Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Information and Tips during a Pandemic

Nov 19, 2021


Moto Guzzi motorcycle ridden during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally made more headlines than usual. Every year for over half a century, thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts have ridden into the small South Dakotan town of Sturgis for a week’s worth of food, music, and entertainment. This year, many expressed concern over the event’s estimated attendance and how this might impact the spread of COVID-19. 

Whether you decided to attend the granddaddy of all motorcycle rallies or not, Sturgis is already over. And for longtime Sturgis fans, that means you’re already thinking about the next one. 

Here’s why you should consider renting a motorcycle and attending Sturgis in 2021 and beyond.

1. What Happened in South Dakota 2020

Much of the talk about this year’s rally centered on the number of people expected to attend. But comparing a large outdoor event in the rural countryside to urban states doesn’t accurately assess the risk of COVID-19 spread.

South Dakota largely skipped lockdowns. Instead, it allowed local officials to make decisions tailored to their individual situations. Governor Kristi L. Noem told the press her state had already proved that it was capable of holding large gatherings safely and competently, including a large 7,500-person July 3rd fireworks show at Mount Rushmore. She highlighted that those events did not produce the large spike feared by some.

She stressed that taking personal responsibility and hand-washing were more effective at preventing spread than applying blanket approaches meant for urban areas to more rural areas like Sturgis.

Sturgis is a small town of 7,000 people located in western South Dakota. It’s not a densely-packed urban city like New York, where human contact and spread are far more frequent. The main events at Sturgis occur outside, where sunlight and open space—factors which lower spread—are in abundance.

Despite the risks, 460,000 motorcyclists from all over the country visited anyway.

2. Sturgis Took Precautions… but Will It Be Enough?

Contrary to what you may have heard in the news, Sturgis wasn’t a free-for-all. Numerous restrictions were put in place before, during, and after the rally.

Sturgis’ mayor told local news that city officials asked people to maintain distance, practice good hygiene, and act responsibly. (Masks were not mandatory for attendees.) Nevertheless, the city of Sturgis did its due diligence and implemented several changes.

All city-sponsored events, including the opening ceremonies, parades, B1 flyover, and entertainment and live music at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point, were canceled by July 28. Of all the rally events, only 25 acts, drag races, and a poker tournament remained. These cancellations were implemented to reduce large crowd gatherings in downtown Sturgis.

Temporary vendors and malt beverage/liquor license holders were subject to a new set of protocols this year. The protocols required them to:

  • Post signage at all entrances into buildings and tents indicating the number of people allowed in the facility and reminding people of the recommended 6-foot social distancing rule.
  • Supply hand sanitizer for employees and guests for frequent use.
  • Provide employees with masks and encourage them to use them when the recommended social distance length is not possible.
  • Send home any employee who reported not feeling well or exhibited COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Encourage patrons not to congregate within 6 feet or in groups of 10 or more people.
  • Increase sanitization of restrooms, door handles, and frequently-touched surfaces.
  • Vendors were also urged to consider moving tables, booths, and other furniture intended to accommodate on-site consumption so that each party would be six feet apart
  • Allow the use of buffets or self-serve food areas, space out video lottery machines, and sanitize tablecloths after every use.

Additionally, Sturgis implemented grocery delivery services for seniors and at-risk residents and encouraged locals to stay home. The city has also scheduled a mass-testing event a week after the rally concludes. 

Local media reported that this year public works crews sanitized the streets with two hospital-grade disinfectants every morning during the rally. Each night they sprayed an estimated 2,000 gallons of the mixture, which has been certified by CDC to kill COVID-19. The city’s public works department is considering making street sanitation a permanent part of its routine for future rallies.

Clearly, the city, vendors, and third parties took steps to make Sturgis as safe as possible for over 200,000 attendees. If these measures largely prevent the spread of new infections, expect more of the same in 2021 if the virus is still around.

At the time of this writing, it is too soon to tell if it was a super spreader event. Based on GPS data, the largest concentration of riders came from Chicago.

3. Attendance Was Lower

This year’s rally wasn’t as crowded as it could have been. All those restrictions, combined with the fact that many potential attendees decided to sit this one out, made for a milder, socially-distanced Sturgis.

250,000—half the usual number of attendees—were expected to show up for the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally during its August 7th-16th run-time. When it was all said and done, 366,000 people showed up - less than an 8% decline.

The virus lowered vendor attendance too. Local media reported that as of July 27, the number of vendors for 2020 was down 30% compared to last year. However, the number of new vendors in attendance was the highest recorded. 

Events on the ground reflected this reduced attendance. For instance, local media noted reports of cancellations at local hotels and other facilities as late as July 28. Charlie St. Clair, executive director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association, which puts on the usually well-attended Laconia Motorcycle Week in Laconia, New Hampshire, corroborated both the predictions and the estimates. 

He indicated that evidence of lower turnout this time around included many empty campsites, which are usually full at every Sturgis Rally. St. Clair even said he saw a fair amount of attendees wearing masks, which many state and local entities have already advised or mandated as measures to prevent spread. St. Clair also stated that it was relatively easy to socially distance from others at the rally.

Rally attendees proved that they acknowledged the danger and exercised caution. It’s safe to assume that as long as the pandemic is around, next year’s rally will also feature a reduced turnout and general compliance with COVID-19 restrictions. 

4. Sturgis Was Going to Happen—with Approval or Not

As it turns out, there’s no way to stop the granddaddy of all motorcycle rallies. The city council decided to approve the rally because its members knew motorcycle enthusiasts—many of whom had been cooped up for months—were going to show up anyway. 

Buffalo Chip, the largest campground and concert venue in the area, told the city it would hold some version of the rally regardless of the city’s approval, confident that outdoor concerts could be held while obeying social distancing guidelines. If the city had opted for cancellation, it would have been faced with the possibility of thousands showing up anyway without the additional garbage, sanitation, law enforcement, and emergency medical services necessary to handle that amount of people.

5. Motorcycles "Prevent" Coronavirus

Although many have touted face masks as an effective way of stopping spread, nothing compares to a full face helmet. At Riders Share, we consider full-face helmets mandatory. (read the Motorcycle Helmet Laws by State article to find out which states require motorcycle helmets.) Throw the open faced junk away, please. And wear a motorcycle riding approved jacket, pant, gloves, and above the ankle boots.

While riding, motorcyclists don’t need to adjust their helmets, and they wear gloves and other protective gear. Pedestrians usually don’t wear masks, and they rarely wear as many clothes as a motorcyclist. This means you’re probably safer from the virus going for a ride on your motorcycle than walking or driving. (Just make sure you wash your hands before touching your face or your gear.)

By all means, suit up and ride to Sturgis 2021. You’ve literally got extra layers of protection compared to the average pedestrian or motorist.

6. Rent from a Service with Safety Precautions

Motorcycle renters should think about precautions when exchanging motorcycles, keys, and gear with owners. In this area, not all motorcycle rental platforms are created equal. Luckily, Riders Share’s unique place in the rentals industry makes it an ideal way to set up precautions against COVID-19 spread. 

This owners-to-renters platform lets you set up a contactless key exchange and pickup. Because you’re renting directly from owners, you don’t have to walk into a shop, where spread is more likely. You pay online and can pick up your ride in the open air. All you have to do is let the owner know that you’d like to exchange the keys at a distance or with some sort of lockbox. While photographing the rental before and after use, you can both wear masks.

Riders Share has a flexible cancellation policy, so you won’t have to worry about sunk costs if your event gets canceled out of the blue. Renting a motorcycle can be just as safe as attending the rally—if you find the right platform.

Whether or not additional safety measures like the ones described above will be implemented next year, one thing is certain: motorcycle enthusiasts will still flock to Sturgis in 2021. If you’re informed, you can enjoy Sturgis safely and responsibly.

Maximize the reward and minimize the tradeoff by renting a motorcycle through Riders Share. You can arrange contact-less pick-ups and drop-offs with owners directly, and always ensure you get the perfect ride for America’s premier motorcycle rally. Don’t miss out on next year’s events and those stunning rides through South Dakota’s gorgeous Black Hills region!