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75th Sturgis Rally revs up attendance

By By Liz Keener

Vendors say 2015 was a banner year

Final attendance numbers aren’t in yet, but to say there were a lot of people and a lot of motorcycles at the 75th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally would be an understatement. The South Dakota Department of Transportation reported 510,749 vehicles entered the city of Sturgis during the official rally days of Aug. 3-9.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation reports that 965,130 vehicles entered the city of Sturgis from July 24-Aug. 9. This photo was taken on Monday, Aug. 3, the first official day of the rally, and the day the most vehicles (96,409) were reported entering the city.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation reports that 965,130 vehicles entered the city of Sturgis from July 24-Aug. 9. This photo was taken on Monday, Aug. 3, the first official day of the rally, and the day the most vehicles (96,409) were reported entering the city.

But those were just the official days. In the 10 days prior to the Aug. 3 start, another 454,381 vehicles were reported entering the small South Dakota city that’s usually home to 6,627 people, according to the sign on the edge of town. And, of course, the DOT’s number only includes those who made the trek into Sturgis, though activities were also going on in Rapid City, Deadwood and other nearby areas. And it only includes vehicle numbers, not the number of people on or in vehicles.

Anecdotally, many of those working at vendor booths said the crowds were heavy, starting the middle of week prior.

“I got here on Friday [July 31], and in talking to the mayor and some of the city officials, they said that … at least the front tail, really there was a lot more traffic and attendees than they’ve seen in the past,” said Mike McCann, director of North American Events and Strategy for Harley-Davidson.

He added, “You can definitely feel the excitement, and you can notice it after having come for a number of years that this one’s a little special, and there are more people out there.”

Knowing that the 75th would be a banner year, the industry and others who frequent Sturgis to sell their wares were ready. The city issued 903 temporary vendor licenses this year, only 40 less than were distributed during the record-attendance-setting 60th rally in 2000, reported the Meade County Times-Tribune. And some vendors were open as early as Saturday, July 25, when Black Hills Harley-Davidson’s Rally at Exit 55 launched its pre-rally festivities.

Three exhibitors that were more than excited for the big anniversary year were OEMs Harley-Davidson, Polaris (Indian, Victory, Slingshot) and Can-Am.


It had been clear for more than six months that this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was going to be a special one for Harley-Davidson. In mid-January, the Motor Company announced that it had entered an agreement with the city to be the official motorcycle of the rally for the next 75 years, creating a sponsorship that will extend to the 150th rally. On top of that, the OEM revealed plans to build a permanent plaza, dubbed the Rally Point, on Main Street and the new Harley-Davidson Way (formerly Second Street).

“Harley customers and the Motor Company have been really a cornerstone of the rally for decades, and with the 75th rally … we wanted to do something really big and special and also do something that would demonstrate our commitment to the city of Sturgis. That’s where the concept of the Harley-Davidson Rally Point came up, which really is kind of a capstone of our activities out here this week,” McCann told Powersports Business at the rally.

The Rally Point played host to a number of events and activities, including live music acts, product walkarounds, “Ask Me Anything” sessions at which H-D employees were quizzed by the crowd, trivia contests for H-D enthusiasts and celebrity appearances. Willie G’s annual unique-to-the-Sturgis-Rally gear was also sold at the Rally Point.

But the addition of the Rally Point wasn’t the only change in Harley-Davidson’s approach for 2015. The OEM moved its main display to Fourth Street and Lazelle Street at the site of the Sturgis Community Center. The display included a number of new Harley-Davidson bikes, a Dark Custom setup, the latest parts and accessories and general merchandise, photo opportunities with unique backgrounds, Harley-Davidson’s partner Weber Grills, a Jumpstart Rider Experience with the Livewire and other models, a booth for the Road to Sturgis 75th Passport Tour, a demo area that included more than 100 bikes and more.

“This is our first year here at Fourth and Lazelle at the Community Center, and we’ve got the indoor space, so it’s a great way to get out of the heat. And we have a whole Harley Owners Group area where they can sit down and get some popcorn and water and just relax and get out of the sun,” McCann reported.

Though Powersports Business caught up with McCann only two days into the official rally, he was already noticing how large the crowd was when compared to previous years.

“There’s something about the ‘five’ anniversaries that it seems to be growing and growing, and what we’ve seen in speaking with customers is … people that maybe don’t go every year, they’ve selected this one and said ‘Hey, I’ve got to get out there for the 75th.’ At the same time, we’re also seeing riders and customers that are saying, ‘This has always been on my bucket list, and this is the year I’m going to go,’” McCann said. “It’s clear that this is the biggest one, and there are more people out here than in the past.”

Indian, Victory and Slingshot

The 75th rally was also a milestone for Polaris’ Indian brand, as Indian has deep roots in the original Black Hills Classic, which was launched in 1938. (If you’re doing the math, there are more than 75 years between 1938 and 2015, however the rally missed a couple years during the World War II era.)

“What’s so cool about this one is this rally in particular was started by Pappy Hoel, who was with the Jackpine Gypsies and an Indian dealer, so it’s kind of that whole 75 years of what Indian was way back. And we bring it forward, and you see what Indian is today, and really having those two points in time in the brand connect, it’s really important to our Indian brand,” Steve Menneto, vice president of Motorcycles at Polaris Industries told Powersports Business.

An Indian Motorcycle staffer assists a rider in getting fit for handlebars on the Indian Scout at the Polaris booth on Lazelle Street. Polaris doubled the size of its display from 2014 to 2015.

An Indian Motorcycle staffer assists a rider in getting fit for handlebars on the Indian Scout at the Polaris booth on Lazelle Street. Polaris doubled the size of its display from 2014 to 2015.

Though Indian has deep heritage in the Sturgis Rally, Polaris made a big impact this year with its Victory and Slingshot motorcycle brands as well, displaying all three brands in a new space on Lazelle Street that was about twice the size of Polaris’ 2014 presence.

“What we tried to do is set up what we call America’s Block Party, and with Victory and Indian partnering with Jack Daniels and some of the local vendors in town here, we’ve tried to create a great place for people to just come and mingle, love motorcycles and experience all the three brands together,” Menneto explained.

The Polaris booth included new models of all three brands on display, a historic exhibit of Indian Motorcycles, a map on which people could sign their names, parts and accessories and apparel for all brands, custom Slingshots, a factory exhibition area, live bands, free Victory Motorcycles parking, the Jack Daniels display, Victory’s drag racing motorcycles, the Project 156 Victory that raced at Pikes Peak, the electric Victory that raced at Isle of Man and more. Demos, including that of the new Victory Empulse TT electric motorcycle, were held at another site.

Menneto said the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is always a key event on Polaris’ annual calendar.

“It’s a big part of our business, of course, because you have so many of our customers that come all at once, and it’s a great way for them to really learn about our brands, so it’s extremely important to our calendar year just as Daytona is and some of the other rallies that we go to, that we support. But being able to get face to face with your customer and trying to talk about your brand and your product, you can’t replace that with anything else,” he said.

Even by the afternoon of the first day of the rally, Menneto noted that traffic had been up, with a good-sized crowd forming as early as Wednesday, July 29. Polaris not only saw interested parties who currently ride bikes from other brands, but the OEM’s employees also had the chance to interact with droves of people who already ride Indian, Victory or Slingshot motorcycles.

“A lot of folks back in Medina [Minnesota] and Spirit Lake [Iowa] and Wyoming [Minn.] and Osceola [Wisconsin], they all put their hearts and souls into these two brands [Indian and Victory]. And it’s really cool to see as you look up and down the strip, there are a lot more Indians and Victorys at this rally, and we love seeing that. And then, of course, we have Slingshot, and it’s cool to see that, and people are getting into that brand, too. And even here you see our off-road Rangers and RZRs running around,” Menneto said. “When you look at Polaris at Sturgis, and you look at all the different brands and vehicles we have, we’re loving where we are. We’re proud of where we are in terms of our market share and where we are in terms of how many vehicles you see and how many satisfied customers we have.”

Can-Am Spyder

Joining Harley-Davidson and Polaris downtown for the first time ever was BRP’s Can-Am Spyder. The brand had previously attended Sturgis, offering test rides at a site outside of the city, but for the 75th, Can-Am had a whole new presence on Fourth Street between Main and Lazelle streets.

“This year we wanted to have a downtown presence, be down in the heart of everything,” explained Brian Manning of Spyder media relations.

Brian Manning (back to camera) talks to prospects at Spyder’s first-ever downtown Sturgis exhibit.

Brian Manning (back to camera) talks to prospects at Spyder’s first-ever downtown Sturgis exhibit.

On top of its first-ever downtown booth, Spyder also launched an all-new model in Sturgis, revealing the 2016 F3-S Special Series in Triple Black on Friday, July 31. Manning said the black-on-black-on-black Spyder was perfect for the Sturgis crowd.

“Definitely, they like it. They come by and say, ‘I like the white; it looks sharp. I like the touring one; it looks sharp. But, man, this colorway; it’s awesome; I’ve got to have one,’” Manning said.

“Or they’ll look at it and say, ‘My wife’s going to want this,’ and they’ll walk away with their head down,” he laughed.

Spyder also had its touring models on display and demonstrated the UFit System on the F3 models as well.

“The reception’s been awesome,” Manning said on the first day of the rally. “We’ve gotten a ton of foot traffic and a great opportunity to cross paths with people that are walking around the streets.”

The downtown display not only gave Spyder an opportunity to show its motorcycles to those who were walking around downtown, but it also gave the brand another opportunity to encourage riders to visit Hesrud’s Chevrolet in Sturgis, where Spyder hosted factory test rides.

“We’re doing demo promotions here, so we’ll let people know that the demo truck isn’t too far away. They can sign up for them, head up and take a test ride, so we’ll get them a nice quality test ride. It’s a beautiful area out here, obviously, with the hills and stuff, and it’s a lot of fun,” Manning said.

Though two-wheelers were the dominant rides during the Sturgis Rally, one didn’t have to go far to find Spyders among the pack.

“Just driving into town you just see a lot of Spyders out on the road, and we love that,” Manning said. “Sturgis is a place for all motorcyclists; it’s a Harley-type event, but at the end of the day, it’s people that love just riding in the open air. Spyder gives you all of that; it’s the freedom of the open road, and to see as many Spyders as we do on the road is just incredible.”

2016 Rally

The 75th Sturgis Rally concluded on Sunday, Aug. 9, but the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally website already has started its countdown for the 76th rally, which is set for Aug. 8-14, 2016.

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