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ADV NewsGet On! ADV Fest: Exploring The Gems of South Dakota’s Black Hills

Get On! ADV Fest: Exploring The Gems of South Dakota’s Black Hills

Adventure Riders take over Sturgis for a four-day party & epic rides.

Published on 10.11.2021

Imagine taking a small community with less than 7,000 residents, and dropping over a half million people into it, most of which aboard loud cruiser motorcycles. The inherent chaos of a scene like that is what comes to mind when “Sturgis” and “motorcycle rally” are put in the same sentence. So, when I got asked to cover a motorcycle rally, in Sturgis, a maelstrom of preconceptions began swirling about what I would encounter. However, just as one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, one shouldn’t judge a motorcycle rally based on its location.

The Origin

Created by a small team inside Revzilla, the Get On! Adventure Fest began with a simple idea: “to create the adventure festival that we’d want to ride.” Revzilla’s parent company, Comoto, backed this passion project, and supported scouting of the area’s roads and trails. With around 4,500 miles of trails snaking through the Black Hills of South Dakota, this is no small task. According to Revzilla’s Spurgeon Dunbar, “we’re just scratching the surface of exploring the area.”

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

Unless one has attended the Sturgis Bike Week event, rolling up at the Buffalo Chip grounds doesn’t fully hint at the calm before the storm. Paying very close attention to the infrastructure before it all begins can reveal bits of the scope — all this space will be filled with people and bikes at some point. In the case of the Get On! ADV Fest, watching the initial riders start pouring in can inspire expectations of a similar chaotic few days ahead, but then a funny thing happened. The festival grounds would be almost empty during the day as virtually everyone ended up out riding the variety of trails and roads the area offered, returning to camp to swap stories of their days, typically until deep into the night — a goal of the event.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
The Buffalo Chip campground is located off Ford Meade Way. A smooth, unpaved shortcut route for anyone headed to Sturgis from Rapid City.
My steed for the ADV Fest? This Bumblebee BMW F850GS, which our friends over at RawHyde Adventures were nice enough to lend us for the weekend. 

The Vendors

The first running of the Get On! ADV Fest was attended by nearly 300 motorcyclists, staying on the Buffalo Chip grounds in tents, RVs, and on-site cabins. With the majority of attendees out venturing on their bikes, those who lingered around homebase could peruse the booths of vendors such as Continental Tire, Kriega, and Akrapovic, but the focus was clearly all about riding.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

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BMW and Harley-Davidson were on site, offering test rides of the 2021 GS and Pan America machines. Nearly 200 attendees threw a leg over one of the new Pan Americas in Harley’s demo fleet to experience the roads and trails around the Black Hills. As many as 48 riders opted to test their mettle on a skills course ran by Harley-Davidson’s Justin Kleiter. A tribute to American servicemen and women in the form of over 800 U.S. flags was installed in the same field where riders had to navigate Harley’s challenges.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
RawHyde Adventures, an official BMW off-road training company, was on site with the latest GS models available for attendees to demo ride.
One of the Rawhyde clinic rides on an MX-style course.
Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
A tribute to American servicemen and women in the form of over 800 U.S. flags was installed in the same field where riders had to navigate Harley’s challenges.

In the midst of the almost constant flow of bikes coming and going, RawHyde Adventures was both conducting BMW test rides, and offering rider training. BMW Motorrad sent a small team from their Spartanburg, SC Performance Center to set up a GS Trophy skills course, and allow riders to try their hand at navigating some of the qualifying exercises for this international event. In addition to Harley-Davidson, BMW, and RawHyde Adventures, ADV Woman was in attendance, conducting rider training throughout the event as well.

Author note: Jon Beck was on the U.S. Team which won the first GS Trophy in Tunisia back in 2008. Photo by Touratech AG.

The Black Hills

Among the first impressions one might get of the town of Sturgis, is that not a whole lot is going on there, outside of the motorcycle rally. In a paradoxical way, this is an ideal setup — it encourages you to get on a bike and head out to explore if you want to see interesting things, and South Dakota’s Black Hills have a surprising amount of interesting things to see. Although, as the tallest peaks east of the Rockies, rising up to more than 7,200 feet, calling them “hills” seems an injustice.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

A hint of the mountainous nature of the area can be seen from the Buffalo Chip grounds themselves. The rolling meadows are interrupted by a lone 4,426-foot-high mountain planted in the otherwise mostly flat landscape. While attracting modern visitors to hike its trails, Bear Butte is still used to this day for traditional American Indian ceremonies.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
My camping spot with Bear Butte in the background. Considered sacred to many Native American tribes who continue to hold religious ceremonies there to the present day.

Arguably the most famous feature in the Black Hills is Gutzon Borglum’s monument, carved into Mount Rushmore. Beginning in 1927, Borglum began carving the likenesses of four leaders in America’s history who, “set America free and kept her free.” Beginning with Washington, over the next 14 years, the heads of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt would be added until carving was completed in 1941 — the same year Borglum died. “I want somewhere in America a memory of the great things we accomplished as a nation, placed so high it won’t pay to pull it down for lesser purposes.”

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

Interestingly, Mount Rushmore isn’t the only home to giant faces carved into rock. Seventeen miles away from Borglum’s sculpture, is a still-incomplete monument which began in 1948. Korczak Ziolkowski worked on the Rushmore project for a brief time, then left to create his own monument: Crazy Horse — The Lakota Chief who famously led a war party to victory over the U.S. Army’s General Custer at the Battle of LIttle Bighorn. Upon completion, the monument will be the tallest sculpture in the world at 563 feet.

For motorcyclists, a visit to Mount Rushmore also offers one of the most unique motorcycle roads to be found anywhere. Iron Mountain Road is a dizzyingly twisty, sometimes one-lane, path carved into the Black Hills. Narrow tunnels bored through solid rock along Iron Mountain Road’s route are specifically designed to frame Mount Rushmore. Perhaps even more of a standout feature, are this road’s bridges. In 1932, many felt these “Pigtail Bridges” could not be built. Local timbers were incorporated into their design in order to match the aesthetic of the area. Variances in the construction materials, coupled with steep elevation drops made for complex engineering problems. Cecil Clyde Gideon scouted the route on horseback, and engineered his vision into the Black Hills and riders can now enjoy this majestic offshoot on the way to Mount Rushmore. 

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

Over Iron Mountain Road’s 17 miles, riders will navigate 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, three pigtail bridges, and three one-lane tunnels. For those seeking scenery along a less aggressive route, the Badlands Loop State Scenic Byway provides 58 miles of camera-battery-draining natural vistas along its paved two-lane path.

Adventure Riders wanting to veer off the pavement are greeted by over 4,000 miles of trails to explore. Routes can be ranked in terms of difficulty, but the dynamic nature of South Dakota’s weather means conditions can change drastically, sometimes moment to moment. Just 15 miles away from Sturgis, is one of the most popular trails in the area. Piedmont Trailhead starts after a short ride through the small community of Piedmont, then winds its way through Ponderosa Pine forests, and up the mountain to reveal spectacular views of the Black Hills. While an adventure-bike-friendly route for the most part, Piedmont trail is not without its challenges in the form of rocky sections, and the potential of very slick conditions when the weather gets wet.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
Harley-Davidson’s Justin Kleiter riding one of the technical trails around the Black Hills.

Like many places having both rich history and easy access, Deadwood is a touristy town, but very much worth a visit. The main drag through town has an almost theme park vibe to it, however, the Wild West nature of Deadwood can still be felt. Like much of the Old West’s history, Deadwood was known primarily for its lawlessness. Arguably the most famous murder took place on August 2, 1876, when Jack McCall killed Wild Bill Hickok. There’s some debate about the exact location of the murder, however it’s universally accepted that it took place in Deadwood. For those less interested in gunplay, Deadwood greets visitors with numerous restaurants, museums, and shows. Cigar folk should stop into Deadwood Tobacco Company, hidden from view in one of Deadwood’s subterranean rooms.

Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally
Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

In addition to underground cigar lounges, the Black Hills has both an underground National Park, and underground National Monument. Wind Cave National Park was the seventh national park designated in the U.S. So far, 150 miles of tunnels have been mapped, and the exploration continues. Jewel Cave National Monument is even larger, with over 200 miles of known tunnels, ranking it among the longest caves in the world.

Treading the line between underground and above, riders can stop by an active archaeological project at Mammoth Site, in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Looking like something leftover from a Peter Jackson film, the mammoth creatures (pun intended, I think) appear more the stuff of fantasy than reality. A reminder that one is rolling through a land with an ancient history that is very disconnected from our current experience. 

Mammoth Site South Dakota
Photo courtesy of mammothsite.org
Get On! ADV Fest Sturgis adventure motorcycle rally

Just over 100 miles away from where behemoth creatures are slowly being unearthed, a much more recent behemoth thing attracts over two million visitors each year. Wall Drug began as a small store in 1931, and today has grown to a famous attraction including dining, activities, gifts, and those bumper stickers that seem to pop up everywhere.

The Future

For the first running of its Get On! ADV Fest, Revzilla had nearly 300 riders in attendance, from 25 states. While most arrived aboard their own motorcycles, over 20% of attendees still elected to take a riding course with RawHyde Adventures or ADV Woman, and Harley-Davidson did nearly 200 test rides of its new Pan America. Over 70 Continental tires were sold and installed on-site, underscoring the amount of riding happening during even the fledgling stages of this new event.

The 2022 event has already been announced, and will again take place in Sturgis, July 14-17. Rumors of a second western Get On! Adventure Fest are circulating. While nothing is definite on that front as of this writing, the success of the first event, and announcement of a second is another check in the positive column for building the motorcycle community, and industry.

Photos by Jon Beck | Touratech AG | Mammoth Site

Author: Jon Beck

Jon Beck is fulfilling a dream of never figuring out what to be when he grows up. Racing mountain bikes, competitive surfing, and touring as a musician are somehow part of what led Jon to travel through over 40 countries so far as an adventure motorcycle photographer, journalist, and guide. From precision riding for cameras in Hollywood, to refilling a fountain pen for travel stories, Jon brings a rare blend of experience to the table. While he seems happiest when lost in a desert someplace, deadlines are met most of the time.

Author: Jon Beck
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2 thoughts on “Get On! ADV Fest: Exploring The Gems of South Dakota’s Black Hills

  1. Nice ! thanx for all the great photographs and detailed commentary .

    I think you meant “abhorred” in the first paragraph, dang spell check .

    I’ve not been to Sturgis since the Summer of 1969, maybe time to think about returning .

    -Nate

  2. I am in Eastern “Europe” for the military and reading articles like this warm my heart!!!! I simply cannot wait to be home and get my proper ADV on!!!!!

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