Sturgis Is a Gathering of Mostly Trump Supporters

Contrary to their rebel biker image, attendees generally come straight from Donald Trump’s fanbase.

byJustin Hughes|
Motorcycles photo


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Bikers often like to think of themselves as rebels, wearing leather and no helmets to look and feel tough astride their Harley-Davidsons as they attend gatherings at Laconia and Sturgis. But CNN reports that most people attending Sturgis aren't so rebellious, rather they’re affluent older white people, most of whom support President Donald Trump.

"What I see here in motorcycling is a microcosm for the whole country," motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter told CNN. "I get the feeling sometimes that people that don't believe in what's going on is right can become very quiet."

Rod Woodruff, owner of a group of campgrounds, bars, and concert stages in Sturgis known as the Buffalo Chip, told CNN that his average camper makes $95,000 a year, and owns their own home and more than one motorcycle. Attendees are also almost exclusively white. Despite their appearance as anti-establishment rebels, this is pretty much exactly the demographic that supports Trump.

Not everyone agrees, of course. While many women are content to ride on the back of their male significant other's Harley, a number of women ride their own bikes. 

"There are still some men who don't like the idea of women riding big motorcycles," rider Staci Wilt told CNN after riding to South Dakota from her home in Colorado. "But most guys have accepted us. We've come a long way."

But not surprisingly, Wilt and the group of women with her are not so enthusiastic about Trump. Yet they are still pretty quiet about it. One of them says she's a Hillary Clinton fan, but would not say so on camera, and her identity remains hidden.

One issue that seems to divide these riders is the rift between Trump and Harley-Davidson over the current trade war. Some side with Trump, believing that what he's doing is right and that if Harley moves production out of the U.S. they might just have to buy a different brand of motorcycle. But others remain loyal to the Harley-Davidson brand and view the move as simply what Harley has to do. While many Harley supporters may remain generally loyal to Trump, some are willing to disagree on this particular issue.

A point on which that everyone CNN talked to agreed was that no, the news media is not the enemy of the people. While one person heckled CNN correspondent Bill Weir, he did so with a smile on his face, an exaggerated presentation, and a jocular rather than threatening manner. Others did not regard the more left-leaning reporter with any malice at all, even if they did not agree on many points.

Of course, not all bikers go to Sturgis. The event only appeals to certain types of bikers. I passed through the periphery of Laconia in June to ride up Mount Washington (much more slowly than Travis Pastrana drove it), and while Harleys and Indians were the predominant types of motorcycles, there was much more variety. My plastic-covered Honda Pacific Coast 800 was not as out of place as it might be in Sturgis. I even passed an enormous group of dirty dual-sports, straight off the trail. My local bike nights in Milford, New Hampshire feature any kind of motorcycle you can imagine, and all are equally welcome. It seems like Sturgis is a rather different scene than my local one, and the demographic it appeals to is a bit more particular.