Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Sees 460,000 Mostly Unprotected Bikers

The town of Sturgis, in South Dakota, holds a motorcycle rally every year. It is known as one of the largest, if not the largest, motorcycle-based festival in the nation. Motorcycle enthusiasts from all backgrounds, socio-economic classes, and nationalities arrive in town for ten days of motorcycle culture appreciation. This year’s event just concluded, seeing 460,000 vehicles at the festivities.

COVID-19 meant fewer motorycle enthusiasts were expected

Sunset at the Sturgis Harley Davidson dealership during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
The sunset lights up storm clouds over the Sturgis Harley-Davidson dealership during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota on August 8, 2020. | Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Officials were expecting the attendance of the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally to be down this year. The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of concern for events involving any kind of mass gathering. So, nobody knew approximately how much lower attendance would be. But, on Tuesday, South Dakota transportation officials released an official count of 460,000 vehicles for the ten-day event. That is down approximately eight percent from the previous year.

Motorcycle rally was voted on and accepted

According to Reuters, the motorcycle rally is an $800 million contributor to the local economy. But, given the uncertain health consequences, having the 80th annual event go on was questionable. So, having the rally again this year, amid a pandemic lockdown, was voted upon. It was approved by the city council.

People cheering at a concert during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
People cheer during a concert at the Full Throttle Saloon during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on August 7, 2020 in Sturgis, South Dakota. | Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Officials from the area felt there was no way to stop people from showing up. The event was going to happen with or without their blessing. The best they could do was prepare. According to our friends at Insider,

“There was really very little we could do to stop them from coming. It’s not a gated event where we can just lock the doors and not allow people to come in,” – City Manager, Daniel Ainslie

Preparations were made

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the nation earlier this year, organizers of the motorcycle rally cancelled all outdoor advertising for the event. But, as the event approached, local officials, residents, and healthcare providers all began preparing and bracing for a potentially dangerous situation. Handwashing stations were set up, sanitation stands were put in place, and free masks were handed out.

“It would have been just as irresponsible for us to not prepare for these people who were going to show up regardless of what we wanted. It’s just common sense to be prepared.” – City Councilwoman, Beka Zerbst

People sit at the outdoor bar of the Full Thottle Saloon during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
People sit at the outdoor bars at the Full Throttle Saloon during the 80th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota on August 9, 2020. Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

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Attendees to the motorcycle rally came with eyes wide open

Meanwhile, Ron Merwin, from the Meade County Sheriff’s Office, was looking down the street and said, “I’m sitting here and I’m watching people walk up and down the street, watching people ride up and down the street. A few have masks – most don’t. There’s not much we can do. Everybody is coming here with their eyes wide open, they know what they’re getting into.”

In the end, 460,000 vehicles, motorcycles included, were counted at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Many of those vehicles brought more than one person with them. In either case, there was a lot of unprotected people crowded into the Black Hills region attending concerts, and walking into hotels, shops, restaurants, and bars together. As the revelers return to their home communities across the nation, it will be curious to see what happens in the next two weeks with the Coronavirus numbers from attendees. Hopefully, the infection rate won’t spike. If it does, there will be a lot more communities affected than just Sturgis.