Sex, Love, and Rock & Roll!

  Oh yes, and Bikers!

Sturgis 1999

by Avner Ofer

clasic bikes

The rumble of engines from thousands of motorcycles, combined with the mumble of excited voices from even a larger number of bikers, awakened the small town of Sturgis South Dakota, from its usual summer-time slumber.

The roads to Sturgis were swarming with ‘bikes’ of every shape, type, form, and color. This quite town represents a Mecca for bikers, and every summer between 250,000 to 500,000 machines roll into Sturgis, like a swarm of locusts. My first view of this phenomenon became apparent when attempting to find a place to sleep in Minnesota, at no avail. While driving across the country this summer, and after a grueling long day of driving and sightseeing, I discovered that every hotel room for miles was occupied guessed it...bikers. Outside every hotel, motel, campground, and rest area, all that could be seen were bikes. At first I thought of it as a coincidence, but sure enough the name Sturgis kept finding its way to my ears as one hotel to the next turned me away. The word also howled in the wind as bikers passed me on the open road. The closer I got to South Dakota, the more Sturgis became a headache.

A couple of years ago, in my freshman’s intercultural speaking class, my teacher read us an article regarding the events that occur at Sturgis every summer. He described the participants as a sub-culture to the American culture. It was an intriguing story concerning a life style so removed from my own. The last time I ‘rode’ a motorcycle was at the age of seven, and that was enough to traumatize me for life, after falling off. So, I was actually hoping to witness such a gathering for my own. Well, this summer, without planning or even any knowledge that this event was taking place, I also found myself "rolling" into Sturgis.

bikes, bikes, bikes It was an odd day to say the least. Driving up from the PineRidge reservation, which is the poorest of the Native American reservations, into the mostly white mid-aged tattooed bikers of Sturgis, was like a time warp into a different dimension. It was the first night of the "gathering" and already the town boomed with action.

Each summer the residents of Sturgis hibernate for a week as the town transforms itself. From a small mid-west agricultural community, with its Main street lined with the local grocery store, the hardware store, the small local shops and a few restaurants, spawns a wild sex, bikes and

rock and roll" sin city. Main street is lined with leather shops, bike accessories shops, motorcycle dealers, adult material shops, and of course one can not forget the hard-core partying hangouts, that sprout all over town.
After a disorienting start, or rather being overwhelmed by the multitude of people and sights, the atmosphere and excitement of Sturgis swept me away . The sidewalks were packed with people, while the streets were lined with bikes. There were thousands upon thousand of bikes covering every inch of asphalt. Sturgis, South Dakota
The noise was unbelievable. Engines spun high as bikers showed off their possessions drag racing down main street. At first I was examining the wide variety of bikes, and other creations that filled the streets. Let me I am barley a novice when it comes to motorcycle knowledge, but I do know how to read Harley Davidson, Yamaha, Kawasaki, and Indian. The majority were Harleys, including Low riders, two-seaters, and a range of altered and specialized versions. Overwhelming is an understatement to express what the sight, and sound of these machines did to my senses.

But, that was just the beginning. The stores sold an array of goods, from every and any leather product one can imagine (and I do mean any), to specialized motorcycle accessories such as decorated mirrors, and specially designed seat covers, was impressive. Again, the remarkable amount of merchandise and moreover their unique nature, were mesmerizing. Never have I seen so much chrome in one place, that even with only the street lights shining on them, they were blinding.

Biker dude
Yet, the prize for fascination by all accounts, went to the bikers themselves. Although we can generalize about the people who show up at Sturgis - they all love their bikes, leather, woman, and beer- in reality they represent quite a divers group of people. There are the hard core riders like Hells Angels, who have for a long time dominated people’s perception of what bikers are. In so doing they have given bikers a bad reputation.
Getting tattooed
Then there are the modern day cowboys, who have been riding their bikes since the 60’s (and are now themselves in their 60s) who still enjoy the bikers way of life. Finally there are the RUB’s - rich urban bikers. The name applies to all those who ride only on the weekends, hold executive jobs, possess bikes as a hobby, and show up at Sturgis with a camping van trailing their bikes rather than riding the long hard road over.

Walking through the streets of Sturgis, it was difficult to really differentiate among the different groups. The wide variety of people in their biker costumes were more than enough to catch my attention. However, the bikers` chicks or rather cheeks attracted my focus even more. Not to disappoint the crowds, the woman at Sturgis are true to their reputation, and exhibit their ware freely.

My final stop was at one of those local restaurants turned beer / party / rock 'n roll bar. Every place was packed with beer drinking bikers dancing to live rock and roll music. What impressed me about these friendly people, was their awareness to the effects of beer. As it turns out they only drink light beers, so they must be watching their weight. The scene at the party was what one would expect from bikers: gallons beer sold by young attractive and exposed waitresses, loud 60s and 70s rock 'n roll music, special attractions such as mechanical bull riding, hammer slam, and some adult games too graphic for description.

The short Sturgis experience I had, though, was illuminating. There are many sub-cultures living in the United States. Some, more than others, stand out and are unique, like the bikers at Sturgis. These people come together once a year in a remote little town in South Dakota, to share their love for motorcycles and partying.

If there is one thing gained from this experience, it is the knowledge that having a passion for something is a strong power that can unite people.

customized bike Some stereotypes were broken, such as the violent nature of biker gangs which was not evident at all, while other such as the general ‘look’ of bikers was confirmed. So, although not possessing the ‘look’, with my short blonde hair, plain T-shirt, and no tattoos, I enjoyed glimpsing a world incredibly different than mine, and gaining a greater respect for their chosen way of life.



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