Erik Trautman logo crest shield seal

Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Sturgis 2012 – Sell Me Some Cool

Sturgis is the largest motorcycle rally in the US and it lasts for more than a week. For days and weeks before it even begins, the roads over 300 miles away are clogged with bikes and trailers and RVs. I’ve seen a Sturgis 2012 shirt on north of 80% of the other bikers I’ve met since I left South Dakota. It’s like prom for bikers.

We rode out to the town of Sturgis, SD to see what all the commotion was about. After a crush of heavy traffic on the way in, we were able to park along the main drag downtown amidst the roars of 100 motorcycles and the smells of fried food and rampant consumerism. Every shop on the strip is packed full of branded merchandise. One member of our party broke her flip-flop and was dismayed to find the only options for replacement cost over $40.

We walked around looking at the bikes — one was styled entirely with antlers, another was made into a 2-wheeled fire truck and yet another had a rear wheel that was 4 feet tall. I saw a man in a wheelchair lowered robotically from his tricycle to the ground. So the hardware was cool but eventually we got tired of being sold at and went home.

The second night we went for a slightly more rugged experience. Passing up the overpriced concerts at the famed Buffalo Chip, we took the scenic route from Rapid to the Full Throttle Saloon. I love my bike but I’m by no means into “biker culture” and this was my first time in an authentic biker bar. We had to wade through hundreds of motorcycles parked out front before finally catching sight of a sweet piece of Mad-Max-style art, one of many at the Full Throttle.

Inside the walls of what can only be described as a compound, the air hung heavy with smells of fried food, cigars, dust, and burned rubber. In a sea of black leather and Harley Davidson patches, two types of faces stood out – the grizzled sun-and-wind-cured hides of career road warriers and the perfectly while smiles of doctors and lawyers who’d trailered their bikes in and donned their leathers for a week’s vacation into their childhood dreams of being badasses.

We managed to have ourselves a pretty good time watching burnouts, drinking beers and listening to the hard-rocking bands blast waves of sound into ears already half dead to it after years of biking them raw. Everyone there was putting on a show, from the scantily clad waitresses fishing for tips to the sword swallowers and body mod artists who roamed the bar tops with in-your-face confidence. It was part Road House, part Vegas, and part AARP Halloween party.

Sturgis was a great experience but not one I’m going to be making a part of my everyday life. Every biker I’ve met there and elsewhere on my travels has been friendly and welcoming. Bikers like bikers. We all share a common experience and a certain struggle that is the reason we almost always wave as we pass on the road.

That said, I’m uncomfortable with some of the more flamboyant aspects of the culture. I’m a believer that you define yourself with action and not words, so wearing shirts with slogans designed to broadcast an aura of badass and buying the same obnoxiously loud Harley as a million other guys just strikes me as a bit poser. I’m pretty comfortable with being the guy with the Triumph who wears sunscreen and a comically large helmet because it’s not just an act to impress other dudes, it’s how I love to see the world and safely find my way back home.