. A few ‘undesirables’ staged sex shows behind back-lit canvases while others poured and lit gasoline across the highway in front of the City Park. The Economic impact that benefitted the city of Sturgis was over $1.8 million.

The 38th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 7-13, 1978) Was the first time the National ABATE convention was held.

The 40th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August -1, 190) An estimated 40,000 people attend the Classic, generating rave reviews from local merchants.  More than 3,900 register to camp in the City Park causing some local concern. 

The 41st Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 3-9, 1981) Locals proposing to abolish the City’s participation in the Sturgis Rally bring the issue to a referendum. The City’s participation in the rally survives by a slim vote margin, but Sturgis kicks bikers out of City Park and the Mayor states he would like to “get the riff-raff out of Town.” A welcoming place was needed if the rally were to survive. The Buffalo Chip Campground opened its Welcome Home Bikers gates 4 miles outside of town and became the main promoter of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

 The 42nd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 2-8, 1982) The Buffalo Chip promotes the Sturgis Rally! That first year the campground was called the Buffalo Chip Picnic, and the grounds consisted of an open field with a few porta potties and a makeshift stage where campers enjoyed three nights of performances by entertainers Johnny Paycheck, Susan Nelson and Foggy Notion.

 The 47th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(July 31-August 8, 1987) The Sturgis Buffalo Chip expands the Sturgis Rally entertainment to ten days and nine nights of concerts – Black Oak Arkansas and Canned Heat headline.

 The 76th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 5-14, 2016) Although it had been promoted by other businesses as a nine-night/ten-day event for nearly 30 years, the City of Sturgis council votes to also acknowledge the rally as a ten-day event within the city limits.

 The 78th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(July 31-August 8, 2018) The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and the US District Court ruled the Sturgis Rally is not owned or organized by the City of Sturgis or any single entity.

The courts state the Sturgis Rally is “a pluralistic endeavor promoted by multiple organizations.”

These court cases began as a trademark dispute about who owns the title “Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.” They additionally brought to light answers to the question of who is the official organizer of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

The court stated: “We agree and hold that the jury could not infer from the onerous planning that the City undertakes to provide infrastructure for the rally that the City was the organizer or sponsor of the rally. To allow such an inference would be tantamount to saying that it would be reasonable to infer that the City of New York organizes the sessions of the United Nations General Assembly because of everything it does to assist their occurrence.”  

The 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
(August 7-16, 2020) The 80th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally anniversary was set to break records, then Covid-19 virus hit. The City of Sturgis considered opting out of participating. Local area destinations including Sturgis Buffalo Chip, Full Throttle Saloon and 50 other local businesses said they would be open and hosting the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The City Council Members eventually voted to join the other venues and support the rally. Pollstar magazine writes an article about the Sturgis Buffalo Chip being the “Beacon of Freedom.”

Sturgis Landmark:
The White Plate Flat Trackers Association – (Pappy Hoel & Al Burke, 1979) was organized to remember the early racers who successfully competed and earned points for top finishing within specific time periods. See it at, Junction Ave. & Harmon St., Sturgis SD For additional info, see: https://www.facebook.com/WPFTA/

Who are the Jackpine Gypsies

The Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club started in 1936, with an official American Motorcycle Association (AMA) charter in 1937. AMA began promoting the racing events; which started the now famous Rally in Sturgis on August 14, 1938. That weekend celebration in 1938 had a lineup of only nine racers and a small audience watching the races.

The average age for a motorcycle club is three years, and after 78 years, the Black Hills club is still running strong. The club owns all the property on which most club activities take place. A lighted short track, motocross track, field meet area, hillclimb area, clubhouse, office and state approved concession business are located on the grounds.

The Jackpine Gypsies are a non-profit organization. They donate to area charities, including: the local food bank, Sturgis High School, Zonta Club of Sturgis, and Christian Motorcycle Association. Go to their site if you are interested in becoming a member. www.JackpineGypsies.com

The Jackpine Gypsies have over 150 members living all over the United States and abroad. The average age of club members is 40. The average age of spectators is 42, while the average age of the riders is 23.

The short track at the Jackpine Gypsies club grounds was first used in 1963. Since that debut race, many improvements have been made. The club holds races every other weekend and a full week of races during the rally. A motocross track was added on in the 1980’s and then in 1996 a new track was built. The sport of motocross is beginning to grow again, in fact, in 1998; the Gypsies held five motocross races, which attracted over 500 racers.

During the Sturgis Rally, they hold 12 events, including: motocross racing, a 1/2 mile race, hill climbs, road tours and short track racing. There were over 6000 spectators and hundreds of racers during the week of the Rally. As you can see, the Sturgis Rally has grown quite a bit since the first rally in 1937!

Why should I go to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally?

Your life experiences and vacations are often not as extraordinary as you would like. You want real, unique and memorable moments and bucket list experiences.

Where can I find a good Sturgis Rally guide?

Consider us your guide.

You want to know what to do at the Sturgis Rally, who to do it with and how to make your Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the best time of your life.

We are here to provide the most valuable and helpful Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Information.

We are here to be the friendly Sturgis Rally guide that helps make the process of discovery, planning and execution of a Sturgis Motorcycle Rally vacation as easy as possible.

We are here to provide you souvenirs to help you cherish and commemorate the time you spent at the Sturgis Rally.

Welcome to Sturgis.
See you this August!