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Sturgis Rally Attendance Down During Usually Busy First Four Days

Governor Kristi Noem has adopted the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally as an emblem of her campaign to capitalize (on) Freedom, but she won’t be citing early attendance figures as proxy poll numbers. The Department of Transportation reports that, from Friday, August 4 through Monday, August 7, 194,851 vehicles entered Sturgis. That’s 16% below the five-year average of 232,353 vehicles for the first four days of the Rally.

In the last six years, rally attendance has peaked on the first Saturday twice, Monday three times, and Wednesday once. From 2017 to 2022, the first four days contributed 46.5% of the Rally’s total vehicle count. Thus, this year’s first four days would predict a total Rally vehicle count of about 419,000, down 15% from the six-year average.

South Dakota Department of Transportation, Sturgis Rally vehicle counts 2017 through first four days of 2023 Rally. Green marks peak day for each year. Data compiled by CAH/DFP from SDDOT, "Sturgis Rally Counts 2013–2022," August 2022, and SDDOT press release, 2023.08.08.
South Dakota Department of Transportation, Sturgis Rally vehicle counts 2017 through first four days of 2023 Rally. Green marks peak day for each year. Data compiled by CAH/DFP from SDDOT, “Sturgis Rally Counts 2013–2022,” August 2022, and SDDOT, press release, 2023.08.08.

South Dakota Searchlight suggests we could blame the cool, wet weather for the significant decline in attendance, but come on: freedom-loving people don’t let a little rain keep them from parading outside for Dusty Johnson and other things they love, right?

Rapid City businessman and writer John Tsitrian warned us two weeks ago that Sturgis would continue to roll downhill due to broader market forces:

After last year, when rally numbers declined a bit from the previous year’s by 5.5% and sales tax revenues declined by 14%, we’re aware that a trend might be setting in, one that probably has as much to do with demographics as it does industry fundamentals.

Looking specifically at Harley-Davidson, numbers for 2023 are not encouraging. Though the company reported an increase in revenues for the first quarter of the year, the most telling figure is its decline in North American sales from the first quarter of ‘22. H-D during the ‘23 quarter sold 26,000 bikes. In ‘22, that number was 31,200, which is a year-to-year decline of 17%. Little wonder that stock traders are ignoring the revenue numbers and have been dumping this company steadily since the first of the year.

And it isn’t just Harley.  The Motorcycle Industry Council reports that overall bike sales were down 2.1% for the quarter, which is not so bad, but, more notably, were down 10.3% during March, when the selling season usually starts picking up.

Why the dropoff? I think the answer comes as much from the sociologists as it does the market analysts, and it probably has to do with the aging demographics of the biker culture. The Mitchell Daily Republic did a piece on this last year at the conclusion of the ‘22 rally.  MDR noted that the aging crowd was a factor in the “relative stagnation” of the event since it peaked in 2015, when the doors were blown off by attendance at the rally’s 75th anniversary [John Tsitrian, “Last Tango in Sturgis? Not Yet, but the Biker Culture and Industry Are in a Stall, and Maybe an Outright Decline,” South Dakota Standard, 2023.07.26].

One would think that, with 16% fewer vehicles, we’d see 16% less trouble—fewer bikes to crash, fewer riders to ticket. But while Rally attendance is down so far, Rally trouble is not. The Highway Patrol reports that, compared to the first four days of the 2022 Rally, accidents, drug arrests, and citations are up. Drunk-driving arrests and warnings are down.

But hey, Kristi was at the Harley store yesterday and is doing Fox News live from Sturgis today, so surely we’ll see those Rally vehicle counts swing back up and trouble swing back down… since surely all those Freedom-loving Noem followers would never partake of the demon weed.

36 Comments

  1. sx123 2023-08-09

    Older people with enough money are getting too old to go.

    Younger people without enough money aren’t buying Harley’s.

    I personally don’t find the rallies interesting in the slightest. They actually kinda piss me off cause they ‘ruin’ The Hills in August before school starts so tough to take the kids out there.

  2. Tim 2023-08-09

    I’m sure the annual, screw the tourists and take the locals along for the ride, price gouging isn’t having an effect after all these years.

  3. jerry 2023-08-09

    Even putting them in a trailer in Rapid City to take to Sturgis is becoming just too much for the older ones. All the flashed boobs are just sagging wrinkled globs of flesh now, nothing to see. Only thing Sturgis has going for it is the child porn that will be the same issue as always there.

  4. John 2023-08-09

    The Rally is dying as is cowboy culture and life on small rural towns (outside of the Interstate lifelines). The Rally may well have an attendance false uptick in 2 years at the 85th, then will continue spiraling downhill. Sturgis needs to re-invent itself in the meantime. It ought to learn from Lead’s painful re-invention. Lead depended on the mine for everything – then poof the mine closed, power, water, sewage, etc., were shut off and or defunded. Lead failed to even think about a future without the temporary mine. Only the graciousness of Senator Johnson saved Lead – propping it up for a generation of short-term grants and fixes until Lead learned how to tax itself, and find another purpose for the hole it allowed itself to be dragged into.
    Sturgis is similarly ignoring it’s future with a life devoid of the Rally, or its future rump Rally. John T is correct – demographics, economics, and wiser life choices are dooming the Rally. Those are far, far out of the control of Sturgis. Meanwhile those who are adverse to change will hang on for one last high and the inevitable ‘used to bees’.
    Consider that perhaps next year the state will no longer publish Rally attendance, but instead offer tourism puffery pieces of imagined crowds, attendance, and tax revenues. Recall the Noem administration stopped pheasant census and touting hunter numbers, but replaced hard numbers with pheasant puffery — because the resource was fading away in the shadows of heavily industrialized agriculture and demographics putting the hunters in assisted living and nursing homes. Similarly will go the Rally.

  5. Bonnie B Fairbank 2023-08-09

    It was inevitable the State Tart would make her annual appearance for Rally. She’s gotta burnish her image as a good ol’ gal, just ready for some good ol’ biker fun and disorderly conduct.

    Wish she’d tried to gas her ancient truck at the Yesway CS and Sinclair station in Hot Springs on Monday. I had to plead with the surly crowd of bikers clustered at the door to enter to pay; exiting was a little easier because I jammed the doors into the rabble and left. In a hurry.

    But, by all means, let’s welcome Rally participants into our communities because of “touron dollars.”

  6. larry kurtz 2023-08-09

    In the 1960s and 70s Deadwood, South Dakota’s most famous brothel owner, Pam Holliday gave generously to charities, befriended the motorcycle gangs that came to the Black Hills and offered a safe house for gun smugglers, cocaine and “speed” or “bennies,” the old names for amphetamine.

    Today, most, if not all, meth and fentanyl in South Dakota is trafficked by white Trump-worshiping motorcycle clubs. These hordes are essentially domestic terrorists operating with the blessings of the prison/industrial complex.

    The Sons of Silence, Bandidos and Hells Angels control organized crime in the Black Hills area where members have infiltrated nearly every community even operating Rapid City’s Cornerstone Rescue Mission for a time as a front for their activities. Former Cornerstone director, Dan Island, build a Lawrence County mansion and together with his brother Frank built a cocaine and meth empire before their deaths.

    Red River, New Mexico is a town of about 600 souls that gambled on some 28,000 bikers but was terrorized by members of rival outlaw motorcycle gangs so the mountain hamlet will no longer advertise its Memorial Day event as a motorcycle rally destination.

    Las Vegas, New Mexico has canceled its motorcycle rally as the US Marshals Service and other federal law enforcement agencies warn of heightened, even unprecedented violence among OMGs. Motorcycle gang violence in Oklahoma City took the lives of three bikers in April.

    I operated in the Black Hills hospitality market for twenty five years. At Twin City Fruit and Sysco the Sturgis Rally was the peak of the tourist season and made or broke profits for the year. In my construction business I saw first-hand how methamphetamine served the needs of the locals.

    But, a red moocher state like South Dakota is powered by sin: video lootery, a loan shark industry that preys on the least fortunate and a too-big-to-jail banking racket fill in the gaps created by lobbyists who enjoy the protection of single-party tyranny. Desperate to pay off those who benefit the entrenched Republican establishment criminals can expect to have champions sitting as governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

  7. e platypus onion 2023-08-09

    magats to the rescue…. get a list of all cycle owners in the world and prevent them from coming through Duhkota unless they go to Sturgis first. Dangle rides with Noem as bait. Either a trail ride, plane ride or your choice of a ride with her. She’s nothing if not all for freedumb so let yer imaginations run wild and free.

  8. P. Aitch 2023-08-09

    Good News ~ Vacationing is at an all-time high this summer with people in post Covid mode.
    In 2023, travelers are planning to push their limits. Getting outside their comfort zone is a priority for 73% of travelers this year, with 30% saying they want to find hidden gems in lesser-known cities around the world.

    https://www.thetravel.com/travel-trends-for-2023/

  9. Curt 2023-08-09

    There are still plenty of Bikers. Thousands of rugged individualists sporting nearly identical black T-shirts under their leather jackets, tattoos galore, ratty beards and shaved heads – and that’s just the women. If you’re not a non-conformist, you just don’t fit in at the Rally.

  10. jerry 2023-08-09

    True that Curt, a horde of clones.

  11. Arlo Blundt 2023-08-09

    The bloom is off the rose…Since the 70’s when the “Hill Climb” became” the Rally ” it has been a convention for outlaw biker gangs in the Western US, held amidst a swarm of old and in the way wannabes. Larry is right.

  12. Linda 2023-08-09

    Oh please…just stop with “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” routine, about the rally.

    Sturgis, and Spearfish, and Belle Fourche, and Deadwood, received very hard rain on Thursday evening, and most of the day on Friday and Saturday, for the first weekend of the rally. It was the coldest day for the rally, ever, on Friday night, and Saturday. Three to four inches of rain fell, in 48 hours from Thursday night to Saturday night.

    It was dangerous to drive I-90 in a car, let alone on a motorcycle. This is also why there was a huge traffic jam at Exit 55, the Windmill Truckstop exit, in Rapid City, on Saturday midday. Exit 55 is also where the Rapid City Harley-Davidson dealership is located. There are dozens of vendors at that site, with a huge parking lot. The parking lot became overfull, and traffic was backed up onto I-90. The SD Highway Patrol did a Facebook post about it, on Saturday afternoon, advising motorists to avoid the area. Bikers were staying close to their lodging, so those in Rapid City went the “Rally at Exit 55” (which is how RC HD advertises it).

    Those who were already in Sturgis stayed close to their lodging, too. Many ceremonial rides were cancelled, on Friday and Saturday. The traffic counts were way down, for a few days. And as someone who has to drive THROUGH Sturgis, to get to Rapid City, I strongly believe the rally is going strong. It ebbs and flows, but it is not going away. …. And no, I have never owned a motorcycle. It’s just that us locals know how busy it really is.

  13. Charles Point 2023-08-09

    The Sooner it Dies, the Better.

  14. Sion G. Hanson 2023-08-09

    A quote from a friend. He was in Rapid City at the Windmill on Saturday. ” I felt like I was at a masquerade party for senior citizens and everyone was dressed as a biker.”

  15. TimA 2023-08-09

    Linda is correct, the wet/cold/soggy conditions during the opening weekend kept many rally goers indoors.

    Stop hate’n on the rally, we are partially dependent on the economic windfall it creates.

    You don’t know what ya got, till it’s gone!

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-08-10

    John’s comparison of Sturgis to Lead is interesting. Mining and tourism are both extractive industries—are they both ultimately unsustainable? And to what new tourism attractions or other industries could Sturgis turn its economic attention? Does it have any options that could draw as much tax revenue as the Rally?

    It’s strange that a town would choose to make a living by making itself unlivable for residents for two weeks a year.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-08-10

    Update: DOT reports 55,848 vehicle entries on Tuesday, Day 5, down just 3.4% from the past six-year average. Governor Noem made pancakes for bikers. That Tuesday number raises projected attendance to 431K, 13% below the six-year average.

  18. Linda 2023-08-10

    400k+ attendees, at any festival, in any town, for any reason, is a lot.

    The Black Hills are the attraction. The twisty, winding, scenic roads. The Corvette Rally in mid July, the HD Rally in early August. The Mustang Rally over Labor Day Weekend. There are smaller rallies, too. There’s a Jeep Jamboree every year, and a three-wheeler rally, among others.

    All of these rally attendees leave a nice trail of green (dollars) behind. Tourist destinations are not unsustainable. The Grand Canyon is not going away, nor is Yellowstone or Mt Rushmore or Lake Tahoe. Every tourist destination has a draw, to bring people in. It’s an industry, and is far better than all the small gun and ammo manufacturers that have come and gone, in the Sturgis area. Tourism is a much more dependable source of revenue. It is seasonal. But there is seasonality in many industries.

  19. jerry 2023-08-10

    400,000 potential donors for human parts. There is a silver linning to this plague. When does the body count start or has it already?

  20. e platypus onion 2023-08-10

    You don’t know what ya got, till it’s gone!

    Never been there, never will go there. I ain’t missing a thing and if/when it’s gone, I still won’t be missing a thing.

  21. jerry 2023-08-10

    The best 400,000 rally was Woodstock 1969. Those folks didn’t let a little rain stop the action.

  22. Bonnie B Fairbank 2023-08-10

    That’s why motorcycles are called “donorcycles” by medical folks, Jerry.

  23. leslie 2023-08-10

    amen to Woodstock, jerry! thx

  24. leslie 2023-08-10

    TimA, the vast majority of the population forced to support and put up w/the rally’s extraordinary downside consequence, do not benefit.

  25. All Mammal 2023-08-10

    KN in her washed-up Kid Rock tank, looking like the Peace Corps should feed calories to asap..? AG Jackley reporting all mysterious-like on the officer involved shooting on the side of the highway in Sturgis..? One of the lousiest band lineups in history..? Arrests and fines ever climbing..? And sexy people apparently boycotting the entire event…? Maybe people are starting to realize those things repel a good time. I hope the ‘23 Sturgis Rally tragedy count stops ticking up like the world birth meter.

    For all the complaining about President Biden’s high gas prices and inflation, there sure is no shortage of twumpkins flocking to the kiddy swap in Sturgis, SD. Must not be as bad as they claim.

  26. All Mammal 2023-08-10

    Almost missed another feature of the rally that repels most logical party animals: Butte County picked up a dude from Washington state on his way to Sturgis with two AR-15’s, pistols, bulletproof armor, pipe bombs, and a 200 page manifesto outlining genocide and molesting kids. Strange how the AG didn’t mention that when he was mentioning the man shot by an officer in broad daylight. Turns out it was uploaded on youtube:/ Noem loving, Biden hating patriots can become dangerous.
    https://www.kotatv.com/2023/08/10/man-arrested-terrorist-threats-his-way-sturgis/

    https://kbhbradio.com/breaking-officer-involved-shooting-at-sturgis-wednesday/

    Look out for each other in SD, my people

  27. bearcreekbat 2023-08-11

    I have attended the rally on my various motorcycles (Hondas, Norton, Triumph and Kawasakis, but no Harleys) for 47 consecutive years (1976-2023), and another 2 or 3 years before that.. It is quite interesting to learn how my fellow DFP commenters currently stereotype me and judge me based on this behavior. Nuff said.

  28. All Mammal 2023-08-11

    bcb- I apologize for my comment about sexy people boycotting the rally. I will concede there is at least one hottie in attendance each year at the Sturgis Rally… you! You are one of the last DFPers I would ever want to offend and I’m really sorry.

    However, the rest of what I said is based on legitimate concerns for people. So please be safe, and remember: don’t do anything I would do(:

  29. grudznick 2023-08-11

    Mr. bat from Bear Creek, I would be curious which of the various motorcycles you sport today, and which of them from back in the day would be the most interesting to fellow rally goers today if you were to roll up on it and park it next to some of the insane behemoths and fancy sloths they portend to ride today. If you rolled up on a Norton would you gather more gawkers than if you rolled up on some sort of crotch rocket, is what grudznick is wondering.

  30. bearcreekbat 2023-08-12

    grudz, today I ride a 2004 Kawasaki Vulcan Drifter 800cc. My guess is that the 1958 Triumph Twentyone would be most interesting to gawkers since it was in all original condition and had been purchased new for or by Eva Satterlee (a member of the Motor Maids), wife of Roger Satterlee, the local Triumph and BSA dealer in the Black Hills in the 1950s. I don’t know how many folks today would appreciate the Nortion, but it too was a beautiful bike in original condition.

  31. Mark B 2023-08-12

    A friend of mine is an advertising exec in the hills, he says in the last couple years most attendees are weekend fly-ins. They’re are a lot of blue collar business owners from Indiana and Ohio and such who cant be away from their operations for a full week. Gone are the full week ride-outs, campgrounds pretty quiet mid week.

    I do think the Rally will always have a place, the dynamics may change, but folks will show up. Unfortunately, I sense it will become more of a Proud Boys/QAnon/Trump Rally going forward, and less welcoming to anything other than far-right ideologies. See national stories on the empty Budweiser tents at Rally for reference.

    Kristi is certainly doing evrrything she can to make it so. Would be quite the spectacle to have Mike Flynn bring his circus there and make Kristi decide if she will serve Pancakes to all the rowdies at the Chip or raise her hands at a Holy Roller morning breakfast w Flynn. Seeing her have to take off one of her many masks would be worth attending for me.

  32. Mark B 2023-08-12

    Also in the future, they can head up the road to the Taliban Training Camp the GFP wants to build. Perfect.

  33. jerry 2023-08-12

    Budweiser could fill that tent up quickly by selling their beer for a buck a bottle for heavy with a burger and 50 cents for the water beer, bud light with a hot dog. Call it the Woke Rally Special

  34. Arlo Blundt 2023-08-12

    I’d much rather be in Mitchell for the State B (small town) Amateur Baseball State Tournament final rounds this weekend. We’ve got Tabor (a traditional powerhouse) Dell Rapids, Lesterville and Canova (several times a state champion) in a playoff for the championship this weekend. There will be very, very few arrests, and no gun play. Mrs. Noem should be in Mitchell celebrating this historic event, which has been going on for something like 75 years, with South Dakotans who love America’s Pastime. Apparently, She’d rather be knee deep in beer cans, pandering to outlaw bikers and Q-Anon no minds.

  35. L Carpenter 2023-08-12

    We attended this year in spite of Noem. We saw less of the trump paraphernalia this year. Not all bikers are far right, thank goodness. 😉

  36. bearcreekbat 2023-08-12

    Just got back from another afternoon at the Sturgis Rally. As usual I didn’t witness a single arrest. Didn’t see beer cans (or other litter) on the ground anywhere. Saw lots of bible thumpers trying to give away bibles and various pieces of religious propagandana, lots of muscians playing a variety of country and rock music, all ages and types of people, costumes galore, lots of smiles and grins, all types of food varieties, vendors selling clothes and a wide variety of trinkets and even somew useful items, but saw no overt Q-Anon activity, no Trump signs, no Trump hats, nor any outlaw biker activity. Also talked with several individuals that all seemed to have relatively normal minds.

    As for Noem, IMHO she should be in Pierre working on progressive ideas that might actually benefit SD, rather than continuing to promote bogus negative stereotypes of groups of individuals.

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