How many motorcycle rallies have lasted over 80 years? We feel confident to say not many! Sturgis, sometimes going by the Black Hills Motorcycle Rally, turned 83 in 2021. For nearly a century, the annual trek to the Black Hills of South Dakota has been something to look forward to each year for motorcycle enthusiasts.

So what makes the Sturgis Rally a motorcycle haven, and how does it link to the celebrated Harley-Davidson Sturgis models? To explore this connection and commemorate the iconic rally that brought hundreds of thousands of bike enthusiasts together, the Taverner Motorsports team is taking you on a drive across the infamous Sturgis rally and the Harley-Davidson bikes that followed.

The History of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Source: Black Hills & Badlands

The History of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

The Sturgis motorcycle rally, for seasoned bike enthusiasts, this name is bound to ring in their ears. Held in Sturgis, South Dakota and the surrounding Black Hills region of the United States, the rally brings hundreds of thousands of motorcycle riders in one area to commemorate their shared interest in bikes. Now, if you’re not familiar with US geography, think Mount Rushmore, as this is one of the area’s most recognised landmarks.

To understand why Sturgis is the epitome of motorcycle rallies for many, we need to dive deep into the origins. Starting our story in 1936, a man named Clarence Hoel, known to many as Pappy, and his wife Pearl, purchased a local motorcycle franchise known as the Indian Motorcycle Riders. Pappy launched a club for bike riders known as the Jackpine Gypsies during that same year.

local motorcycle franchise

Source: Black Hills & Badlands

Pappy formed the rally’s first-ever event in 1938, a single small race consisting of just nine riders and a small audience. Once known as the Black Hills Classics, that race signified the birth of what was to become the start of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The rally quickly expanded. By 1961, the rally included Hillclimb and Motocross races. Imagine half-mile track racing, intentional board wall crashes, ramp jumps and head-on collisions with automobiles; the rally was nothing short of a motorcycle enthusiast’s haven.

The rally ran every year until a couple of years during World War II. By 1949, the rally returned with an even larger presence in Sturgis, with the main street being taken over for the rally’s awards ceremony. The yearly event continued to expand during the 1960s, with new races and events joining the celebration and the date eventuating into a week-long destination event in 1975.

rallys awards ceremony

Source: NY Times

Why Sturgis?

So what makes hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts flock to Sturgis each year? Of course, there’s the rally and bike shows galore, but other events like the drag race, the 5K run and vendor villages are the cherry on top of the Sturgis week-long event. Did we mention the headliner concerts? The music sets the stage perfectly from heavyweight artists in rock, country, and western.

The Sturgis Rally Today

Today, the Sturgis Rally is recognised globally as a celebration of motorcycles, community and rock ‘n’ roll. Now the largest event in South Dakota spanning ten days, the event remains owned and operated by the Gypsies Motorcycle Club.

Beginning the first Friday of every August, the multifaceted gathering brimming with events put on by various groups continues to draw in crowds from all corners of the world to hone their appreciation for motorcycles. If you’re wondering exactly how many, 2015’s rally estimated a 739,000 attendance, coming from all 50 US states and more from Canada and other International countries. Think Japan, Australia, Germany and England, to name a few. Whether you come by bike or behind the wheel of a car, everyone celebrates side by side.

The Sturgis Rally Today


The Harley-Davidson Sturgis Motorcycles

Now onto where the connection ties in. Harley-Davidson, the quintessential all-American motorcycle company forged in 1903, created three models in the line-up spanning 1980 to 1982.

The Harley-Davis Sturgis Motorcycles

Source: Mecum Auction

1981 Harley-Davidson FXB Sturgis

Starting off our list is the 1981 Harley-Davidson FXB Sturgis. Constructed in the early 80s, the 1981 Harley-Davidson FXB Sturgis is an updated version of the 1978 Harley-DavidsonFXS Low Rider. It also happened to be introduced the same year senior Harley-Davidson executives purchased the company back from AMF, which saved the company from debt.

Best known as an extremely limited model, with only 3,543 built, the 1981 FXB plays homage to the Iconic Sturgis bike event. Nearly entirely black, with just hints of orange and subtle chrome trim, the 1981 model will continue to be one of Harley’s most popular and collectible bikes.

The bike’s name is just as notable as its design, specifically the “B” in FXB. This was Harley-Davidson’s first model using belt-driven technology. When the model was released, riders were sceptical about how durable and potentially disastrous the driver belt would be. But as innovative as Harley-Davidson is, the decision to utilise the driver belts paid off, with the belts surpassing lifespan expectations. While the first model was essentially a test to see how loyal Harley-Davidson followers would accept the belt drive systems, the design proved successful, spreading like wildfire to other Harley models.

Harley-Davidsons first model

Source: Mecum Auction

1982 Harley-Davidson FXB Sturgis

Fitted with toothed belts instead of typical chains, the 1982 Harley-Davidson FXB Sturgis was a dream to ride. Like the 1981 model, the FXB is based on the Low Rider chassis and engine, with the “B” representing belts. While the belts manufactured by Gates Rubber Company were more challenging to repair, their use of aramid fibre forged a cleaner and quieter ride, where no adjustment or lubrication was needed. Some earlier problems were also remedied with electronic ignition, resulting in an easier engine to fire up.

1982 Harley-Davidson

Source: Mecum Auction

Like the earlier model, the 1982 FXB Sturgis is almost entirely black with just enough colour, signifying the classic Harley-Davidson black and orange colours. Continuing the trend of minimal chrome accents, the 1982 Sturgis uses hints of chrome exclusively on the forks, exhaust pikes and trims

classic Harley-Davidson

Source: Mecum Auction

1991 Harley-Davidson FXDB Sturgis

Like all of Harley-Davidson’s early custom pieces, the Sturgis earned its place as an established collector’s piece. Unlike other models, the Sturgis line was a fan favourite from the start, a hit we can’t imagine will slow down any time soon. The next Sturgis model would be revived in the 90s, with the 1991 Harley-Davidson FXDB. Made to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sturgis rally, the bike was powered by the evolutionary V-twin engines. Remaining consistent with earlier models, the paint scheme remained back and orange, with chrome accents.

Building Dream Bikes

Source: Mecum Auction

Taverner Motorsports: Building Dream Bikes

There you have it, the origins of the famous Sturgis rally and the bikes that commemorate it. If you’re lucky enough to say you’ve attended a Sturgis rally, you’re likely the envy of every bike enthusiast that is still yet to make it. 2022’s will be held on August 4th-13th, commemorating the event’s 83rd anniversary. So save the date, and hope travel International travel resumes this year!

Taverner is a family-owned and run business with an extensive arsenal of parts, worldwide suppliers, local paint, finishing and machinery partners. With our dedication to performance, custom bike services and restoration, learn how we’ve built our reputation, making us one of Queensland’s most trusted custom motorcycle shops. We feel confident guaranteeing our customers will receive the highest quality services.

To learn more about our services, you can contact us at your convenience by calling 07 3148 5288 or requesting a quote online. Want to keep up with all things motorbikes? Taverner’s Newsroom is the hub for all bike news, history and restorations. Whether it’s a custom bike build or a restoration, our team looks forward to hearing from you. With our assistance, we’re capable of achieving your bike goals.