WHAT: The 64th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, one of the country's largest and longest-running gatherings for motorcycles and the people who love them.
WHERE/WHEN: Sturgis, S.D., Aug. 9-15.
WHY GO: Sturgis (pop. 6,442) clears its Main Street of car traffic for a week each August to make way for nearly half a million bikers who roll into town for the chopper-riders' version of old home week. Neither the oldest nor the biggest of American bike rallies, Sturgis is a sentimental favorite: An entry on a rally-related online message board calls it "an experience that gets under your skin like a fresh tattoo and lives with you forever."
Organizers promise plenty of shopping, food, live music and people-watching that will please even the motorcycle-impaired. And while it's not exactly family fare, they say, older kids might enjoy the spectacle.
WHAT TO DO: Tool up and down the six-block Main Street and wave at other bikers. Or park your bike -- preferably a Harley, though other makes are welcome -- in the center of the street and shop: 800 temporary vendors sell everything from tattoos and Black Hills gold jewelry to deep-fried "Indian" tacos and crocodile meat.
Take part in one of a dozen or so organized rides through the beautiful Black Hills (rates typically from $100), or rev up for a sanctioned race or the Jack Daniel's-sponsored mayor's motorcycle parade. Enter a beauty contest; who knows, maybe you'll be the next "Miss Buffalo Chip" (named for a popular campsite whose original residents, the buffalos, left lots of souvenirs).
Concerts are scheduled throughout the week; many shows are free, though expect to pay $25 to $50 to hear the bigger names. This year you can check out Heart, Hank Williams, B.B. King, ZZ Top and dozens of other acts. People lacking wheels can rent them in town; call one of the vendors listed under travel services at www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com. (At press time, bikes were still available but moving fast; rentals start at about $180 per day.)
Getting married during the rally, as 100 couples did last year, takes little planning: Just call one of the justices of the peace (including the mayor) listed on the same Web site above, grab a license at the Meade County Courthouse and say "I do." No blood test required.
GETTING THERE: From the D.C. area, it's a 1,640-mile, 25-hour westward haul. Or fly: Rapid City Regional Airport (45 miles east of Sturgis) is served by Delta Connections/Sky West, Northwest and United Express; round-trip fares start at about $450, with restrictions.
WHERE TO STAY: Area hotels are already booked solid, but don't despair: You can tap into the pool of local homeowners (some in town, others in neighboring communities) who open their homes to bikers for $100 to $150 per person per night. Check www.sturgisreservations.com. The site also lists campsites, with places to pitch a tent or park an RV. Amenities usually include electrical hookup and showers -- as well as campsite antics such as a pickle-lickin' contest. At the Buffalo Chip Campground (605-892-4101, www.buffalochip.com), just outside of town, you can sleep and test the Pitchfork Fondue: $26.95 gets you a huge buffalo steak impaled on a pitchfork and submersed in boiling oil. Camp sites are $38 per night.
INFO: Both www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com (maintained by the city of Sturgis) and www.sturgis.com feature calendars, weather and road-condition reports, listings of pertinent local laws (see "Sturgis and the Cops" on the latter site, where you'll also find photos from past rallies). Call the City of Sturgis Rally Department (605-720-0800) for a visitors kit: For $18.95, you get written info plus a pin, patch and sticker.
CAN'T MAKE IT THIS YEAR? Rally dates are set through 2010 (Aug. 9-15), when Sturgis celebrates its 70th anniversary. Next year's 65th-anniversary rally is Aug. 8-14.
-- Jennifer Huget