As thousands of bikers descend on South Dakota for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the mayor of Sturgis says the city has implemented some changes to allow visitors to take personal responsibility for their safety.
Mayor Mark Carstensen said anyone who is attending the event, which begins Friday, should take precautions against COVID-19. But the city has made some changes that it hopes will help make that easier. Most notably, allowing open containers for the first time in the rally’s 81-year history.
“We do have a new thing with open containers this year during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally,” Mayor Carstensen said. “So, there’s the opportunity to not have to sit inside the structures and people can wander around and take in the crowd and the motorcycles and people watch while sitting outside to help create more social distancing.”
Federal health officials blasted the rally last year, calling it a potential “super spreader” event. Officials in several states say that nearly 450 people who attended the event contracted the coronavirus last year, according to USA Today. This year, Sturgis officials want visitors to take their safety into their own hands. That’s especially important considering the delta variant of the virus is driving up infection rates across the country.
Director of the rally Jerry Cole told the Argus Leader that the open container ordinance has an economic component as well.
“Our hope is this will bring people outside onto the streets rather than crowding people in the bars,” he says. “It will hopefully get people out of the bar and walking along the streets to shops.”
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally begins Friday and continues through Aug. 15.
Police Preparing for Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
Hundreds of thousands of bikers will turn up at some point during this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And, by and large, they won’t cause many problems. However, there is a small element that can show up and ruin the event for others. Sturgis law enforcement agencies are hoping to root them out before that happens, however.
Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin said the biggest troublemakers are outlaw biker gangs. Most notably, the Hell’s Angels. So, his deputies will be on the lookout for potential members by checking for things such as tattoos. One of the most common, he said, is the “81” tattoo, which stands for the eighth and first letter of the alphabet — H and A.
Merwin thinks there may be more of them than usual since this is the 81st rally.
”I would suspect that we’re going to have at least the normal number of Hells Angels around here,” Merwin said. “We might have a few more than normal. My suspicion is they might have some activities here because of the 81st.”
Police will also be looking out for drugs as well. According to the 2020 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally crime statistics, drug possession was the most common arrest police made. And the number of arrests for simple drug possession more than doubled compared to 2019.