Justin Veo hasn’t missed the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota in five years, and he’s not planning to start now.
Veo, owner of Cruisers Bar and Grill in Stateline, Idaho, will head out for the 12-hour drive on Wednesday and camp at the event for a week to 10 days.
While he won’t be deterred by the pandemic that has shut down large gatherings across the country, it’s not clear how many of his fellow motorcycle enthusiasts will join him.
Sturgis city planners had high hopes for this year’s music festival and motorcycle rally. For the festival’s 80th anniversary , they aimed to draw more than the 490,000 people who attended in 2019. But those ambitions may be foiled as COVID-19 continues its spread .
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On Saturday, Veo was hosting Cruisers’ annual Road to Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, complete with games.
It was a quiet affair during the afternoon, but it was set to go until 11 p.m., with live music, and more people were expected.
The biker bar is a main attraction in Stateline, which had a population of 49 in 2018 and sits across the road from Post Falls. Business has been good since the bar was able to reopen after a statewide shutdowns, Veo said, though more people watch music from outside now.
Maybe bikers’ shared sense of freedom has prevented a business bust.
Andi Jones has been coming to Cruisers for 15 years, and she said biker culture is all about freedom and family. She and her husband Jonah Jones are “about as regular as it gets,” and they come in two to four times a week.
“All of us are regulars down here,” Jones said. “We’re all family. If you need help, all you gotta do is pick up the phone.”
Official “sound guy” Eric Klages said people lovingly refer to the bar as “a barn.” A large garage with both ends open, Keo said people don’t worry about wearing masks because everything is outdoors and open.
During Saturday’s rally, the games were mostly played while riding. In one, participants rode through a painted track sandwiched between the stage and bar, Veo said. In another, known as the “egg roll,” riders drove tried to drop an egg in a tube while driving past . The “slow ride” is a backwards race to see who can drive through the garage the slowest without putting their feet on the ground.
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Misconceptions about bikers would tell you they’re all “rough and tumble,” Veo said, but the culture has changed.
Jones described the community as open to everyone. In fact, he said, people don’t need a bike to be welcomed at the bar. Though she’s garnered a collection of tattoos that mostly connect to her Native heritage as a registered Pomo tribal member – her first tattoo is 45 years old – she said people don’t need tattoos to be accepted either.
What won’t work is being superficial, Jones said. People who come in with all new leathers don’t know what it’s all about, she said. It’s about noticing beauty other people overlook. She’s been on “a million” roadtrips, and the difference on a bike is how it feels, she said.
“That freedom, that adventure, you’re in the wind,” Veo said. “You can smell things, you can hear things, you can feel temperature differences. It’s a lot bigger experience.”
So coronavirus won’t slow the group down. One of the night’s planned activities will involve a lime green, alien-looking pinata that has an expletive scrawled in front of “COVID” in Sharpie. Veo said he appreciates Idaho’s different approach from Washington in not mandating masks.
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With six feet of distance and hand sanitizer around the bar, he said precautions are enough that he isn’t worried.
The thing to remember, he said, is that Cruisers is more than a bar. It’s a community, and some ideas people have about bikers are was off base.
Jones said she won’t be hitting Sturgis this year because it’s gotten too commercial for her taste and “I’ll be damned if I wait an hour and half for an $8 beer.”
But she came to Cruisers on Saturday for the reason she always comes out: because she appreciates the brotherhood.
“It’s the freedom of it,” Jones said. “You get to see beautiful things people don’t take time to see in a car.”