Today is the first day of the 81st Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which lasts until Aug. 15. Love it or hate it, the annual event draws huge crowds: the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety says the population of South Dakota increases by about 50 percent every August during the rally. And event organizers expect bigger-than-usual numbers this year. While some people opt out entirely by leaving for the duration of the event, not everyone has that option. And, of course, many people love the rally and all it has to offer.
Whether it’s your first rally or fiftieth, it’s always good to refresh ourselves on how to stay safe with the surge in traffic. Here are some recommendations, based on our own experiences and the advice of law enforcement/safety professionals.
KEEP YOUR HEAD ON A SWIVEL
Experts would probably phrase this something more like “watch for motorcycles in your blind spots.” However you want to say it, it’s solid advice. Folks driving cars, trucks and SUVs need to be vigilant, especially these next couple of weeks. Double check before merging or changing lanes, especially on interstate and state highways. If you’re part of the motorcycle crowd, give other vehicles plenty of space and make sure you’re not darting in and out of their blind spots. Here are some other tips for motorcycle riders: https://southdakotarides.com/stay-safe-at-sturgis/
GIVE YOURSELF EXTRA TIME
One of the best things about living in South Dakota is the overall light traffic. You can usually get from one side of Rapid City to the other in about 20 minutes – and that’s with construction. It’s going to be a little different the next couple of weeks. Anecdotally, we’ve heard a lot of comments about more tourist traffic than usual already this summer. That’s only going to amplify the next couple weeks. There will be more motorcycles, trailers, campers, trucks, etc. Speeding is responsible for almost 1/3 of crashes in the last decade, per the S.D. Office of Highway Safety. So, slow down and give yourself extra time to account for slower-moving traffic lines, clogged intersections, and sparse parking.
REMEMBER SPEED LIMIT CHANGES
We’re used to open roads and high speed limits. As of yesterday, the speed limit on Interstate 90 is 65 mph (instead of 75 mph) from Rapid City to 1 mile west of Sturgis. Be sure to watch for speed limit changes in high traffic or construction areas. When in doubt, slow down! You can also follow the South Dakota Highway Patrol, South Dakota Department of Transportation, and local law enforcement agencies on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for real time updates on traffic impacted by weather or crashes.
KNOW YOUR ROUTE
Take a little extra time planning your route before you start, as well. Navigation systems are great, but even hands-free options can be distracting when you need to focus on the road. If you’re going somewhere new or unfamiliar, map it out ahead of time. And for visitors to the area, remember the Black Hills have a lot of winding, narrow roads.
WATCH THE WEATHER
With our notoriously fickle weather, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the sky. (It is still hail season, after all.) Luckily, there are myriad weather websites, apps or local storm chasers who can keep you up-to-date on any abrupt wind shifts.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE CLOCK
It’s hard to gauge “peak travel times” during the rally. There isn’t really a rush hour (such as there ever is in these parts) so much as a “rush week.” That said, traffic on Interstate 90 and the major highways does start to pick up at 5 p.m. People dispersed throughout the hills during the day all start to head back into Sturgis for the evening. I-90 between Sturgis and Rapid City is especially busy in the evening. Plan accordingly.
CHECK THE SCHEDULE
It seems obvious, but we’ll reiterate that the Sturgis rally traffic extends far beyond the Sturgis city limits. A big part of the rally, after all, are the organized bike rides through the Hills. Many surrounding communities hold special events during the rally, as well. So, for instance, if you decide you’d like to head for the Southern Hills to hide out, just make sure you don’t wind up in Custer on Aug. 10, the day of its Custer Cruisin’ Mayor’s Ride
. Or if you make a beeline for the Wyoming border, just know that Burnout Wednesday
in Sundance, Wyoming, (Aug. 11) always draws a huge crowd. A few communities, like Deadwood, pack in the events for the whole week. So whether you’re looking to join the crowds or avoid them entirely, it’s not a bad idea to have an idea of the rally’s biggest events and locations. But if you do accidentally attend a rally-related event – hey, it could end up being fun. The people watching alone is usually worth whatever time you spend.
Pro tip: There isn’t really one single event calendar for the rally. The city of Sturgis, the Buffalo Chip Campground, local campgrounds and event venues and surrounding communities all have their own event schedules and websites. It’s generally easier to pick where you want to go and check that location for rally-related activities before heading out.
Here are links to some of the organizations with the largest event calendars for this year’s rally. Some places charge an entry fee on top of ticket prices for particular events. Be sure to check each event for details:
AVOID PEAK TOURIST/RECREATION AREAS
Along with having a general awareness of where the rally-related events are, keep in mind that all the biggest tourist attractions are going to be packed. Custer State Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Keystone – expect long lines and trouble finding a parking spot. Popular recreation areas, which are busy all summer anyway, will also have more people. So, if at all possible, skip that drive through the Wildlife Loop for now and revisit in a couple weeks.
Along with safety on the road, your physical health is important. As COVID-19 lingers, it’s good to stay up-to-date on what local health officials are saying. Here’s a link to Monument Health’s information page, which includes testing site locations should you develop symptoms or need medical attention: https://monument.health/covid-19-south-dakota/
And, as always, watch for deer.
From all of us at Denny Menholt, we hope visitors and residents alike have a safe and happy August!