Jerome Patterson, of Weir, tightens his helmet as he prepares to ride his motorcycle along Highway 12 in Sturgis while his wife, Johnnie, watches in this 2018 Dispatch file photo. This year's Sturgis Bike Rally is scheduled for Aug. 16-18 at Diane Jackson Memorial Park. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
Dozens of bikers, pictured in this 2018 Dispatch file photo, ride through Starkville on the Sturgis Rally "Dinner Ride" as part of the Sturgis Bike Rally on Aug. 17, 2018. Bikers rode from Sturgis to Starkville for dinner in a prelude event to the next day's bike rally. This year's Sturgis Bike Rally is scheduled for Aug. 16-18 at Diane Jackson Memorial Park.
Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
July 13, 2019 10:10:32 PM
Rodney Lincoln and Billy Blankenship expect a big turn-out for this year's Sturgis Bike Rally next month. By a large margin, it is the town's biggest event.
"We're a small town. We don't have much, but what we have is genuine," is the way Blankenship, the town's mayor, put it.
Sturgis, located on Highway 12 about 40 miles west of Starkville, has a population of about 200, according to the 2010 census. But on the third weekend of August each year, motorcycle enthusiasts descend on the town for the weekend rally, which includes plenty of food, merchandise, music and people-watching.
The Sturgis Bike Rally is scheduled on Aug. 16-18 at Diane Jackson Memorial Park.
This is the 20th year the town has held the rally, but as Lincoln, who serves on the bike rally's board of directors, and Blankenship admit, an event that will draw thousands next month used to draw tens of thousands.
"It's not like it was in the old days," Blankenship said. "Back then, if you parked outside the town limits and walked, every step you took was next to a parked car. You had to be crazy to try to drive through town. It would take you an hour-and-a-half, two hours."
It's been that way since 2014, when the bike rally resumed after a three-year hiatus, a time when a majority of three aldermen voted down the rally permit, much to the consternation of the town's residents.
"The rally always had the support of the town," said Blankenship, who along with two other candidates ran against those three aldermen and were elected on the campaign promise of bringing back the rally.
While the rally resumed in 2014, the large crowds of the earlier years haven't.
Attendance has been down the past two years, Lincoln said, although he believes that has little to do with the three-year interruption of the rally.
"It's the time of year where you have the heat and the rain," Lincoln said. "The weather just hasn't cooperated and that's hurt attendance."
But an even bigger factor, Lincoln believes, is that motorcycles don't hold the appeal they once had.
"For whatever reason, fewer people are riding (motorcycles)," Lincoln said. "Our attendance is down, but it's not just us. That's true for rallies everywhere."
In an effort to build attendance, Lincoln and the board have bolstered adverting and reduced the price of the all-access arm-band this year from $15 to $10.
"We also have a new permanent stage this year, which is really a nice addition," he said. "And we've kept a lot of the things that people like, like the dinner ride to Starkville on Friday nights. We're always looking for ways we can make it better while still keeping the things people have always liked. Now, if we can just get the weather to cooperate a little."
For his part, Blankenship still considers the rally a success. Even though the crowds aren't what they once were, the rally remains an important asset for the town, he said.
"The revenue we get from the RV parking is used to keep up our park," Blankenship said. "That's not taxpayer money. It's revenue from visitors at the bike rally. It means a lot to our town."
It's also the biggest marketing tool the town has at its disposal.
"It brings people into the town and they get to know what Sturgis is all about," he said. "They like our little town. We've had vendors come in, decide they like it and have lived here for years now. And we like having people visit, too. It's a win-win for everybody.
"We'll have several thousand people for the bike rally," he added. "There's nothing else that comes close to that."
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]
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