75 Years of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally History


With the 75th Anniversary of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally on the horizon, tourism officials are speculating attendance could range from 750,000 to 1 million— making it the biggest biker bash ever staged. It’s hard to believe it all started with a race of 9 participants competing on a half-mile dirt track.

The Beginning
In 1938, Indian Motorcycle franchise owner Clarence “Pappy” Hoel gathered around 200 motorcycle enthusiasts for a weekend of riding and racing.The first “Black Hills Classic” was held that year and what would become the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was born.


In the early years, Sturgis was all about the races. The rally claimed to have the fastest dirt track in the world, attracting spectators from all over the state. Other highlights of the event included a ride through the Black Hills with the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, a street carnival, and the naming of the neatest dressed lady and gentleman. Camping and free meals made by Pappy’s wife, Pearl, were offered in the backyard behind Pappy’s motorcycle shop.

The 1940s
By 1940, there were 5,000 spectators showing up to watch 150 racers run the Sturgis half mile. During World War II, the rally was not held due to gas rationing in support of the war effort. As the rally attendance continued to grow, events and days were added.

The 1960s
In 1961, the Jackpine Gypsies introduced motocross races and the famous motorcycle hill climb, where motorcyclists would drive up an almost vertical hill, attempting to make it to the top first without crashing.

The Sturgis Rally had evolved from a 2-day event to a 5-day celebration by the mid-1960s. The City of Sturgis began closing down Main Street for motorcycle parking during this time. Since there were relatively few hotel rooms available to accommodate the growing number of attendees, most camped in the city park or the surrounding national parks.

img-history2-7f777b91780bThe 1980s
1982 was “the year the rally almost ended.” A riot broke out when city park officials raised camping rates from $2 to $4 and required campers to register and abide by the “no visitors” policy. Gates were torn down, outhouses were torched and rocks were thrown at city employees- prompting the residents of Sturgis to petition to shut the rally down for good. The issue was brought to a city-wide election and voters narrowly decided to keep the rally by a margin of 846 to 758.

Even without the riot, the number of attendees looking for camping was becoming too much for the city park to handle. Local businessmen began turning surrounding cow pastures into campgrounds and charging fees to rent space during the rally.

Rally attendance dramatically increased in the late 80s. Estimated attendance in 1988 was 73,000, with vendors now a key part of the Sturgis experience.


The 2000s and Today
The Sturgis Rally had its largest turnout to date in 2000, with over 600,000 cruising in for the 60th Anniversary.

Now in its 75th year, Sturgis is America’s largest and longest-running bike rally. This August, motorcycle enthusiasts will travel from all over the country to enjoy 7 days of biker heaven including races, rides through the Black Hills, stunt exhibitions, bike shows and concerts by some of the biggest names in music.

Check out the video below to take a ride through the Sturgis Rally today:

** Video Content – Not Safe For Work! **



  1. This will be my first year – so excited to have chosen a record breaking anniversary to attend. To all that are going – wishing you safe travels both going and coming.

  2. Rode up from Denver in 2014! It was on my husband’s “bucket list”, and our 10th Anniversary! Had a great time, would do it again in a heartbeat, lots of things we missed! I may head up this year too, unfortunately without my Husband!

  3. Will not be missing the 75th anniversary! Beautiful motorcycle riding location. A must for all riders/dhg.

  4. I’ve been a rider for over 40 yrs. I did my first Sturgis last yr. it was an amazing experience. I got there 3 days prior to the event and it was much nicer before the masses got there. Great place for riding.

  5. Been riding most my life (56 years old). Probably started riding at around 10 years old. Made it to Sturgis first time in 2006. I’ve got my reservations at the Buffalo Chip for 2015. Looking forward to the ride from No. Cal. up to Wash. then across the top to Sturgis. Last time mostly rode I80 across NV., UT, WY into Sturgis. Should be a hoot!

  6. Won’t be there for the “official event” but the week before. Still planning on a great time of riding and sharing the brotherhood of the road !