'It feels weird:' Wisconsinites hope to steer clear of COVID-19 at Sturgis

Hundreds of thousands of bikers are spending the week on the streets of Sturgis, South Dakota for the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally -- many from southeast Wisconsin, some worried about what they'll bring back to the Badger State.

In past years, Sturgis has attracted around a half-million people, but this year, there's concern such a large crowd could be a breeding ground for COVID-19 -- worrying some from Wisconsin who made the trek.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally amid COVID-19

The event is one of the largest in the country and celebrating its 80th year -- drawing an estimated crowd of 250,000 from coast to coast.

"It's just one, big, happy family," said Sharon Hollywood-Neuhofer, biker from Pewaukee.

Hollywood-Neuhofer made the trek from Pewaukee on Friday, Aug. 7 -- her 7th time visiting the event and taking in the sights. Her only concern this go-around is that she hopes to leave the 10-day rally in good health.

Sharon Hollywood-Neuhofer

"There are some vendors that backed out because of the COVID," said Hollywood-Neuhofer. "It's a little bit different when you look for those vendors being here. It just kind of feels weird."

It's likely the biggest event in the country since the pandemic began, but not everyone was happy about it. When the city's roughly 7,000 residents were surveyed earlier this year, 60% voted to put the brakes on the rally. The city council approved it anyway.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally amid COVID-19

"Is it irresponsible? Um, I don't know if it's that irresponsible if everyone practices safe distancing and enjoys themselves," said Tony Sanfelipo, biker from Mukwonago. "Most of the activities are outdoors."

Sanfelipo said he thought long and hard before going.

"You can't live your life hiding, but you don't want to take unnecessary risks, either," he said.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally amid COVID-19

Harley-Davidson is promoting its "Let's Ride Challenge" to encourage socially distant riding and still lists its big "Rally Weekend" Sept. 3 through Sept. 6 on its website.

At Sturgis, social distancing and masks are encouraged, but not required:

"There aren't a lot of masks being worn out here," said Hollywood-Neuhofer.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Hollywood-Neuhofer said she will be tested for COVID-19 as soon as she gets home, but it's not stopping her from the ride of her life.

"When it's your time to go, it's your time to go," she said.

During the rally, Sturgis becomes the largest city in South Dakota. It remains to be seen if the rally will impact COVID-19 numbers as riders head back home. 

Sturgis runs through Aug. 16.

Harleys everywhere, masks nowhere: Sturgis draws thousands

Many who rode their bikes into Sturgis on Friday expressed defiance at the rules and restrictions that have marked life in many locales during the pandemic.

Annual Sturgis rally expecting 250K, stirring virus concerns

Though only about half the usual number of people are expected at this year's event, residents were split as the city weighed its options. Many worried that the rally would cause an unmanageable outbreak of COVID-19.