Tiny Sturgis, South Dakota (population 5,000), hosts a rodeo in May, a tractor pull in June, and a basketball tournament in July. But the town's biggest event by far is the annual motorcycle Rally and Races in early August. This year's event was the 62nd.
The Sturgis Chamber of Commerce says "planning is a year-round process," and it's no wonder. An estimated 400,000 bikers attended the 61st Rally and Races, which set a record but not by much. The crowd earlier this month was huge, and word is everyone had fun at events from the Toadstool Jamboree concert to the Miss Buffalo Chip contest.
But there's a downside. Year after year, more than half of the deaths of motorcyclists in South Dakota occur in August (36 of 69 deaths during 1995-2000), and it's a safe bet many of the deaths are rally-related. Twenty-three of the 36 August deaths occurred in the counties (Custer, Lawrence, Meade, and Pennington) in and around Sturgis.
The average age of the rally's spectators is 42, so it's not surprising that many of those who died in the month of August were 40 or older (23 of 36). This follows a nationwide trend of increasing deaths among older cyclists. The trend is pushing up the average age of cyclists killed (see Status Report special issue: motorcycle deaths, Jan. 12, 2002).
A related factor is helmet use, or the absence thereof. Twenty-eight of the 36 motorcyclists who died in South Dakota in August 1995-2000 weren't wearing helmets. They weren't violating any law, because in South Dakota and most other states only cyclists younger than 18 have to wear helmets. Fifty-four of the 69 riders who died in South Dakota year-round during 1995-2000 weren't helmeted.
Motorcycle deaths in South Dakota, 1995-2000