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10 Tips for Planning a Road Trip to The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

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If your ideal getaway is mounting up on your steel horse and riding off for small dessert towns, then attending The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally likely sits atop your travel bucket list.

And you’re not the only one. Each year more than 500,000 bikers set a course for the South Dakota town nestled in the Black Hills.1 It’s a sprawling, rollicking celebration of biking culture, music and so much more. It’s loud, it’s proud, and it’s hot — taking place each August. Now in its eighth decade, the rally has slowly toned down from what was once a Rated R event — where fights were common and clothing was sometimes optional — to something more akin to a PG-13 festival.2

Before you grab your gear and gas up, we have some tips to make sure you live high on your “Hog” during your first trip to Sturgis.

1. Reserve Your Accommodations Early

Considering that hundreds of thousands of bikes descend upon Sturgis for the event, it's not surprising that the most popular accommodations book up quickly. So it's important to book your lodging of choice early to guarantee that you'll have a place to stay in or near Sturgis.

If you decide to stay outside of town, check to see what transportation options are available. That may sound weird for a bike rally, but there may be times when you want to head into Sturgis without your bike. Some campgrounds, for example, offer free shuttles into town, which can come in handy if you're planning to have a drink or two while in Sturgis.

Speaking of campgrounds, they’re the most popular and cost-effective lodging option for rally participants. Plus, you may encounter satellite stages and festivals right beside your campsite.3 If you’re on the fence as to where you want to stay, know that if you go the traditional hotel route and select what you might consider to be a mid-range option — such as a Holiday Inn — it can cost in excess of $3,000 for a week.4

Need help finding a room? The motorcycle rally's website is one of the best resources for finding campgrounds, hotels and other accommodations in the Sturgis area.

2. Ride or Trailer?

The weather in South Dakota can be very fickle in August. And, depending on where you live, it could be a very long ride to Sturgis. So if you don't have the time to ride to Sturgis or you just prefer not to ride cross-country on a bike, you might want to consider trailering your motorcycle. You can either haul it yourself or, if you're really short on time, you could hire a shipper to take your bike to and from the rally for you.

3. Rent a Bike

There is also a third option. If you want to enjoy all of the excitement of Sturgis but don't have the time to trailer or ride out to the rally, consider renting a motorcycle from a dealership in the area. For example, you could reserve a bike in nearby Rapid City. A word of warning: These bikes typically book up very quickly.

4. Give Your Bike a Pre-trip Checkup

If you do decide to take or ride your own bike to Sturgis, make sure to conduct the pre-ride checkup known as T-CLOCS on your bike. T-CLOCS stands for Tires, Controls, Lights, Oil, Chassis and Sidestand. According to the American Motorcyclist Association, a checkup of these features on your motorcycle can be done in about three minutes. You should also consider taking your iron horse to a trained mechanic for a pre-trip inspection, especially if you are planning to ride all the way to Sturgis.5

5. Not ‘Hog-ging’ the Show Anymore

Sturgis once had a reputation for being a Hogs-only event. And while the majority of the motorcycles at this rally are still Harleys, bikes from other manufacturers are showing up in larger numbers than before. So if you own an Indian or a Kawasaki, you don't have to leave your bike at home in order to enjoy the festivities

6. Side Trips

The roads leading up to Sturgis go past and through some of the West's most iconic and beautiful sites. If you can, make sure to leave time for side trips to:

7. Gas Up

Gas stations and other services can be few and far between on the roads in and leading up to South Dakota. It's important not to play chicken with your gas tank. To be safe, top off your gas tank whenever it’s about half empty.

8. Better Safe than Sorry

If you are planning on riding to Sturgis, you should:

  • Make sure to keep loved ones up to date on your planned itinerary and check in with them on a daily basis.
  • Be sure to pack trip insurance. Here is the thing with the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally: sometimes, you can find yourself in the middle of a frenzied crowd. And other times, there isn’t another soul around for miles. In either situation, a misstep here or broken down bike there are predicaments that you can troubleshoot much more effectively with benefits including Baggage Loss/Damage, Emergency Medical and 24-Hr. Hotline Assistance. Find a travel insurance plan today — and after you make your selection, be sure to download our TravelSmart app so that your policy and local emergency assistance numbers are always a touch away.

9. Be Road Wary

You never know what you might run into on your way to and from Sturgis — accidents on highway 14A by Deadwood, speed traps in 35 mph zones, and even deer that regularly wander onto the road at night. Always be on the lookout for hazards and be ready to reroute your adventure when possible. Sturgis is one place you don’t want to earn your broken wings.6

10. Take a Break from Sturgis

It's always fun to break up any trip with an excursion. So if you find yourself looking for something to do while in Sturgis, you might want to consider heading to:

  • Ham N Jam. This tiny town hosts a popular festival called the Ham N Jam every Wednesday during the Sturgis Rally. Hulett, which has a population of about 380 residents, attracts approximately 20,000 people to its streets each year.7
  • Devils Tower National Monument. Made famous in the movie, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," this iconic tower is a very popular draw for Sturgis attendees.8

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally can be a once-in-a-lifetime solo adventure or an annual getaway you take with friends. So hammer down — but do it safely — and follow the sounds of the rolling thunder to Sturgis.

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