It can get rough sometimes for our Costa. While most of us hold down jobs with regular hours that let us get home on time to the family, he’s forced to work from dawn until well into the night to report on all the news that matters to CMG.
Here’s an example of that dedication: an assignment last month to cover the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. No, he wasn’t on a Harley – maybe things would have turned out differently if there’d been a V-Twin instead of an L-Twin between his legs. – Ed.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY SAM SCHNEIDER AND COSTA MOUZOURIS
STURGIS, SD—After about a half-dozen trips to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, I still love coming here. This latest trip is courtesy of Ducati North America, which asked me along to ride from Denver, Colorado, to Sturgis, South Dakota to attend the 76th running of the famed biker gathering. The invitation wasn’t focused around a bike launch, but was rather a ride for some friends of Ducati NA CEO, Jason Chinnock, and a few media guests.
The friends included Chinnock’s buddies Billy Duffy and Johnny Iuzzini. Transplanted Englishman Duffy lives in Los Angeles, and is the long-time guitarist of the rock band The Cult. Iuzzini lives in Brooklyn, where he’s a renowned pastry chef, being chosen as one of the “10 most influential pastry chefs in North America” by Forbes magazine. He’s written two cookbooks and acted as head judge in the reality show Top Chef: Just Desserts.
So what do a celebrity chef, a rock star and a CEO of an American distributor of Italian motorcycles have in common? Well, they all ride. And they don’t just fake ride, as we sometimes expect from celebrities. Duffy began riding in the 1980s, following a riding girlfriend’s lead. His first bike was a Honda GL500 Silver Wing, and although he stopped for a while due to a busy touring schedule a few years back, he now rides regularly and owns a new Triumph Bonneville T120.
Iuzzini began riding dirt bikes and ATVs in the Catskills at 7 years old. At 17 he bought his first street bike, a Honda CB1, and he still owns a 1999 Ducati Monster he bought new. Since then he’s added a Ducati ST4 and a Honda CBR600RR track-day bike to his collection.
Chinnock is a long-time rider and former motorcycle dealer who’s now in charge of Ducati’s North American distributor, but before all that he used to play in a band, which is how he met Duffy.
Finally, also along on the ride, were Ducati PR manager Nathon Verdugo and product manager Lorenzo Uliani, more affectionately referred to as Ulio. Ulio has been with Ducati since 1995, and aside from being extremely passionate about motorcycles, we discovered on this trip that he is also a big fan of women. Yes, whether on two wheels or two legs, Ulio is ready to climb aboard for a ride. He designed the xDiavel, which is the bike we would ride from Denver to Sturgis, and throughout the Black Hills after we got there.
Only three moto journos took part in the ride, one from Mexico, one from America, and the sole Canadian – me. I’d already been to Sturgis a few days earlier to ride the new Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress, so I flew to Denver from Sturgis just to ride back.
Before leaving Denver, however, we had a chance to sample some gastronomic ecstasy via a modern Asian bistro called Cholon. Chef Lon Symensma, who is a good friend of Iuzzini and who also rides a Sportster, owns the restaurant. It was the last semblance of good food we were to enjoy, because in case you don’t know, Sturgis isn’t renowned for haute cuisine.
IN SOUTH DAKOTA
It was a relatively uneventful ride up to Sturgis on the Ducatis, mostly on the Interstate, though our camera guy, Sam Schneider, got a hefty speeding ticket trying to pass us in a minivan so he could snap a few shots. We arrived in town on Sunday evening of the rally’s opening weekend, but since this was an informal get-together we weren’t on a tight schedule or being herded from event to event. There were, however a few optional activities planned, including the Mayor’s Ride on Monday morning.
Our hosts picked up the $176-per-rider entry fee for the Mayor’s Ride, and although I initially balked at the thought of parading around the Black Hills among a hundred or so beer-bellied bikers, it turned out to be a pretty good event. The ride is escorted by police, which means you sail through traffic lights and stop signs, and actually move along at the speed limit, which is faster than if you ride alone in typical rally traffic. The ride stops at Mount Rushmore and ends in Custer, where you’re treated to a BBQ dinner and you get a gift bag that includes a few trinkets, as well as this year, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel whiskey. And proceeds go to the Sturgis volunteer fire department.
Any trip to the Sturgis rally has to include at least one afternoon on Main Street. Here is where you’ll see freaky bikes, and even freakier people riding them. It’s a smorgasbord of two-wheeled and high-heeled eccentricity. It’s a place where body paint is more elaborate than the paint schemes on custom bikes, and where tattoos vary from tasteless and tacky to downright atrocious attacks of ink on the skin.
Following a foray on Main, you’ll want to cleanse the visual palette and that takes a quick romp on the impeccably smooth, winding roads that head south out of Sturgis into the Black Hills. I headed south on Highway 385 to join up to the Needles Highway, which crosses the length of Custer State Park, north to south. It’s the twistiest piece of road in the area, offering fantastic views of the park and its wildlife. Buffalo are often seen grazing by the roadside, while Hogs meander slowly on the pavement.
And slow-moving bikes can inhibit your ride even if you’re not a knee-scraping sport bike rider. Some riders mosey along at 25 mph in 35 mph zones, and they slow down for turns even from that speed. This can be frustrating on these tight, twisty roads where it’s difficult to pass, especially when slow riders don’t use the turn outs to let you by. Fortunately we were supported by 156 horsepower, allowing us to zip by with a half-twist of the xDiavel’s right grip.
OUT FOR THE NIGHT
Days are bustling with activity during the rally, and there’s no settling down when the sun sets. We stayed in a Holiday Inn Express just on the edge of town, and like most hotels and motels in the area, they offer a free shuttle service into downtown Sturgis. This prompted all in our delegation to leave the bikes behind in the evening, and shuttle into Main Street where we could gallivant about in an alcohol-induced stupor.
A few of us settled down at the Iron Horse Saloon, where the evening’s headlining act was the Cold Hard Cash Show, a remarkably accurate tribute to the late Johnny Cash. I cut back on the alcohol because we’d be riding the next day; Duffy, despite his rock ’n roll background (or probably because of it), has been dry for more than two decades and doesn’t drink; the others got sloshed.
At one point, John, the journo from the U.S., began drunk-dancing in front of the stage with a couple of women, who in return for the impromptu entertainment took off with two T-shirts he had bought to support the band. The sad-puppy eyes he flashed after he found out he’d been swindled made me feel sorry for him, so I bought him two more. The Cold Hard Cash guys were happy.
As we watched the band, we kept getting texts to come over next door, where an outdoor wet T-shirt contest was soon to begin. Wet T-shirt contests are a staple of biker parties, and the women can go home with some money to boot, in this case between $150 and $500. Bar patrons chose a winner with their cheers; Ulio tried to make out with three waitresses; none of us threw up. It was a late night.
On the final day, we headed to a pool party hosted by Ducati and Bell Helmets at the Pappy Hoel campground about a half-hour northeast of Sturgis, where Ducati unveiled a customised xDiavel built by Roland Sands Design and presented by the bike builder himself.
Pool party attendees were probably there by invitation, or the event simply attracted an unconventional crowd, at least by Sturgis standards. It appeared to be a younger, hipper crowd than seen on Main Street: the tattoos were of a much higher quality, seemingly drawn by true artists rather than convicts, and the guts were tauter and the butts hung much tighter.
Alas, after feasting my eyes on a bikini contest, a poolside motorcycle stunt show, and a belly-flop competition, it was time to return to the hotel and recover for my trip home.
Attendance at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was down, at least according to the taxi driver who took me to the airport, a local guy who also rides. He said it was obvious by the reduced congestion, and the fact that hotels were reporting 80 per cent occupancy compared to full occupancy on a busy year. This worked out fine for us because we never really got bogged down in gridlocked bike traffic, something I’ve experienced during past trips to Sturgis.
Despite its Italian lineage, the Ducati xDiavel was an ideal fit at the rally, in what is otherwise the stomping ground of American-made bikes. Its distinctive styling sets it apart from the countless ape-hangered, slammed-to-the-ground custom bikes, getting its fair share of compliments from traditional Sturgis attendees. But best of all, it’s well equipped to handle the area’s winding roads, with ample cornering clearance and a superbike-like power output that is a boon when getting by a long row of slow-moving cruisers.
The rally is a happening you should attend at least once in a lifetime, even if you don’t adhere to the biker way of life. At the very least you’ll be entertained, and the roads in the area are spectacular. And if you’re lucky, it will be on an off year.