You might have noticed that Bikers have a dress code. Part of that is dictated by what is the best gear for riding, i.e. leathers – jackets, chaps, riding boots, etc. Vests are optional, but the Biker Chef bought me one the first year we rode to the rally together because he said, “It gives you that added protection when you’re not wearing your leather jacket.” The vest is also the place where a Biker tells his or her story. The patches represent who they are, where they’ve been, and what is important to them. I could do a whole article just on the vests and patches. In fact, this year, I made a point of photographing vests. (I regretted several times on this trip that I had left my good camera at home. While my Samsung Galaxy 5s takes good photos, it isn’t as easy to take a quick shot, or a clean or artistic shot. I also missed my telephoto lens.)
So, these Bikers are wearing mostly black leather with patches that say everything from swear words to club allegiance to “I ride with Jesus.” They wear headgear like black domers with pony tales down their backs. Since they’re on a road trip, most of them don’t shave. And, when they’re wearing muscle shirts, or less, you can see all the tattoos. Of course, their skin is ruddy and sun-burned, and their eyes are usually a bit red from the wind, dust, and other abuses of riding.
We ran into a three men from Germany and Switzerland while we were waiting for a table at the Deadwood Social Club (the food is well worth the wait), and one of them, Eduardo from Switzerland said, “Bikers, they all look so fierce, but they’re really nice guys.” Which is true, for the most part. There are certain gang members that you would not want to cross, or even accidentally bump into. They are considered the one-percenters, the 1% of Bikers who are in those notorious Biker gangs. Everyone else is, for the most part, regular folk, friendly and helpful. They look all fierce and leathery and wind-blown, but when the week of riding is over, they’ll go back to their jobs as accountants, doctors, mothers, fathers, teachers, chefs, office workers and various other jobs. The leathers will be hung up in the closet for the next ride.
As for the three fellows from Europe, they had decided that they wanted to experience America on the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. (They are all riders in their home countries.) They flew into Chicago, rented bikes, and rode out to the rally. What they noticed is how vast America is, and they were only traveling one section of it in the Upper Midwest. They noticed the endless roads, the flat country, and the fields. They said, “And, everything is so neat.” I imagined they noticed what I grew up with all my life as a farm girl. Those rows of fields: the wheat, barley, sunflowers, and sow beans, go on for miles in tidy sections and straight rows. The sunflowers were just starting to raise their yellow heads towards the sun. We’ve had adequate rain, so the crops look lovely and abundant. As we drove home from the Hills this year, I could smell the cut wheat, watch the windmills turn, and get a sudden taste for sweet corn.
Herbert, from Cologne, Germany, described the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally as “A cross between a Rock Festival and a trade show.” That pretty much sums it up. There were at least a million t-shirts to cloth the million, or more, tourists that invaded this part of the country, also gear of all sorts, trinkets, baubles, art, and tattoo artists. But, in the end, for me at least, it’s about the people you meet. We sat on a bench in Deadwood next to a woman from Buffalo, NY who said that the snow should have melted by now with temps in the 90’s out there! We saw license plates and vest patches from nearly every state, and many from Canada and Mexico. The three fellows from Europe had their map out and were pouring over it as we stood in the bar holding our drinks. Eduardo said, “We have two empty chairs,” so I quickly sat down. As soon as I did, we asked each other a common question at the Rally, “Where are you from?” The Biker Chef helped them plan their route to Denver via the best sites in Colorado. Eduardo bought us drinks. The Biker Chef did tequila shots with Herbert. Ah the brotherhood of the Biker.
Thanks, Herbert, Walo, and Eduardo, we hope you enjoyed your ride to the Rally, and beyond. Experiencing this country on the back of a bike is a thrill. I hope you found the Bikers, and other people you met, more friendly than fierce, and the police officers more understanding than the one who stopped you in Wyoming. But, most of all, to all you riders and adventurers out there, I hope you talked to people, made memories, and gathered stories.