The mass rally at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally amid the pandemic is too crazy even for the company whose name is almost synonymous with the annual event.
The Harley-Davidson Company has been associated with rallying in the town of Sturgis, South Dakota since its inception decades ago.
The fat and throbbing Harley âhogâ is the official rally bike.
The city’s main intersection is Main Street and Harley-Davidson Way.
The plaza in the center of Sturgis is the Harley-Davidson assembly point, and those who gather there stand over a huge Harley-Davidson logo.
Bill Davidson, grandson of company founder William Davidson, attended the square’s grand opening in 2015, a ceremony that involved a blowtorch and chain rather than scissors and ribbon.
As it was the rally’s 75th anniversary, the plaza featured 75 bricks from Harley-Davidson’s century-old headquarters in Milwaukee, transported to Sturgis by a fleet of motorcycles.
Since then, the rally’s opening ceremonies have taken place in the square every year, with speeches, celebrity appearances, live music, and a daredevil motorcycle jump, all accompanied by the roar of thousands of Harley.
The company has always been very present for the next nine days.
âUsually we have trucks, people, products, demos and everything,â a company spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Friday. âThis year we are not doing it.
The difference is the pandemic, which makes a mass rally of any kind dangerous, especially if turnout is expected to reach 250,000 and attendees largely reject proven precautions like wearing masks and social distancing.
The dangers have given pause to even a company that relies on people’s willingness to risk being freaked out without the protection of seat belts or airbags.
To have taken part in the rally as in previous years would have meant being complicit in a carelessness of a different order even than riding a motorcycle without a helmet.
If you jump on a pig without a helmet, you are only endangering yourself.
But if you walk around without a mask, you put others in danger.
This time, the company sent no personnel, no trucks, no products, no demonstrations.
“We made the decision to support him in a different way,” said a spokesperson. âThis year, we’re doing it in a way that promotes social distancing. “
Instead, the company offered the âLet’s Ride Challengeâ, which invites enthusiasts to embark on a variety of âorganizedâ rides, ranging from short to âepicâ.
âMore than just building machines, Harley-Davidson represents the timeless pursuit of adventure,â Jon Bekefy, the brand’s chief marketing officer, said in a press release. âThe Let’s Ride Challenge is Harley-Davidson’s invitation for all bikers in this difficult time to rediscover adventure through social distancing to find freedom of the soul.
The breathless hype apparently seeks to convince Harley fans that you can feel the wind in your hair without risking having COVID in your lungs, that freedom doesn’t necessarily mean putting those around you in danger, that you can be adventurous on the road without joining others in mass madness.
The official opening was always held at the Harley-Davidson Rally Point with its huge Harley-Davidson logo on Harley-Davidson Way, but no company representative was present, let alone a descendant of the founder. And the mayor of Sturgis, Mark Carstensen, reduced the ceremony to the simple reading of a master proclamation.
âOver the past decade, we have evolved the opening ceremonies,â he noted. “I didn’t think we would evolve into this.”
The mayor was almost drowned by the roar of a passing Harley, a sound that seems to be a big part of their appeal. This attraction among die-hard bikers had survived the company’s 2018 feud with President Trump when it said its tariffs forced it to move some production overseas. His absence from Sturgis this year shouldn’t put Harleys in the fate of Japanese motorcycles, which look like supercharged sewing machines and have been crammed and burned in previous rallies.
Carstensen handed over the microphone to Noala Fritz, a Gold Star mother who accompanies a traveling exhibition called “Remembering Our Fallen”, which takes up part of the place during this gathering. The exhibit features photos of all the Americans who died in our two longest wars.
âThe home of the free because of the brave,â said Fritz. âEveryone gave it, these men and women gave it their all. “
She said a few words about her son, Army Lt. Jacob Fritz, who was kidnapped and murdered along with three other soldiers in Karbala, Iraq, in 2007. She then spoke of all the dead whose photos now travel from one state to another.
âThey have all taken an oath to defend our country against our enemies, foreigners and nationals,â she said.
None of the dead probably could have imagined that we would face an unseen enemy at home who has so far killed more Americans than they have died in all of our wars since the conflict in Korea began. And if healthcare workers are the ones on the front lines now, we must all be in this desperate fight against COVID-19. The least we can do is take the simple precautions that have been shown to be effective in reducing the spread.
âEnjoy the rally,â the mayor said after Fritz returned the microphone.
He was standing on this Harley-Davidson logo and behind him was an American flag.
âBe careful,â he added.