Defying virus, thousands of motorcyclists flood into small US town

Shrugging off the five million coronavirus cases now tallied on US soil, thousands of motorcyclists are converging this weekend on a small South Dakota town for what is billed as the biggest cycle gathering in the world.

In past years, the 10-day rally in the town of Sturgis has drawn hundreds of thousands of bikers to socialize, drink and party together — raising fears among some locals that this year’s version could be a superspreader event.

For now, the north-central state is far from the hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — Meade County, where Sturgis is located, has registered only one virus death, according to state health officials — but some of the bikers pouring into the area are coming from distant states far more afflicted. 

South Dakota, site of the famed massive sculpture of four former presidents on Mount Rushmore — where President Donald Trump held a rally last month — is one of the few to have never ordered a lockdown or insisted on mask-wearing. 

Attendees in Sturgis are being encouraged, but not required, to wear masks. Few appeared to be doing so.

– ‘God, guns and Trump’ –

So far, as the town’s Main Street fills with bikes and bars fill with bikers, there is scant evidence of social distancing. Visitors to this 80th edition of the cycle rally already greatly outnumber the 6,000 residents of Sturgis, wedged into the South Dakota hills.

The rally has long been a huge economic boon to Sturgis, and vendors were taking full advantage of it on Sunday.

They peddled T-shirts marked “I survived corona” or “God, guns and Trump” or bearing a photomontage of the president wearing a leather jacket and making an obscene gesture. 

While some locals worried about the two-wheeled invaders, the state’s governor warmly embraced them.

“We’re excited for visitors to see what our great state has to offer!” tweeted Kristi Noem, a Republican and strong Trump supporter.