The History of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

75 Years of Sturgis: A Look Back

The History Behind One of the Greatest Motorcycle Events in the World

By Mike Toursal, Owner

This weekend is Sturgis—a weekend riders from around the country, and even around the world, wait for year after year. For some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For others, it’s an annual tradition never to be missed. This year’s rally carries some extra meaning, as this year commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

(All Sturgis 75th Anniversary Gear is on Sale at Eagle Leather for 20% Off.)

For those of you who know my history, you know that Sturgis is an important part of it. Back when Eagle Leather was just me and a van full of gear, Sturgis was a big deal to me. I sold a lot of gear each year at the rally, and it propelled me forward. Now Eagle Leather is much more than just a van full of leathers, it’s a community. Communities should be celebrated, and that’s why I want to take a look back at the history of Sturgis this week. It’s an event where our disparate riding communities can become one for a weekend.

In 1936, Clarence “Poppy” Hoel bought an Indian Motorcycle franchise in Sturgis, SD. The “Jackpine Gypsies” motorcycle club was then founded. The first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally took place two years later in 1938, but it was called Sturgis back then; it was known as the Black Hills Classes, and it was held on August 14th. The event grew and grew each year, but 1942 marked the first year the rally was cancelled. Gas rationing was a big deal at the time, and the event was a casualty.

Things got back up and running the following year, and in 1961, the Hill Climb and Motocross races officially became part of the event. By 1964, an entire block of Main Street in Sturgis, SD was closed off for the entire event (three days!). The following year, in 1965, the rally became a five-day event.

1974 saw the first temporary vendor set up in the Sturgis Auditorium (I’m certainly thankful for that!), and by 1975, the rally was extended two more days to its current seven-day event. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally got its official logo in 1986, when a local named Tom Monohan donated the artwork to the Sturgis Chamber of Commerce. Three years later, the founder of the rally, Pappy Hoel, passed away at 85.

Pappy’s legacy lived on (and still does), and in 2000, the Sturgis Rally saw the largest attendance ever. It got as high as 600,000 people! This prompted the City of Sturgis to form an entire city department devoted to promote and organize the event every year. And, of course, I was in Sturgis that year, and I remember setting up a 60’ x 20’ tent at the Full Throttle Saloon. I made the mistake of not putting stakes in the ground. It was a nice, hot, sunny day, so I thought that the weather was good enough and almost lost my tent! I had a great fight with the wind, and I must tell you that this was one of many challenging moments I remember from my road show days. Believe it or not, I got audited by the city of Sturgis here in Tacoma. The good news is that I paid my taxes, so everything went well! 2000 was the last year I went to Sturgis, and that is why I remember so well.

Now, in 2015, Sturgis is celebrating its 75th anniversary. New traditions are added to the event every year, some official, and some organized by third parties and individuals. This year will see an interesting new tradition—the first annual Biker Mass Wedding and Vow Renewal. That’s right. You can get married en masse at Sturgis this weekend. The event promises to “make your vacation a celebration!” It’s just another great way people are enjoying the spectacle that is Sturgis!

We at Eagle Leather wish Sturgis 75 more incredible years!

- Mike

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