Kentucky is known for lightning-fast thoroughbreds, velvety smooth bourbon, and rockin’ motorcycle rallies, but there is one rally that surpasses them all. Thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country roar into the tiny town of Sturgis in western Kentucky every July to spend a weekend partying for charity.
This is the Little Sturgis Rally and Races for Charity’s 14th year, and the event is starting to put Sturgis on the map as the place to be seen on your Harley-Davidson motorcycle. So if you are hog-wild for H.O.G.s (that’s what everyone calls their Harley—it means Harley Owners Group) you won’t want to miss the fun.
Be warned, this is not a family event, and no one under age 18 can purchase a ticket to attend the rally.
So you might wonder what type of people attend the Little Sturgis Rally.
On the outside, Jodi Monarch of Newburgh, Indiana, is a straight-laced bank manager, but on the inside there is a biker chick dying to get out. Monarch’s love of riding goes way back. She used to enjoy the thrill of riding on the back of her brother-in-law’s bike, but she decided it wasn’t thrilling enough.
“I just made up my mind one day I was tired of being in the back seat and wanted to sit in the front seat,” Monarch says.
That led to the purchase of a 2000 Harley Sportster. Although Monarch has been to the Little Sturgis Rally several times, she’s never been on her own bike, and she can’t wait to show off her new ride at this year’s rally.
“It’s a Sportster,” Monarch says, “but when we customized it, we put all Fat Boy (that’s a specific type of Harley-Davidson motorcycle, first built in 1990, recognized by its solid-cast disc front wheel) parts on it, and we turned it into what looks like a miniature Fat Boy.”
Part of the rally fun is seeing all the bells and whistles fellow motorcycle aficionados have put on their bikes. Bikers like to talk about their motorcycles the way proud parents like to talk about their children. Many will bend your ear for as long as you will let them, filling you in on all the details of the customizing job they did on their bike.
What does riding a Harley do for Monarch? “It’s just an amazing feeling. I can have one of the worst, most stressful days of my life, and the second I pull out of the driveway on my bike it’s like the wind just sucks all that stress out of me.”
The favorite part of the rally, says Monarch, is “Absolutely, hands down, the people-watching. If you are a people-watcher, that is the place to be.”
To say there are some unusual sights at the rally would be an understatement. Most first-timers to the rally will agree they have never seen so many tattoos and piercings in one place. But here’s a little secret. For some white-collar professionals, the rally is a bit of a costume party.
See the rough-looking guy sporting the leather vest and the do-rag (that’s the bandana-type handkerchief motorcyclists wear on their heads)? Think he might be a Hell’s Angel? Maybe, but he could just as easily be a dentist from Cleveland living out a James Dean, bad-boy fantasy while modeling the latest in “outlaw chic” fashion. He will probably go back to filling teeth on Monday.
That’s the unusual thing about the rally. It cuts across class lines and income brackets, and unites everyone who has a need to feel the wind in their hair. There are many people at the rally who in real life just don’t fit the traditional biker stereotype.
Take Guy B. Stratton of Winchester, Tennessee, for example. Some would say he has an unusual hobby for an 81-year-old. In 1946, the WWII veteran bought his first motorcycle, a 1941 two-cylinder Flathead, and he has been collecting Harleys and other bikes ever since. Stratton still rides every chance he gets, often to his annual Iwo Jima survivors reunion. But since that is a February event, Mrs. Stratton, who always rode in back, finally convinced him that maybe it would be a good idea to start driving to the reunions instead.
Stratton attended the first Little Sturgis Rally back in 1993, and he has seen it grow from a biker’s party of 2,000 people to a major blow-out of a rally and charity event with approximately 24,000 motorcycle enthusiasts attending in 2005.
Stratton likes to watch the motorcyclists do “burn-outs,” where water is poured on the track and a biker revs up the engine and smokes the back tire.
“But thank goodness you don’t have to kick them like we used to,” he adds.
Stratton looks forward to hitting the throttle on his ’94 Heritage at this year’s Little Sturgis Rally and getting reacquainted with fellow motorcycle lovers.
The Little Sturgis Rally offers bikers lots of ways to show off their ride. Dirt drags, field events, and a poker run are always a hit with bikers, but one of the highlights is the drive-in bike show. Competitors enter one or more of 14 different motorcycle classes, so whether you have a foreign antique or the latest and greatest Harley, there’s a place for you.
George Belt co-chairs the bike show with his wife, Marcy, and he says sometimes bike and biker bear a strong resemblance. “The bike actually takes on the identity of the person riding the bike. There are people who have tattoos that match something on the bike.”
Those who enter their bikes in the show take enormous pride in their motorcycles, and Belt says he is always impressed with the creativity demonstrated by the contestants.
“Building a motorcycle is the same as putting paint on canvas. A lot of times they will have a likeness of a family member painted on the bike.”
Coming away from the bike show with a big, shiny trophy is enough to send any biker straight to HOG heaven.
HEADING TO STURGIS ON YOUR HOG?
Any serious motorcycle enthusiast knows about the big motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which attracts half a million people a year. But for Kentuckians who want a great biking experience that’s closer to home, the Little Sturgis Rally is a great alternative. If you go, here are a few things you need to know:
- The rally runs July 13–July16. Campgrounds open at 3 p.m. on Thursday. Friday has field events from 12 noon-5 p.m., with the opening ceremony and blessing of bikes at 5 p.m. Live bands Friday and Saturday nights. Saturday is the poker run, bike show, field events, and dirt drags.
- Admission is $40 per person.
- The Little Sturgis Rally is not a family event. You must be 18 years old to join the rally fun.
- There are no hotels in Sturgis, so if you plan to stay overnight, camping is an essential part of the rally experience. The Union County Fairgrounds are used for that purpose, and people start lining up early. This is a big party and there will be noise and music into the wee hours of the morning. If you are worried about missing your beauty sleep or don’t like to camp, you may want to make a day trip to the rally and spend the night at a hotel in a nearby town.
For more information, go to www.littlesturgisrally.net or call (270) 333-9316.