For the roar of it |

For the roar of it

Annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D., attracts Craig riders

Roy Firestone has missed his wife’s birthday for four years in a row to attend a motorcycle rally. Mike Toovey would rather take time off from work for a motorcycle rally than have a Christmas break.

But not just any gathering of motorcyclists will do. Like more than a half-million others, these two Craig residents regularly heed the yearly call of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Sturgis, S.D.

“To me, it’s exciting to see all the bikes and the different kinds of people,” Toovey said.

Avid Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders Toovey and Firestone returned to Craig recently from the weeklong event that ended Sunday.

Owner of the OP Bar and Grill and longtime motorcyclist Delbert Knez estimates that as many as 150 Craig residents attend the event each year. He can tell by the silence that comes over his biker-friendly bar during the week of Sturgis. Knez has some fond memories from attending the event once.

“It’s something if you like biking you should see,” he said.

The allure of riding motorcycles or attending the rally seems to vary for each rider.

Craig resident Kirk Libbee likes to ride his Honda VGX 1300. He likes that it is “pretty quick” and can reach speeds of 130 mph, though he said he’s never tested those limits.

“Instead of riding in a car and looking out the windshield, it’s like you’re in the scene,” he said. Libbee is fond of riding his motorcycle to work during warm months.

He also likes the camaraderie and the way it’s easier to strike up conversations with perfect strangers who also ride bikes.

Libbee said he chose to buy a Honda instead of a Harley-Davidson mostly for financial reasons. Harleys cost more than $20,000, and other brands can be purchased for a fraction of that cost.

“I have just as much fun on that one (the Honda),” he said.

Being smack-dab in the middle of thousands of motorcycle riders is one reason Toovey has been heading to Sturgis for the past decade.

He and his then-girlfriend, Michele, loved Sturgis so much that the two married there four years ago.

“Now we have to go back every year because it’s our anniversary,” Toovey said.

The event — once known for drunken rowdiness and public nudity — has simmered down some, Toovey said.

The rally is starting to attract a different demographic of riders, many of whom deviate from stereotype of the roughneck biker, Firestone said.

He noticed that, in general, riders tend to be older, and some are more affluent. Younger riders in their 20s made a presence this year. Many of those motorcycle enthusiasts ride “crotch-rockets” or foreign-made bikes, he said.

The diverse crowd seems to get along, Firestone said.

“I think everybody rides with everybody,” he said.

Vendors move into Sturgis for a couple of weeks every year to put on the event. The town, with a population of less than 7,000, has hosted the rally in the beginning of August for the past 65 years. The influx of visitors brings in more than $1 million in taxes, according to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Web site.

The spirit of Sturgis can become contagious, bikers said.

A previously untattooed man, Firestone has acquired seven since buying his Harley-Davidson three years ago. One of those tattoos is a stamp of the motorcycle’s brand surrounded by razor wire on his left wrist.

Knez often is seen sporting a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and is fond of the 40-year-old Harley motorcycle decorating a wall in his bar.

Toovey said he and his wife will keep attending the rally until it becomes uninteresting. That seems a long way off.

“I’ve talked to other people who don’t understand why I go,” he said. “I’ll keep going until the excitement runs out.”

Amy Hamilton can be reached at 824-7031.

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