The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, isn’t the typical mountain biker’s road-trip destination. My love for two wheels, however, goes beyond the dirt, and I enjoy roaming the country on my Harley as much as I love catching air on my mountain bike.
After years of having to choose between a truck with my mountain bike in the back or heading out on my motorcycle, just staring at the mountains around me wishing I had my mountain bike, it was time to think outside the box. After my longtime employer surprised me with a going-out-of-business phone call, I found myself at a crossroads. I’d always wanted to ride to Sturgis but was typically committed to being in Whistler, British Columbia, for Crankworx, the Mardi Gras meets Super Bowl of mountain-bike events. When I looked at the calendar and saw Sturgis took place a week before Crankworx, the wheels began to turn. Could I get a group together and ride to the two biggest two-wheeled events in North America? Hell yeah I could! And so I did.
I searched eBay and bought a Harley quick-disconnect baseplate for a Tour-Pak to use as the base for the rack. From there some square stock was erected with a roof-rack bicycle fork mount attachment system. A friend put some tubing in a bender and welded a piece of angle iron to it to complete the motorcycle’s bicycle rack. After a successful shakedown the bicycle rack was off to the powdercoater.
In the months leading up to the trip, group texts and s—t talking passed time as we speculated on weather and who would b—ch out. Nic, who earned the nickname “U-turn” thanks to his inability to properly secure his load, had some work conflicts, so our departure was delayed to Tuesday evening. It was a few days after the Sturgis kickoff party, but we figured that would be plenty of time to make the roughly 1,300-mile ride to Sturgis from Bend, Oregon.
You may have guessed by now that our trip wasn’t full of flashing women and easy miles. In fact, we only made it about five hours before our first derailment. In keeping with the theme of our trip, however, a missed turn outside the town of Burns, Oregon, put us in the middle of nowhere in the middle of a full-moon night. We happened to be near the Crystal Crane Hot Springs, which made our detour completely worth it.
We woke up on the shore of a great hot spring, packed our stuff, and hit the road east. After a small-town café and hundreds of straight, boring miles, we found ourselves blazing though Boise with temperatures almost matching our triple-digit speeds. We’d had enough of the soulless slab and hopped off the highway in hopes of making it to Jackson, Wyoming.
Shortly after leaving the highway we snaked up the winding road toward Craters of the Moon National Monument. Our scenic ride was interrupted when U-turn unexpectedly stopped in front of us to tell us he may not have enough fuel to make it. Once the smoke cleared and our hands stopped shaking, we pressed on rather than backtrack 10 miles to the last station we passed. About an hour later U-turn was empty and coasted to the side of the road. Sammy and I saw the town in the distance, and after waving at U-turn we continued to cold drinks and Hostess treats. Don’t judge us yet! We all had fuel bottles on our bikes. We expected U-turn would arrive as soon as we’d down a tasty beverage. Instead we saw him coasting up, skateboarding into the station. “My fuel bottle was empty!” he yelled out.
After filling up and cooling off, we continued. We made a stop in Arco, Idaho, the first town powered by atomic energy, and had an atomic burger before venturing into the desolate plains of eastern Idaho. Jackson was not happening for us this night. We found a random place to set up camp and pressed on early the next morning.
At breakfast that morning we took inventory of the unimpressive number of miles covered and agreed to make a quick stop in Jackson. As it goes so often on the road, we didn’t follow through with that plan either. Just as the road wound around the summit and presented us with a view of Jackson Hole, a group of 10 mountain bikers, fully geared up, raised their fists in the air and dropped into what looked like the trail of a lifetime. Not wanting to regret passing this up, we pulled over and swapped bikes.
It was a welcome break from the highway, but our “short” exploratory mountain-bike ride turned into a six-hour suffer fest. Without water or snacks we were ill prepared for the massive descent and subsequent climb back up. But—hot damn—was that downhill trail worth it!
We cussed, cried, and drug ourselves back to the Harleys and mustered up enough energy to load up and ride into Jackson for the best burrito of our trip. Tired and without another nearby town, we found a friendly local who also rode mountain bikes and he let us crash at his pad.
Early the next morning we made our way through Grand Teton. We got to bask in their beauty a bit longer than anticipated, as the first of U-turn’s cargo dumps occurred about 10 miles into our ride. After a while Sammy’s taillight rattled loose. At least it happened near a scenic viewpoint. Back on the road we climbed out of the valley and descended into Dubois, Wyoming, home of the world’s largest jackalope.
We sped away from Dubois and made it a full tank without having to turn around! Feeling proud, U-turn was about to hop back on his bike before noticing threads sticking out of his bald rear tire. Thermopolis, not exactly a booming metropolis, had but a single motorcycle shop, and inside was a kooky mechanic with a tire. It just so happened to fit. Sadly, he reinstalled the wheel incorrectly and shoved the rotor between the piston and back of the brake pad and bolted up the saddlebags without us noticing. Excited with our luck we peeled out trying to make up time in hopes of reaching Sturgis for some Friday-night festivities.
After upsetting some motorists and dragging some floorboards through some of the prettiest country we’ve ever seen, we arrived in Buffalo, Wyoming. U-turn nearly missed the station as he yelled, “I’ve got no brakes!” We peeked under to see a chewed-up rotor as the heat blasted our faces. We pulled the saddlebag off, removed some brackets, and pulled the brake pads out, and U-turn was back on the road sans a rear brake. The rain was starting to fall and the sun was setting. We only had a couple hundred miles to go. I said to myself that we were making it to Sturgis tonight! So off we went trying to stay ahead of the rain.
Soon the light show in the sky was replaced with the neon lights of Sturgis. We made our way through town before finding a spot to park on the main drag. We had two days to recharge, explore, and get ready for the real party in Whistler! It was only another 1,400 miles—what could go wrong? Stay tuned next month to see how it all went down.