Signature Rides Set the Sturgis Rally Apart
March 31, 2021 - By Bryan Harley
The Ride. Be it the ritual ride to Sturgis or around the Black Hills, riding helps set the Sturgis Rally apart. Take a spin on Iron Mountain Road and tell me I’m wrong the first time you pass through Doane Robinson Tunnel and see the giant faces of Mount Rushmore staring back at you. For quick getaways, the delightful twists and turns of Vanocker Canyon are a stone’s throw from town. Be it national treasures or natural wonders, there’s magic in the Black Hills no matter which direction you set out.
One of the best ways to experience this magic, especially for Sturgis Rally first-timers, is to indulge in one of its signature rides. Group rides at Sturgis are a long-standing tradition as gypsy tours have been around since the rally’s beginning. That gypsy spirit of camaraderie continues thanks to numerous benefit and group rides at the Sturgis Rally. These rides are a great way to have fun, meet new friends, and share an experience you’ll never forget. Love NASCAR? Rub elbows and ride motorcycles with NASCAR royalty Rusty Wallace at the Buffalo Chip’s Rusty Wallace Charity Ride. If riding through bison-filled Custer State Park with the Sturgis Mayor and 2021 Sturgis Grand Marshal, industry legends and celebrities tickles your fancy, then hit up the 19th Annual Sturgis Mayor’s Ride (and help raise money for local emergency services at the same time!) Whatever drum beat you walk to, there’s a ride for every walk of life at the Sturgis Rally.
Director’s Sunrise Ride
Many motorcyclists like to get a little taste of Sturgis without the crowds so they roll through a week or so early. The Director’s Sunrise Ride caters directly to those early birds. The 150-mile ride through the beautiful Black Hills, led by City of Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Director Jerry Cole, is set for August 4, 2021, making it the earliest of the Sturgis group rides. Seeing how it’s held several days before the 81st Sturgis Rally kicks off, it’s a great opportunity to explore the area without the rally crowds while still getting a little feel for the rally. A breakfast snack, lunch, a commemorative t-shirt and rally coin or part of the package. Knowing Cole, a special South Dakotan or two might just join in on the fun, but that’s just a hunch.
Buffalo Chip Legends Ride
From Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler to funny man Pee-wee Herman, the Buffalo Chip’s Legends Ride annually features some of the most well-known names in the entertainment industry. Heading into its 14th year, it has grown into one of the must-do events at the Sturgis Rally. The Legends Ride kicks off with a street party in Deadwood’s Outlaw Square and in front of the historic Franklin Hotel. Hollywood celebrities and personalities from the motorcycle industry mingle with the crowd and help fuel the party atmosphere, followed by a scenic 50 mile spin to the Buffalo Chip for a catered dinner and drinks. An auction with tons of collectible merchandise and memorabilia ensues, topped off with tickets to the big concert in the Buffalo Chip’s main amphitheater. To date, the Sturgis Buffalo Chip has raised over $1,00,000 for the Black Hills Special Olympics, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, and other charities through its various endeavors. Dubbed “The Ride that Rocks,” this year’s Legends Ride takes place Monday, August 9. Special guests haven’t been listed yet, but knowing Woody, The Chip will undoubtedly be swinging big this year as rally-goers are eager to make up for lost time.
Biker Belles Celebration
Biker Belles, the first event catering directly to women riders in Sturgis, has been celebrating and uplifting women motorcyclists for a dozen years now. What started out as a modest idea to create a women’s charity ride in Sturgis has blossomed into the preeminent gathering for women riders at the rally. From barrier breakers to land speed record holders, the celebration features a chance to meet some of the leading ladies in the motorcycle industry and hear their stories first-hand. The gathering kicks off with a group ride from The Lodge at Deadwood to the Sturgis Buffalo Chip for a catered reception, pampering at the Comfort Zone, and speeches by special guests. A Women & Wheels Bike Show fuels the festivities before the group gathers for a keepsake photo. Money raised by Biker Belles is divvied up between three South Dakota-based charities that benefit women-related causes, Helping with Horsepower, the Strider Foundation and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. The 13th annual Biker Belles Celebration takes place Tuesday, August 10, 2021.
Sturgis Mayor’s Ride
Help officially kick off the 2021 Sturgis Rally at the 19th annual Sturgis Mayor’s Ride. Led by Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen and the 2021 Sturgis Grand Marshal, who has yet to be named, the ride includes a pit stop at Mount Rushmore for a group photo before continuing on to Custer State Park for a catered lunch at the State Game Lodge. The list of former Sturgis Grand Marshal’s include AMA Pro road racer Ben Bostrom, Roland Sands, and Michael Ballard and Jesse James Dupree of the Full Throttle Saloon, among others. Though I can’t tell you yet who this year’s Grand Marshal is, let’s just say they have a knack for going fast. A souvenir pack is part of the Sturgis Mayor’s Ride fun-filled package. The Sturgis Volunteer Fire Department, ambulance service and police reserves wait in the wings as beneficiaries of funds raised by this long-standing event, so join in the fun Saturday, August 7, 2021, to help kick off the 81st Sturgis Rally.
Michael Ballard’s Vicki Ballard Ride –
While many instantly recognize Michael Ballard from the Full Throttle Saloon thanks to the World’s Largest Biker Bar’s stint on TruTV, fewer know that Michael had a sister named Vicki Ballard who also loved the Full Throttle and its fans. Unfortunately, Vicki lost her battle with breast cancer in August 2010, right after the end of the rally. Since then, Michael has held the Vicki Ballard Memorial Ride in honor of his sister. At one time a one-day affair, the memorial ride now is a three-day journey from the Full Throttle S’loonshine Distillery in Trimble, Tennessee, to the Full Throttle Saloon outside Sturgis, South Dakota. All riders all welcome and can join in at any point of the ride. Vicki was instrumental in the Full Throttle Saloon’s success, something Michael demonstrates his gratitude for through this annual memorial ride for his sister.
3rd Annual Rusty Wallace Charity Ride
Though it’s headed into only its third year, the Sturgis Buffalo Chip Rusty Wallace Ride is quickly gaining traction as one of the premiere benefit rides of the rally. There was plenty of star power at the 2020 Rusty Wallace Ride, the gathering of racing royalty including Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, NASCAR racer Clint Bowyer, Baja legend Walker Evans, and pro motocross racer Weston Pieck. Acclaimed actor Tom Berenger stopped by for a cameo, while even Jimmy John owner James John Liautaud also popped in (and quietly donated $10,000 to the cause!) The fundraiser included an auction with coveted items like a NASCAR VIP Experience with a chance to hang out with Wallace at a NASCAR Cup Series race, all-access garage passes, and pace car rides on the track. Rusty and his son Steve would lead the procession out of Black Hills Harley-Davidson on a scenic route Wallace picked out himself to the Buffalo Chip where a catered dinner and concert awaited their arrival. Wallace’s charisma is a big draw, and charities like the NASCAR Foundation, All Kids Bike and Special Olympics South Dakota – Rapid City Flame benefitted from that charisma and the benevolence of bikers. The Rusty Wallace Charity Ride is one of the hottest tickets at the rally, the third annual event going down this year on Wednesday, August 11.
Ride with a Local
If you’ve never been to the rally before and would love to have a little help getting to know the lay of the land, then be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to “Ride with a Local.” Experienced riders will take you on a tour to some of the Black Hills’ bountiful treasures, be it national monuments, back roads, or the best burger joint in town. Three different rides are offered - Friday, August 6, Tuesday, August 10, and Friday, August 13, with groups limited to 25 motorcycles. The $45 registration fee includes a four to five hour tour with a local guide with lunch waiting for you back in Sturgis at the end of the ride.
These are just some of the benefit rides and singular experiences that help Sturgis stand tall in a sea of motorcycle rallies. Word to the wise, if you’re headed to the rally this year and one of these piques your interest, be sure to sign up early because something tells me that those who missed out on the 80th last year will be out in force at the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally and events are going to fill up fast.