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Semi-Truck Fire closes I-90 at Sturgis Rally - 2010

Semi-Truck Fire closes I-90 at Sturgis Rally – 2010

At the 2012 Sturgis Rally attendance was up 7% (official est. at 450K) and in all, the city of Sturgis spent approximately $960K to host the 6-day event which generated nearly $1.4M in revenue.  Nearly $400K profit for the city which has more than double the net profit from the 2011 rally at $197K.  There were 1,012 vendors registered vs. 976 in 2011 and gross sales by vendors were $13.1M compared to $12.6M in 2011.

sturgis-flagAnd the man who made Sturgis?  There are several who come to mind, but one near the top of the list would be Steven Piehl, the Harley executive who invented the Harley Owners Group (HOG).  In 1983, Mr. Piehl worked under Harley’s General Sales Manager, Clyde Fessler, and was given 3 months to launch the program.  They promoted the rally to hundreds of thousands of HOG members and is at least in part responsible for the transformation of Sturgis from a biker party into a profit center.  Mr. Piehl was inducted into the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame last year and received the JC “Pappy” Hoel Outstanding Achievement Award for establishing HOG.

HD-Sturgis3Motoring USA is the consultant group that essentially coordinates the Sturgis rally for the city as they help line-up sponsors (Harley-Davidson, Dodge, Jack Daniels, Geico etc.), vendors and publish the official rally magazine.  For their 2012 services they were paid more than $308K ($163K commissions/fees and $145K to publish the official guide).  Ironically, the city of Sturgis paid the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Inc., $26,944 in licensing fees to use the “Sturgis” name!  Clearly corporate America has found the motorcyclist market and made the profit driven transformation.

Sturgis-night12

Main Street Sturgis at Dusk

Those are a few of the financial aspects of the motorcycle rally.  Sadly, 9 people died at last year’s rally-related accidents and collisions.  In 2011 there were 4 deaths.  And you might have been one of the unlucky riders trapped on the freeway in 2010 after a semi-trailer caught fire (video HERE) and closed the interstate (see above photo)?

It’s also well known that at the Sturgis Rally large numbers of law enforcement descend on the area to make sure those 450,000+ bikers don’t get out of hand.  On any typical week the city has 15 officers to keep the community of 6700 safe.  During rally week it pays a hefty amount for law enforcement hiring people from nine different states.  The city police budget in August is estimated to be in excess of $300K to cover salaries, equipment and other expenses for the event.  Visiting officers are housed and receive two meals a day.  In addition, there are also significant numbers of federal agents (FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals Service, the National Guard, the Bureau of Land Management and even the National Forest Service) on hand.

loud-american

Loud American Roadhouse (L)

However, budget cuts known as sequestration have stalled the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives attendance and for 2013 there will be fewer federal agents available to keep an eye on things for the first time in 10 years.  The value of announcing this information to the public prior to the rally is interesting.  Is it to alarm the public?  Is it an open invitation for the motorcycle clubs to restart some of the “wild times” prevalent in years past?  Historically, more than 20 ATF agents patrol Sturgis during the Rally.  This year there will one agent in Rapid City who will be on call when the rally officially starts on August 5th.

Remember the 2006 rally shootout between the Outlaws and Hells Angels at Custer?  How about back in 2008 when Sturgis ended with the first shooting in over 20-years where the Iron Pigs (off-duty Seattle LEO – Ronald Smith) had a confrontation with the Hell’s Angels (Joseph McGuire) at the Loud American Roadhouse?  Anytime there is a large gathering of people, there is a potential for an incident, but I would anticipate if any intelligence or threat hits the radar we’ll see it rain law enforcement personnel sequestration or not.

It wasn’t too long ago, the rough, anti-materialistic, anti-authoritarian attitudes showed up on motorcycles en-masse at Sturgis.  The motor company that helped put Sturgis on the map and was once so revered that men tattooed its name on their arms, is now more about demographics, international expansion in China and India and tapping female consumer spending.  For example, Claudia Garber, Harley’s Director of Women’s Marketing Outreach, worked the 2012 rally to convince affluent, professional women that Harleys are really fun to ride.

Yes, the transformation of Sturgis from a quaint biker party into an enormous profit center is fully complete.  Stay classy Sturgis!

Interstate photo courtesy of Renegade Wheels, other photos taken by author at 2012 Sturgis Rally.  The 2012 Sturgis stats are HERE (.pdf).

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At The 70th Sturgis Rally

Can you feel it?  It’s in the air. The annual Sturgis celebration (Black Hills Motorcycle Rally) is in full force.

Every year, about this time I get a lot of hits on the blog from previous Sturgis articles I’ve written.  Especially the 2008 article about the first shooting in 20 years between the Iron Pigs and HAMC.

Last year I went to the 70th Rally (blogged it HERE) and raved about the music (except Dylan), the food, the rides and, of course, the people.  I took it all in, and enjoyed every minute of it. Was it my best Sturgis ever?  I don’t know what the future holds, but it was pretty good.

This year had all the makings of being a major contender, but reports of the legal action surrounding the Rally trademarks and who can sell (legally) t-shirts with the name “Sturgis” along with reports about the economy has put clouds over the event.  Some motorcyclists have suggested that the core H-D customer has gotten older, sold their motorcycles and become tired of the event.  Some veteran riders have complained the Sturgis rally has lost its outlaw edge, attracting too many bankers and lawyers with top-of-the-line $30K+ Harley-Davidsons and not enough old-fashioned hard-core bikers.

I won’t argue that the meaning and appeal of motorcycle rallies change as you get older, but I’m thinking it’s neither the economy, trademark disputes or aging demographics.  Maybe Sturgis has just got…. OLD?!

The event has largely remain unchanged for the last 10+ years.  There are some who look forward to the Sturgis routine. They are the same people who return to the same spot year after year. They take the same riding routes.  It never gets old.

However, there are no easy dollars anymore especially in this new economy and it makes me wonder if there is still a place for bloated, over-commercialized rallies?  Many would argue yes.

I won’t be immersing myself in all things Sturgis this year.  I elected to spend the time and $$ riding down Hwy 101 along the pacific coast range through the Redwoods and then over to the Sierra Nevada mountains and through Yosemite.  That’s why I’ve been off line for the past couple weeks.  It was time to ride, but I gave South Dakota a break.

How about you.  Why didn’t you attend the mother of all rallies this year?

UPDATED: August 11, 2011 – Another item which seems to remain consistent year-over-year at the rally are the stats.  The South Dakota Highway Patrol logged the following incidents during the Sturgis motorcycle rally as of 6 a.m. Thursday:

• DUI arrests: 151 (Sturgis 140, Rapid City 8, Southern Hills 2, Badlands 1)
• Misdemeanor drug arrests: 96 (Sturgis 69, Rapid City 17, Southern Hills 10)
• Felony drug arrests: 36 (Sturgis 19, Rapid City 13, Southern Hills 4)
• Other felony arrests 1 (Southern Hills)
• Total citations: 834 (Sturgis 503, Rapid City 176, Southern Hills 89, Badlands 66)
• Cash seized: $1,853 (Rapid City)
• Concealed weapons arrests: 6 (Sturgis)
• Vehicles seized: 5 (Sturgis 2, Rapid City 3)
• Injury accidents: 64 (Sturgis 33, Rapid City 14, Southern Hills 13, Badlands 4)
• Fatal accidents: 2 (Sturgis)

Photo taken at 70th Sturgis Rally

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Can embarrassment and personal demons be squelched with money?

It would seem so and that $169,800 is all that’s needed!

I’m referring to the Iron Pigs MC member and Seattle police detective Ronald Smith.

It probably comes as no surprise that Smith, who as you may recall shot a member of the Hells Angels MC in Sturgis a couple years ago has filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department.  The suit alleges the department disparaged him and negligently provided false information that led to his indictment on a perjury charge.

Disregard that all charges were dropped and why let any of the facts get in the way when Mr. Smith sees dollar signs.  The only thing missing in this little drama is an attorney to throw in the proverbial race card and get the ACLU marching.

I’ve blogged about this incident HERE, HERE and HERE as well as provided a number of updates.  A brief recap is during the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Smith, who was in Sturgis with members of the Iron Pigs, a motorcycle club composed of LEO’s and firefighters shot and wounded a Hells Angels MC member, Joseph Patrick McGuire, in self-defense during a fight in the Loud American Roadhouse on Aug. 9, 2008. Smith was charged in Meade County, S.D., Circuit Court with the felonies of aggravated assault and perjury. He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

Now comes the pain and suffering.  Mr. Smith claims he was “guilty until proven innocent,” shunned and neglected.  Huh?  The lawsuit contends his reputation was harmed by the criminal charges and that shortly after the incident, the Seattle Police Chief at the time, Gil Kerlikowske said during a public-relations event that Smith was an “embarrassment” to the department and would “not be working for him much longer.”

That working for him part was absolutely correct!   Shortly after Mr. Kerlikowske became the “drug czar” or the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for Obama.  He is responsible for advising the president on drug control programs, and for coordinating drug policies among all federal agencies.

My point?  While the various bloggers have raged back and forth between supporters of the police to distrust of the police and the justice system…could someone, even the Seattle Police Chief please just apologize to Mr. Smith before he continues to take all of your hard earned tax dollars.

Photo courtesy Flickr and Iron Pigs MC.

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Dee Snider of Twisted Sister

Dee Snider of Twisted Sister

Twisted Sister (“We’re Not Gonna Take It”) is an American heavy metal band known for delivering youth anthems, wearing outrageous clothes, gawdy make-up and having wild hairstyles during their performances.  One could debate that glam rock peaked in the mid-80s with MTV, yet the band has sold over 10M records and earned 35 gold and platinum records from 8 countries to date.

So, what does Twisted Sister’s front-man Dee Snider and his flamboyant costumes and the hedonistic pop/rock themes have to do with babies?  My first thought was, “This can’t be good,” but then I was contacted by Kimberly Gustafson, the Community Director (Southern Or.) for March of Dimes and it turns out that Dee is the National Bikers for Babies Spokesperson and has been a strong advocate for children!  As a father of two prematurely born children (Cody and Cheyenne) he knows first-hand about the difficulties and things that can go wrong.

BFBLogo_198x62The Bikers for Babies is an integral role for the non-profit March of Dimes in the advancement of their fund raising mission which helps “preemies” and prevents birth defects.  Last year 35K riders and 250 motorcycle clubs (including: HOG, American Gold Wing, ABATE, CMA, Iron Pigs and the Red & Blue Knights) joined together on rides across the U.S. to help raise money.  The Oregon – Bikers for Babies ride is set for August 29th with 3 start locations (Bend, Eugene & Salem) and all routes end at Hoodoo Mountain Resort (mile post 80 on Hwy 20) on Santiam Pass, OR.  Sponsors of the Oregon ride are Salem H-D, Doyles H-D (Eugene) and Cascade H-D (Bend).  This web site has registration information if want to participate.

In these economic trying times it seems that more organizations are asking for more donations, but giving is not only about money.  Giving is also doing something with your heart and time so if you have passion about health issues which effect premature babies then I encourage you to visit the web site and help your fellow bikers improve their situation.

Photos courtesy of Bikers for Babies and Vondutch Kustom Cycles site.

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p-iTraditional media is dying in front of our very eyes.

The 146 year-old “Seattle Post-Intelligencer” (P-I) goes full Web tomorrow and becomes the largest northwest daily newspaper to go entirely digital.  Although it’s a shadow of the old printed paper it will now focus more on local news, with a much smaller staff.  And just last week, the Washington Post announced it was folding its stand-alone Business section, commercial news will now be featured in the main, first section.  Other papers like the Rocky Mountain News (now defunct), The Boston Globe, the L.A. Times and The NY Times are all having major economic problems.  Be it regular people wanting just the news or writing slants/styles that people want no part of – the news papers are going down.

This is unfortunate.  I believe the P-I did a good job and accurately reported on the Iron Pigs Sturgis shooting.   But,  let’s say you’re a major American motorcycle manufacture executive looking to hire a marketing wizard to get your news story in the paper, you might as well be paying for billboards on the space shuttle.  Your target audience isn’t going to see the story!

The “P-I” lost $14M last year on a 118K print circulation.  The web traffic is about 1.8M unique visitors a month.  It’s interesting to read about the writers and publishers as they scramble and complain that newspapers must not die and that people must pay and if not the public, then the government.  Sort of a “bail-out” rally cry for publishers. 

I agree that journalism must survive, not necessarily newspapers.  There’s often more meat, more truth in blogs who explain events than there’s been in a lot of the mainstream press.  Maybe because bloggers are at the center, they truly understand.  They are not only reporting, but they are LIVING the story as well!

While I feel sad for the 145 employees this turn of events will give the P-I opportunity to work on new ways of connecting readers, fans and pundits and maybe even develop a thriving new businesses along the way.

Photo courtesy Joshua Trujillo/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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police_bikeAs you may recall the situation happened at the Roadhouse bar with four off duty, out-of-state law enforcement officers and a firefighter, all members of the Iron Pigs – a police motorcycle club – who get into a heated confrontation with some Hells Angels members on the last day of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  The confrontation ends when Ron Smith pulls his Glock 23 and shoots Joseph McGuire a HAMC member.

I blogged about the incident and posted several updates HERE, HERE and HERE.

Many readers weighed in with comments between support of the police to those who where very distrustful.  Some comments became derisive after the South Dakota court threw out the assault and weapons charges and then later dismissed all the indictments.

Recently Charles Remsberg, an author of three best-selling law enforcement training textbooks, and contributor to the PoliceOne site has posted an interesting “Behind The Scenes” recap of the shooting.  Part 2 of the report is HERE.  His report provides deeper insight into the minutes leading up to the shooting, the psyche of the various folks involved, the injuries and a bit of the grand jury transcript.  Granted Mr. Remsberg writes from a LEO point of view, but does so after nearly three decades of work where he earned the prestigious O.W. Wilson Award for outstanding contributions to law enforcement and the American Police Hall of Fame Honor Award for distinguished achievement in public service.

To be fair, and after reading Remsberg’s report some of my initial implications were inaccurate.  However, I do think my overall assessment was correct, at least based on the information that was released at the time.

At any rate check out the good report and you be the judge.

UPDATED: January 28, 2009 – Part 2 of the report HERE.

UPDATED: February 25, 2009 – In a plea agreement Joseph McGuire (HAMC) pleads no contest to simple assault (versus aggravated assault) and was sentenced to one year in the Meade County Jail.  According to Rapid City Journal, McGuire’s sentence was suspended as long as he does not break the law.  No fines were imposed, but he can not attend this years rally.

UPDATED: May 7, 2010 – Detective Ronald Smith has filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department.  Even though all charges were dropped the suit alleges the department disparaged him and negligently provided false information that led to his indictment on a perjury charge.  This was an embarrassment and the lawsuit contends his reputation was harmed.

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From the movie Righteous Kill the tag line is “There’s Nothing Wrong With A Little Shooting As Long As the Right People Get Shot“…sure that’s Hollywood, but it seems this could be applied to the law enforcement investigation of Seattle Detective Ron Smith whose felony assault charges for shooting a member of the Hells Angels motorcycle club in Sturgis were dismissed yesterday.

Dropped because as Jesse Sondreal (Meade County State Attorney) states:

“the investigation that I have reviewed indicates he (Smith) was assaulted and it was premeditated.”  The investigation established that Detective Smith was defending himself from a violent pre-meditated attack and he responded in a manner which was neither excessive nor unreasonable under the circumstances.

DeNiro Target Range

DeNiro Target Range

While the case illustrates reserving final judgment until all facts are examined it leaves some unanswered questions about how much, if any, the Sturgis incident was influenced by Smith’s testimony in a Hell’s Angel federal racketeering and murder trial in Seattle last year which sent several former and current members of the motorcycle “club” to prison ranging from seven years to life without parole. Or how much the decision to dismiss the assault charges were based on the lack of cooperation of the HAMC who wouldn’t testify before the grand jury?

The Seattle Times (Jennifer Sullivan) reports HERE that Court records and police testimony indicate Smith has clashed with another Hells Angel back in 2005.  Authorities filed charges alleging that Anthony James Magnesi, a member of the Washington Nomads chapter of the Hells Angels, had threatened Smith over the phone.  The end result from an internal investigation dismissed misdemeanor charges filed against Magnesi and Smith was referred to his supervisor for a training issue.  Much more on the Magnesi clashes HERE.

Detective Smith will return to full active duty (he was on administrative leave pending results) and obviously the Seattle Police Officers Guild is happy with the outcome and issued a press release HERE.

For more background information look at:

  1. Northwest Harley Blog Archive | Iron Pigs Ride The Northwest
  2. Northwest Harley Blog Archive | When Iron Pigs Fly
  3. Northwest Harley Blog Archive | Sturgis Ends With First Shooting In 20 Years
  4. NEW – Northwest Harley Blog Archive | Behind The Scenes Of The Sturgis Shooting
  5. NEW – Northwest Harley Blog Archive | Cash Is The Icing On Iron Pigs HR218 Cupcake

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit conflicted and feeling this outcome is anti-climatic.  Does this mean the Iron Pigs won’t return to Sturgis next year?  Can the motorcycle events industry afford yet another motorcycle “club” clash?

Operator, I need Mr. Happy.  Now!

Update: November 18, 2008 – Weapons charges dropped.  See HERE for more info.

Update: May 7, 2010 – Detective Ronald Smith has filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle and the Seattle Police Department.  Even though all charges were dropped the suit alleges the department disparaged him and negligently provided false information that led to his indictment on a perjury charge.  This was an embarrassment and the lawsuit contends his reputation was harmed.

Photo courtesy of the movie Righteous Kill web site.

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