These rallies vary in size, but some of the bigger, more notable ones can attract hundreds of thousands of riders. Some rallies are ride-in events, where guests get on their bikes to ride right into the action, while other rallies might begin as a longer, multiple day ride that ends with one big gathering. Either scenario incorporates one main concept: building a community of motorcyclists.
Typically, there is a lot going on at these motorcycle rallies to keep all of the riders and their guests engaged and having a great time. You can expect to see things like stunt performances and contests, bike washes, poker or dice games, burnout pits, live music, food trucks, breweries, concerts, 5k or 10k runs, and more. In some cases, events at a motorcycle rally may double as a benefit or fundraiser.
There are countless smaller regional rallies that attract a primarily local crowd, but the larger, more notable ones can bring people in from all over the world. Some of the most acclaimed, major motorcycle rallies include:
- Daytona Beach Bike Week: This west-coast Florida town is known best for its beautiful white sand beaches and the Daytona-500 Nascar Cup series, but Daytona Beach Bike Week is certainly a top contender as one of the area’s draws as well. Bike Week happens every March, and typically brings in about half a million bikers. While in town, one of the notable rides to check out is the Ormond Scenic Loops Trail.
- Myrtle Beach Spring Rallies: There are two rallies in May, Harley Week and Black Bike Week. Harley Week is also known as the spring Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealer’s Association Rally, and has been around since the 1940s. This ten-day gathering features a variety of riding events, drag races and live music and usually attracts hundreds of thousands of people. Black Bike Week is a newer rally that started in the ‘80s by a group of Black bikers who created their own event as a response to racial discrimination. It has two South Carolina locations, Myrtle Beach and Atlantic Beach. The Myrtle Beach event brings in about 400,000 bikers and is said to be one of the top third or fourth largest rallies in the US.
- Laconia Motorcycle Week: This iconic gathering in New Hampshire happens every June and is the oldest of all the most major motorcycle rallies, dating all the way back to 1916 with the London Classic motorcycle race and the Gypsy tour.
- Biketoberfest: This is another Daytona Beach festival that happens in October, the weekend after National Indigenous People Day. It’s a four-day event, and although the crowd is a little smaller than Bike Week, the atmosphere and vibe is just as good and the cooler weather is even better for riding.
- Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota in August is one of the biggest and most well known. We included Sturgis as one of our top picks for the best summer motorcycle rides in the country, and we are not alone in our thinking. This rally is one of the biggest draws for riders in South Dakota, and definitely great for South Dakota’s tourism.
The town of Sturgis itself only has a population of 6,627, but this “small town” isn’t so small in the summer when Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes over. It is one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the entire world, and has single handedly put Sturgis on the map as an internationally known city. The citizens of this great city of Sturgis have welcomed the motorcycle rally with open arms, and continue to be one of the main reasons for its success each and every year.
In the motorcycle community, attending the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is almost like a “right of passage” before you can really be considered part of the pack. You’ll find riders from all walks of life, newbies and veteran riders, locals and people from the other side of the country. Everyone wants to be a part of it.
The first ever Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was back in 1938, a couple years after a man by the name of Clarence “Pappy” Hoel purchased an Indian Motorcycle franchise in the area. On August 14th, Pappy, along with his wife and other members of the motorcycle club he started, Jackpine Gypsies, raced in front of a small crowd of 200 people. That’s how it all started. First known as the ‘Black Hills Motor Classic,’ it consisted of nine participants, a couple hundred viewers, and one open road. Unfortunately, because of the war, the rally went on a three-year hiatus, and finally started back up in 1942.
In 1949, things started to get serious. That year, Main Street was blocked off during the rally for a two hour awards ceremony. In ‘61, the Hill Climb and Motocross races were added to the event lineup, and then in ‘64, the rally turned into a three-day event, blocking off a whole section of Main Street for motorcycle parking. The following year, it became a five-day event, and then in ‘75 it turned into a week-long gathering.
Each year, things got progressively bigger and bigger. The City began approving licenses for vendors in ‘79. There were nine total that year, and then in ‘88, that vendor number grew to 117.
1989 was a more somber year, as 85-year-old Rally founder, Pappy, passed away — but the Rally remained at the forefront of the motorcycle world, steadily increasing in size and attendance as the years went on. In 2000, it saw its biggest number in attendance yet: 600,000 people!
The City of Sturgis quickly started to realize just how big of a project this rally was going to be every year as it just kept growing and growing. They developed a whole city department to handle the promotion and organization of all aspects of the event at a larger level than the other contracted employees had been doing.
The year 2015 was the Rally’s 75th anniversary. This was the biggest year yet, with an estimated 739,000 participants representing all 50 states, as well as Canada, Japan, Australia, Germany and England, just to name a few. The following year, in 2016, the Rally officially became a full ten-day event and continued to attract people to the area each and every year. Although attendance saw a dip in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, it historically has attracted around 500,000 motorcycle riders every year, and was on track to hit those numbers this year.
Along with participants, there are also vendors and exhibitors, as well as state and local government assistance to keep things under control and provide aid and other safety measures as needed.
The Rally sparked such high interest in both locals and visitors that the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame was founded in order to “collect, preserve, and interpret the the history of motorcycling, honor those who have made a significant impact on the sport and the lifestyle, and pay tribute to the heritage of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.”
This year’s event took place August 5th-14th and celebrated its 82nd year. It encompassed various rides, including the 20th annual Sturgis Mayor’s Ride, of which proceeds from the rider and passenger admission cost were donated to the city’s emergency services; the signature “Ride with a Local” which gives first time riders the opportunity to ride with a local guide to see the sights and learn the ins and outs of the Black Hills; and the Veteran’s Warrior Honor Ride, which supports homeless veterans. Rally week kicked off with a brand new ride, the Police Chief’s Ride, of which 100% of the proceeds were donated to a local charity.
Riding is certainly not the only thing to do during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, though. There is a serious schedule of events, making it a truly unforgettable and one-of-a-kind experience. Aside from an eventful Opening Ceremony on August 5th, there was a pub crawl the following night that led riders to five of the world’s most famous bars: Oasis Bar and Lounge, Iron Horse Saloon, One-Eyed Jacks Saloon, The Knuckle Saloon, and Loud American.
Additional events included the 4th annual Legendary Sturgis 5K Run; the 5th annual Mayor’s Charity Poker Tournament, of which 50% of the payout was donated to the Mayor’s choice of charity; Military Appreciation Day; a tattoo contest; beard and mustache contest; and a motorcycle show, on top of all the daily rally activities.
The Rally is also known for having some really great musical performances too. Acts range from local bands, to slightly larger up-and-coming artists to top-of-the-line nationally known performers.
As you can see, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is more than simply celebrating the motorcyclist lifestyle. The events are open to the public, and it is basically a big festival celebrating the community as a whole!
The City of Sturgis does have a few other gems tied to its name aside from the Rally, however. The rally takes place in an area known as the Black Hills of South Dakota, which covers about 5,000-square-miles of land. Here you can also find iconic sights such as 60-foot-high Mount Rushmore National Memorial that shows U.S. presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, and also includes an interactive museum; Crazy Horse National Memorial, the world’s largest mountain carving and considered to be The Eighth Wonder of the World in progress, and the Devil’s Tower Monument, which President Teddy Roosevelt declared to be the first National Monument in the United States back in 1906.
Visitors are encouraged to add an extra couple days on either end of the trip and take some time to explore the area’s attractions. There is no shortage of places to see and things to do: state parks, national monuments, museums, historical landmarks, and plenty of opportunities for scenic rides down the highway.
One of the best motorcycle rides in the Black Hills is the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway, which is a 70-mile loop that goes through landmarks such as Iron Mountain Road, Custer State Park, the Needle’s Eye, Cathedral Spires of the Needle’s Highway, Harney Peak and Mount Rushmore. The surrounding towns are Custer, Hill City and Keystone. If you go on this ride during your South Dakota vacation, you should definitely make it a point to stop in each of these historic mining communities and check out the sights, grab lunch, do some shopping, and just enjoy this truly unique and beautiful part of the country.
Remember, summertime is by far the most popular time of year in the Black Hills because of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, so take that into consideration when making your plans. There will be a lot of motorcycles and vehicles on the road, so expect there to be some traffic on the main roads. Familiarize yourself with the area’s scenic routes so you can veer off the main road and avoid traffic whenever and wherever possible. Oh, and watch for animal wildlife! You will likely see some deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats if you are out riding early in the morning or late at night.
If you didn’t make it to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally this year, there is always next year, and there are plenty of other rallies you can find all over the country too! If you have never been to a rally before and are a little intimidated by attending a big national one on your first go around, see if there are any smaller ones in your area, or why not organize your own local gathering? Grab some of your motorcycle buddies, map out a course and a meeting spot for before and after, spread the word, and have fun!
No matter what motorcycle rallies you are attending, it is an absolute must for you to arrive in style, but not just any style. You want to be dressed in motorcycle gear that not only provides a sense of style, but also safety and functionality. NBT Clothing provides riders with jackets and pants that are Built for the Journey and the Destination™ — and a motorcycle rally is definitely a destination worthy of our wardrobe staples like the License to Ride Pant and Aramid Edition Jackets.
When you want clothing that depict a lifestyle of Style and Safety Redefined™, you want NBT Clothing.