Saturday, May 22, 2010
Drawn to Sturgis, like a moth to the flame
This was not the scene when Flanman arrived in Sturgis, S. Dak.
In fact, Main Street looked like this during my visit.
Sturgis. The American motorcycle Mecca. The destination for an annual hajj of legions of disciples of the mighty V-twin.
Last August, an estimated 750,000 people showed up for the big rally. The population of the entire state is about 812,000 -- so it's a pretty big deal.
I arrived on Friday, May 21 -- two months early -- accompanied by a Badlands thunderstorm. I slid off I-90 from Rapid City, cruised downtown to get my bearings, checked into the Starlight Motel and gave the rain a chance to stop.
I put my gear back on and headed downtown to the Loud American Roadhouse on Main Street. The place was hopping, even though the KLR was the only two-wheeler parked out front. NASCAR, hockey and baseball were playing on the flat screens and the horseshoe bar in the center of the big room was doing a brisk business.
The Loud American Roadhouse is one of many large saloons that cater to the August crowds.
I hung my soggy jacket on the back of a stool and took a seat at a tall table. Then things deteriorated.
I ordered a glass of cabernet. After a few minutes, a waitress brought a glass of chardonnay. When she came back with the red wine I ordered, it was undrinkable.
"Would you like a shiraz instead?" she asked. I asked for a Miller Lite and ordered the steak tips dinner, which came with a salad or soup -- the soup choices were cheeseburger or beef stroganoff.
I ordered the beef stroganoff soup and minutes later the steak tips arrived. "Don't you usually bring the soup first?" I asked. The waitress apologized and brought me a cup of the cheeseburger soup.
"Is everything OK?" she asked. "Well, now that you mention it ...," I said.
She took the cheeseburger soup away and brought a cup of the stroganoff and a check.
The total was $0.00 -- they comped the whole dinner. The waitress said they were really sorry they'd screwed things up so bad and she hoped I'd come back and give them another chance. Nice people.
It was still raining and, heck, I was just happy to be indoors where it was dry.
Our May 22 rally consisted of me and this guy from Washington.
Next morning, the rain had stopped and I packed up, checked out, went down to Main Street and had breakfast at Weimer's Donuts and Diner. There were three calendars on the wall and the place was full of local folks and conversation, including a discussion of what the city was doing with the streetlights.
The city fathers decided to replace the existing lights with some with a more Old West or Victorian Era look, but rather than replace the old light poles, they'd begun to saw them off to fit the theme. Then, someone came up with the idea of memorializing long-standing businesses with bronze medallions glued to the poles.
"I wasn't going to do it," said the woman who runs the diner. "It seemed like a lot of money. But then I thought, gee ... we've been here since 1949, and I went ahead."
Weimer's Donuts and Diner is now memorialized on this lamp post. Presumably, the pole will get a coat of paint when the new lamps are installed.
Sturgis isn't such a happening place between rallies.
After breakfast, I headed over to the nearby Sturgis Motorcycle Museum, also on Main Street, which is located in the old Sturgis post office building.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Museum is worth a stop.
"With several exhibit rooms and an increasingly impressive selection of unique motorcycles, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum offers a world class experience for visitors and has been listed as one of the 10,000 Places to See Before You Die by author Patricia Schultz," says the museum's web site.
Well, I wouldn't rank it up there with Yosemite and Mount Rushmore, but 10,000 is a lot of places.
The 1949 HRD Vincent Rapide's engine is a lovely piece of motorcycle art.
Since I was virtually the only visitor, the curator du jour gave me a personal guided tour, pointing out highlights, such as pre-1910 Harley's and Indians and an Electra Glide that Wisconsin State Senator Dave Zien rode 1 million miles flying U.S. and Wisconsin flags.
Zien's million-mile Harley has had numerous engine rebuilds. The fenders and a few other parts are original.
Although the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club didn't inaugurate the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally until 1938, the museum has a fine collection of bikes that predate the big party, including a 1905 Excelsior, 1910 Flying Merkel and a 1913 Harley Davidson. The newest model is a gorgeous 1999 Excelsior-Henderson Super X, still in the shipping crate. It was an instant classic, since only 2,000 were built before the Minnesota company went bankrupt.
Several of the antiques in the collection are pristine, like this old Harley...
... and this pre-WWI Indian, which looked fresh from the factory Valve covers? We don't need no stinking valve covers!
Among the "classics" on display was this 1967 Honda 305 Dream -- my very first motorcycle.
I was delighted to find a 1967 Honda 305 Dream among all the classic racers and groundbreaking examples of two-wheel engineering. I bought a used Dream for $400 back in 1965 when I was in the army stationed in Colorado Springs and rode it all over the area, including up the Rocky Mountain dirt roads to the old mining towns of Cripple Creek and Victor. With its stamped steel fenders and frame, the Dream was designed more for civilized urban commuting, but who could resist the call of the wild?
My Dream was black and didn't have these snazzy saddlebags.
That Honda engine was a pretty design. The bike came with electric start, but the kick starter was essential.