Harley-Davidson brick tour to Sturgis becomes unexpected adventure thanks to snowstorm
When three representatives of Harley-Davidson Motor Company planned to ride from Wisconsin to South Dakota with bricks for the new Rally Point in Sturgis, it’s likely they expected the normal types of stories that stem from long-distance motorcycle trips. However, what H-D officials didn’t expect was a sudden snowstorm to hit the day the group began the ride.
As Harley-Davidson events strategy and execution manager Kris Schoonover, regional Harley Owners Group (HOG) manager Thor Robinson and integrated communications manager Matt King set out for their three-state trip Monday, March 23, snow was falling lightly in the Milwaukee area, but some cities along the planned route received up to a foot of snow.
While the weather deterred some riders from joining the trip and led the H-D crew to turn to its support vehicle when ice became a hazard, the trip was successful, as all riders arrived safely in Sturgis, with their 74 bricks in tow.
Of course it’s hard for anyone to plan a motorcycle trip in the Midwest in late March, but Harley-Davidson was on a tight deadline. It had to deliver the 73 bricks from its Juneau Avenue headquarters and one brick from the
Harley-Davidson Museum, both in Milwaukee, to the new Rally Point in Sturgis by the March 25 groundbreaking.
With spring weather abundant in mid-March, there was hope the trip would be flawless, but Mother Nature had other plans. Unfortunately a snowstorm hit much of the Midwest as the riders prepared to depart.
“The route was based on a few things,” H-D marketing manager Jennifer Hoyer explained to Powersports Business. “One, it gave us a chance to stop at the most dealers and [HOG] chapters to share in the journey. And secondly, it was a chance to ride some back roads and get off the main highway for at least part of the ride. Also it was a little south of the normal route we would take in hopes of getting better weather, which didn’t work out, but was the thought!”
Wisconsin to Iowa
The 900-mile trip took off from Harley-Davidson Motor Co.’s Milwaukee headquarters on Monday, March 23. Schoonover, Robinson and King each rode a bike with a support vehicle following them and 74 bricks in tow. The goal was to bring bricks to each dealership, have a group of HOG riders carry a few bricks from their home dealership to the next stop and run a relay-type ride from Milwaukee to Sturgis.
“In everything we do, we want to be customer led. This allowed us to engage with our dealers and customers as we would for any long cross-country trip we take,” Hoyer said.
Day One included five dealership stops, from Wisconsin Harley-Davidson in Oconomowoc, Wis., to Cedar River Harley-Davidson in Charles City, Iowa. Sauk Prairie Harley-Davidson in Sauk City, Wis., was the third stop of the day, and although the dealership was excited to host the H-D group, its riders decided not to participate in the trip.
“Unfortunately we were ready, they stopped, we had fun, but we did not have anyone ride along with them,” reported Dee Dee Sorg, marketing and events for Sauk Prairie H-D. “The people that showed up were hardcore bikers, and they were ready, and they were dressed and willing to put their bikes through the crappy road conditions. They were bummed, but in the same vein, if you did not have a safe route out of there, it was not a good idea to go.”
Sauk City had received four inches of snow on the 23rd, and though riders were ready to conquer that precipitation, they were hesitant to take on the foot of snow that had fallen further south.
“I got some pictures of the headlights covered in ice, and it was just unbelievable,” Sorg said. “In fact, I didn’t think they would come because of the road conditions.”
Though the dealership’s riders didn’t take the trip, they still enjoyed the stop, snapping photos with the H-D riders and their historic cargo.
“It was a fun group, and they had a hell of a fun [support] unit following them,” Sorg said.
Iowa to South Dakota
Day Two of the brick ride involved only three dealership stops, from Harley-Davidson of Mason City in Mason City, Iowa, to J&L Harley-Davidson in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Jim Wilcox, owner of Okoboji Harley-Davidson in Okoboji, Iowa, and Ernie’s H-D in Algona, Iowa, joined the ride in Okoboji, the second stop of the day, and rode all the way to Sturgis. He covered 1,150 miles in 52 hours.
“It was a good excuse for a ride,” he said. “It was a good time. I enjoyed it at least.”
Wilcox learned of the ride a few weeks in advance and contacted his Harley-Davidson district sales manager to ask if he could ride along. When Wilcox left Algona for the nearly 70-mile ride to Okoboji, the temperature was 27 degrees. By the time he arrived at his Okoboji store, he was ready to buy a heated jacket, pants and gloves for the remainder of his journey. Then he was ready to join the pack.
“They handed the brick to me in Okoboji, and I got to keep it all the way until I handed it over to them in Sturgis,” he said.
As the group took off from Okoboji, the weather remained below freezing temperatures, making for a treacherous ride at times.
“We got a little bit of freezing rain on Interstate 90, and we watched Thor’s bike slide on the ice,” Wilcox recalled.
Robinson and the others from Harley-Davidson packed up in the support vehicle after that, but Wilcox could not.
“I didn’t have a support crew, so I kept riding,” he said.
Wilcox made it through the tough weather, and the closer the group got to Sioux Falls, the nicer the weather became. When they arrived in Sioux Falls, Jim Entenman, co-owner of J&L Harley-Davidson (and the dealership’s namesake “J”) met the group, Wilcox said. Entenman offered a full tour of the dealership, and again, photos were taken to commemorate the stop.
Sioux Falls to Sturgis
Wednesday, March 25 marked the final day of the brick ride. It began with a stop at Black Hills Harley-Davidson in Rapid City, S.D., where the group picked up the dealership’s owners, and everyone headed into Sturgis to reveal the Harley-Davidson Rally Point.
Terry Rymer, co-owner and general manager of Black Hills Harley-Davidson, was along for the final portion of the ride.
“We’re the local dealer in Sturgis. It’s right in our backyard. It’s in our designated trade area, so Harley-Davidson contacted us, and any time they’ve got some promotion or marketing going on, we’re all for it,” he said. “They got into Rapid City the night before. And [in the morning] everybody got geared up; they road out to the dealership here, and one of my partners and I jumped on a couple of new Ultra Limiteds — with heated grips — and we were given a brick each to carry along for the last leg of the ride into Sturgis.”
Once in Sturgis, Sturgis mayor Mark Carstensen and Bill Davidson, great-grandson of Harley-Davidson founder William A. Davidson and vice president of the Harley-Davidson Museum, revealed the final design and renderings of the Rally Point. Riders on three Harley-Davidsons — a 1978 Super Glide with a Shovelhead engine, a 2015 Street 750 and a Project LiveWire — broke ground on the plaza, and an announcement was made that Second Street has been renamed Harley-Davidson Way. The riders who completed the journey in Sturgis also delivered their bricks to Mayor Carstensen and motocross star Carey Hart, who has been named the Grand Marshall of the 2015 Sturgis City of Riders Mayor’s Ride.
“It was cold. It had a little bit of snow. The speeches were great; I had all of them videotaped. And the breaking ground was fun,” Wilcox said of the ceremony.
The Rally Point
The Rally Point, a name that was chosen from dozens of suggestions from Harley-Davidson fans, will include a stage for events, concerts and weddings, as well as an elevated area for riders to take photos on their bikes with the iconic Sturgis sign in the background. The 74 bricks will be integrated into the plaza to represent Harley-Davidson’s commitment to the city and its rally.
“Since the Harley-Davidson Rally Point will be our official headquarters all year round in Sturgis, it was vital to make sure we brought a piece of our history to be an element of the construction. We want customers to use this as a gathering spot and to make a connection to our brand,” Hoyer said.
The Rally Point became a focal point of Harley-Davidson’s 75-year commitment as the official motorcycle of the annual Sturgis Rally. The new plaza is set to be ready by the time the 75th annual rally begins Aug. 3.
As the local dealer, Rymer said he’s excited for both
Harley-Davidson’s long-term contract with the Sturgis Rally and for the Rally Point to be a year-round offering to the city.
“What I like about this best is it gives consistency. We know they’re going to be back; we know they’re the official sponsor. It’s going to be looked forward to year after year,” he said.
He then added, “Throughout the year so many people travel into downtown Sturgis because this is where it happens, and there isn’t really anything there. That [Rally Point] helps at least give those tourists and out-of-town visitors something to get their head around.”
Even as an out-of-towner, Wilcox was excited for what Harley-Davidson unveiled, and he said the people of Sturgis seemed receptive to the plan and were friendly throughout his time in the city.
“You start seeing the plans of the pavilion, and you see what they’ve got, and it’s something bikers will be able to utilize and be part of for decades to come.”
For Wilcox, who has been working at his family’s dealership since 1978, the brick ride was special. Not only did he get to deliver a Harley-Davidson headquarters brick to Sturgis, but he also got to experience things like being photographed by an on-bike photographer, among other adventures.
“I’ll treasure that memory forever,” he said of the trip.
And it’s likely he wasn’t the only one who will permanently bookmark moments from those few days in March.
“It was very cold with lots of snow and freezing wind and temperatures,” Hoyer said. “But as all road trips do, memories were made to last a lifetime.”