Every year, motorcycle enthusiasts who love a party atmosphere gear up and make the rounds of seasonal motorcycle rallies, bike shows, swap meets and poker runs. While most motorcyclists attend such events close to home, literally hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to what are widely considered the top motorcycle rallies in the country. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, Rolling Thunder’s “Ride for Freedom,” Daytona Bike Week, Laconia Motorcycle Week or Myrtle Beach Bike Week inevitably lead the rest when it comes to must-see biker events.
The Sturgis, South Dakota, rally is considered the premier motorcycle event in the United States. It began in 1938 as a race called “The Black Hills Classic,” attended by only nine participants, their friends and families. It’s grown into a mecca for bikers, attracting an estimated 650,000 motorcyclists from around the world every August. Not bad for a town of less than 7,000.
The Laconia event in New Hampshire is the oldest, first held in 1916 with only a couple hundred bikers in attendance. That first rally at Weirs Beach included a weekend of hill climbs and races. Nearly a century later, the annual mid-June event has an estimated attendance of more than 300,000.
Florida’s Daytona Bike Week began in 1937 as a one-day, three-mile-long beach race for motorcyclists. The event now attracts more than 500,000 participants and runs for 10 days every March. The town also hosts “Biketoberfest” every October during the weekend closest to Columbus Day.
In South Carolina, Myrtle Beach Bike Week has been held annually since 1940. Although the Myrtle Beach City Council declined to continue hosting the event in 2008, that didn’t stop local businesses and property owners. They continue to host the event for two weeks beginning in early May. While it operates under the same name, the rally is now held in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. Annual attendance is about 300,000.
Of all these events, Rolling Thunder’s annual “Ride For Freedom” Memorial Day rally and run is one of the most noteworthy. The rally began in 1988 as a demonstration organized by four Vietnam War veterans and their families to protest the plight of American POW/MIAs. That first run, starting at the Pentagon and ending at the Capitol Building, barely made national news. What began with 2,500 motorcycles has grown into an annual charity event attracting nearly 500,000 bikers and thousands more veterans, vendors and participants.
While all the top motorcycle rallies are specifically tailored toward their participants, purposes and locales, they universally offer great camaraderie, food, drink and – at the very least – several versions of the following entertainment:
Motorcycle races and/or hill climbs.
Custom motorcycle builds, shows and displays.
Classic and custom motorcycle contests.
Food/drink, souvenir and motorcycle equipment vendors.
Manufacturer displays and sales.
Live music at several locations in the rally area.
Because helmet and traffic laws vary in each city and state, always check those in the immediate area of any rally you plant to attend. It may save you a world of problems and a chunk of money.