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Top 5 must-have gear choices for your first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance and posturing when parties predictably go pear-shaped


There are few events in the motorcycle world that blend equal parts infamy, household name recognition, and bucket list stature. If “Talk Like A Pirate Day” has gotten too tame for you, then maybe “Batshit Crazy Naked Drunk Biker Day” is what you’re after, so strap on the engineer boots and get thee to the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in Black Hills of South Dakota.  

The Bikes of Sturgis, Photography Courtesy of Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association

Held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota for 10 days during the first week of August, the event was started by local Indian Motorcycles dealer Pappy Hoel in 1938. Part Burning Man, part ‘Sons of Anarchy,’ part Grateful Dead concert parking lot scene, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has grown into America’s most iconic celebration of two-wheeled motorsports and made in the USA iron, bringing more than half a million visitors from around world to this dusty backwater. 

“Cue the bonfire jumping and stop staring at that nice man’s neck scar…”


It remains one of the few places on earth where the shiniest chrome custom choppers money can buy are parked alongside the filthiest rat bikes imaginable. A place where posing celebrities and suburbanites let their hair down to mix with tramp bikers and certified outlaws. Where else can you hang out at places with names like Buffalo Chip and Crazy Horse to party with guys named Gypsy Joe the Strangler, and Buzzard Breath Bill? Plus, South Dakota is just chock full of good ‘ol boy biker saloons (yes, they still call them “saloons” out that way) where you can sample some of the finest knuckle sandwiches in the country.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

While the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally does have a certain reputation, it’s matured into America’s biggest pop-up celebration of motorcycle culture. Yes, the air may still be thick with the smell of exhaust fumes, stale beer and the gamey body odour, but the Rally isn’t all just gypsies, tramps and thieves anymore. All are welcome and present-day Sturgis includes Supercross races, road racing, drag racing, celebrity rides, women’s-only group rides and more organized parties than your liver can handle in a week.

Do expect, however, to witness contests where half-naked biker mamas unsubtly bite hot dogs hanging from the sky…but more on that later.

Sturgis Group Ride, Photography Courtesy of Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association

If you go, recognize that getting the right gear will not only help you fit in and make new friends, but also increase your comfort and safety as you travel through the Badlands and canyonlands in the fast-changing late summer weather where exposure sneaks up fast. With that in mind we’ve put together this list of the Top 5 must-have gear choices for your first Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, so you can look your biker best while remaining comfortable and protected.

So, cue the bonfire jumping and stop staring at that nice man’s neck scar, ‘cause here comes the list…

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Top 5 Must-Have Gear Picks For Your First Sturgis Rally:

1. SPY Optic Dirk Sunglasses $135 USD

Although helmets are optional in South Dakota, state laws require wearing sunglasses while riding if your motorcycle doesn’t have a windscreen. If you’ve rented a ride suitable for the festivities it’s highly unlikely your motorcycle will have one. During the Rally, the Sturgis Police Department enforces the rules of the road with additional vigor, so you should probably think on this for a bit.  

SPY Optic Dirk Sunglasses

When it comes to buying sunglasses, save the $7.00 flame-job wraparounds from the gas station for Guy Fieri and splurge some grown-up money on proper optics. When you’re spending a week chasing tumbleweeds in the South Dakota sun, lens quality and frame design are kind of a big deal. The main differences between safe and useful eyewear versus dollar-store garbage are clarity of vision, eye comfort and retinal protection. That feeling of sand in your eyes? It’s not from partying too hard with Badass Floyd and his band of merry pranksters.

It’s probably a nasty case of keratoconjunctivitis photoelectrica from wearing sunglasses so cheap they came free in a box of breakfast cereal. You might as well wrap duct tape around your face and cut two eye holes in it for all the good that junk will do for you. 

SPY Optic Dirk Sunglasses

High quality lenses decrease the risk of dangerous distraction from glare while riding and reduce eye fatigue, which leads to headaches. Likewise, good lenses offer razor sharp, undistorted vision, which allows your eyes to relax. This is important. Our eyes are early warning systems, constantly working and scanning for danger on our behalf. Wearing cheap lenses that distort the shapes and details in our field of vision forces our eyes (and brain) to work a lot harder than necessary. That may be fine for a short time, but like any muscle under constant stress, they will eventually fatigue, protest, and ultimately fail (hence your questionable judgments about potential tent-mates at last call).

If you’re heading to Sturgis, we recommend you get yourself a pair of ‘Dirks’ from SPY Optic. We’re big fans and long time users of SPY glasses here at Motolicious and speak from personal experience. Mid-priced, durable, and bombproof, SPY was founded by surfers for long days in the sun and sand. The people at SPY believe so strongly in the idea that lens quality tangibly impacts outdoor experiences they developed a proprietary Happy™ Lens technology, which is world renowned as “the only patented therapeutic lens on the market to not only enhance color and contrast, but also scientifically tuned to boost mood and alertness.” Plus, the Dirk features wide temples to block the dust, dry wind and ambient light that will compound eye issues in hot Badlands riding conditions. Narrow temples might look sleek and fashionable, but do nothing to block other environmental factors that will wear your eyes down.  

SPY Optic Dirk Sunglasses

Constructed from SPY’s proprietary Grilamid® material, the Dirk’s frame  is lightweight, strong and flexible. High-quality, long-lasting snap pin hinges ensure there won’t be any surprises when things get rowdy. Style wise, the Dirk’s shape is pure old school biker cool. Pair them with a sleeveless flannel shirt. Howling wolf t-shirt optional.

2. Street & Steel Richmond Leather Chaps $139.99 USD

Nothing says just-off-the-jet Sturgis noob than the guy who dressed for the wrong party. Stay protected and increase your ability to fit in by choosing riding gear you can wear all day, on and off the bike, without costume changes. At Sturgis, that means leather chaps. And, yes, we mean the “it’s fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.,” kind of chaps. 

Street & Sport Richmond Leather Chaps

Stop snickering and leave the geeked-out GORE-TEX adventure riding suits and one piece rocket-monkey body condoms at home. The reason leather chaps are still relevant after centuries is because they provide the protection of leather with  the simple on-off convenience of zip-up legs and a belt. They’re much cooler than a riding suit in South Dakota’s heat and humidity and are an on-point style choice for pretty much any social occasion at Sturgis. You are in genuine cowboy country after all, so leather chaps are to the Rally what fedoras are to Los Angeles. Wear these with a pair of ripped and faded jeans and you’ll look like your middle name is actually Harley.

Street & Sport Richmond Leather Chaps

We recommend Street & Steel’s Richmond chaps as value for the money. We prefer the Richmond’s matte finish to the fake-looking shoe leather shine of other choices on the market. What really makes these unique in the category, however, are raw-edged hems that can be finished by a tailor for a personalized fit. For those of us not tall enough to ride this attraction, there’s nothing worse than schlepping around with 4-inches of extra leather bunched up around your boots. It looks terrible. Really, really terrible. Since much of your time at Sturgis will be spent walking and standing, all that leather will be dragging on the ground and catching on the inside of ankles. The Richmonds are form fitting to avoid flapping in the wind and the combination of a buckle and lace waist system provide infinite fit adjustment to ensure all day riding comfort. Deep pockets keep everything close at hand. Like John Wayne, once you get them broken in, you won’t want to take them off.

3. Highway 21 RPM Boots $139.95 USD

Having the right footwear can make or break your Sturgis experience as your choice needs to combine safety with all-day walking and standing comfort. You’re going to the Badlands, not Wally World. Do you know what lives in the Badlands? Rattlesnakes. Carnivorous wolf spiders. And let’s not forget that sneaky little bastard, Vaejovidae Paruroctonus. That means you’re going to need some boots

Highway 21 RPM Motorcycle Boots

Style-wise you’re going to want to channel that greasy, one-eyed drifter guy who sleeps in a dumpster over by the Piggly Wiggly; not the emasculated, lumbersexual barista who nicknamed himself Jake and spends all his time pouting on Instagram. The RPM’s are a suitable mash-up of matte-finished oiled leather, rugged soles and thrift store army boots that check all the boxes.      

Highway 21 RPM Motorcycle Boots

Practically speaking, Highway 21’s RPMs are high enough to provide adequate ankle protection, yet compact enough to wear all day. Tall engineering and cowboy style boots might provide better snakebite protection, and are great choices for riding, but spend a full day walking in them and you will come to know a fresh kind of hell. The RPM has been built for comfort with a full-length cushioned sock lining and HiPora waterproof lining throughout. Rugged, hiking boot style Goodyear welted rubber soles offer all-day wearability and safety on and off the bike. This is the feature we like the most, actually. Resoleable Goodyear welts used to be a sign of design forethought and manufacturing quality not all that long ago. As the footwear market keeps increasing prices while moving towards glued, single use soles, we really appreciate this old-school throwback that will extend the life of your RPM’s for years. At $139.95, the RPM’s really are excellent value.

4. First Mfg. Lowside Canvas Vest $99.99 USD

If you have to choose just one piece of gear for your Rally experience, make it a vest. The weather is always changing in South Dakota and it can go from blistering hot and humid, to cold and hailing in the blink of an eye. While you will still want to bring a full jacket for when the weather turns, you will get more day-to-day use and comfort from a vest. 

First Mfg. Lowside Vest

When it comes to motorcycle vests, the Lowside from First Mfg. is so legit you’re going to want to give yourself a proper new biker name like Meathook or Hellfarter. The “club cut” of the Lowside is meant to be layered and is three inches shorter than a traditional vest for riding comfort. The Lowside has also been designed with enough inside pockets to carry all of your EDC necessities. Burly YKK® zippers hidden behind a snap closure are meant for tough use and stop well above the waistline so as not to bunch or pinch. It’s 20 oz. canvas construction puts the “heavy” in heavy duty, so don’t be deterred that it’s not leather. You will know you’re wearing armour when you put this on. It’s seriously weighty.       

First Mfg. Lowside Vest

The Lowside was designed to be patched with a one piece back panel, uninterrupted by seams, and is perfectly shaped to add a large flaming dragon patch with a DILLIGAF rocker. Once you get your Lowside vest patched to perfection you’ll want to run over it a few times with the car, and then sleep in it for a few weeks to establish the right patina and odour. Because nothing quite screams Sturgis rookie like a spotless, patch-less vest.

5. Hot Leathers Paisley Skull Bandana $9.95 USD

Complete your Sturgis kit with a proper bandana from Hot Leathers. While it may seem like a bit of a throwaway recommendation, a good bandana is actually an essential MacGyver-level item that should already be in your adventure quiver anyway. More functional than a neck tube, it provides better sun protection, can be rolled into a makeshift rope for use as a fastener, or as a filter dirty water in case of emergencies (or rusty “saloon” taps).

Hot Leathers Paisley Bandana

Full of both skulls and paisley, Hot Leathers’ bandana features trippy graphics in Harley-Davidson black and orange that appear to be conceived by ancient Olmec overlords on ayahuasca vision-quests. At 21” x 21” it’s sized for practical use in the field by stagecoach robbers, outlaw gunslingers and other crooked cowboys that used to inhabit the very land Sturgis stands on. Big enough to cover your whole face or head, you can wrap this bandana around your ugly mug in the gunslinger style while you’re riding through the canyons and then channel Pete Fonda and rock it around your neck off the bike. You’ll strike a pose so bad they’re going to call you Hoodoo Hank. Plus, the psychoactive graphics are perfect for distracting that peyote-tripping posse of biker brethren over in the corner who’ve suddenly taken an unsettling interest in your flaming snake t-shirt. Should things suddenly go pear-shaped, the Paisley Skull Bandana can also be folded into a triangular bandage. Try doing that with your flimsy neck tube. 

Wanna go for a ride? Check out the useful links listed below:

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Black Hills & Badlands Tourism Association

The Complete Sturgis Rally Guide

Yet another fine #bikelove story of motorcycle art, craft, speed and beauty, fresh from your Editorial Team here at ‘Licious.

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