Author Jeanette Hurt Illustration Graham Roumieu
Every summer for the past seven decades, the pastoral peace of quaint Sturgis, South Dakota, is ceremoniously disturbed by the revving engines of around half a million Harley-Davidsons. This year—the 70th anniversary of the Black Hills Motor Classic, or, for those in the know, the Sturgis Rally—a record number of hogs are expected to rumble in a cloud of dust down Main Street. And the locals don’t appear to mind.
“The truth is, the average rider has changed,” says Terry Rymer, general manager of the Black Hills Harley-Davidson dealership in nearby Rapids City, who’s just parked his black chrome Road Glide in front of Jambonz Grill & Pub. He isn’t the glowering, leather- clad ruffian portrayed by Marlon Brando in The Wild One, but a soft-spoken man in Nike sneakers. With custom bikes costing as much as $50,000, most of the riders are actually doctors, lawyers or even kindergarten teachers.
“Let’s face it,” says Rymer, “a new Harley isn’t the least expensive motorcycle you could purchase.”
In fact, the average Harley rider is married, in his mid- to late forties, with a college degree and a household income of more than $83,000. And more than 10 percent of riders are women.
“Thirty-five years ago, the demographics of people who were riding were a little bit on the rough side,” admits Jim Entenman, who co-owns two nearby dealerships. “There is a bit of an outlaw image, and riding a Harley is about individualism.”
As if on cue, a group of riders rumbles past flying a banner that reads, “Bikers With Briefcases: New York Chapter.” Wearing riding chaps and bandannas, and even the occasional tattoo, they actually bear a passing resemblance to Brando’s wild crew.
“There it is,” says Entenman. “Those guys are attracted to that bad-boy mystique. Any other week of the year, they’re perfectly normal.”