Innovation

Tech roars into the Sturgis motorcycle rally

What happens when 750,000 motorcycles decamp to a tiny town in western South Dakota? Learn why bikes are the frontier of IoT, big data, and machine learning with Brad Jurgensen of HomeSlice Media.

What happens when 500,000 motorcycles converge on a town of 6,000 people? According to Brad Jurgensen of Homeslice Media, "[The region] just explodes into this giant city of motorcycles and trailers. As it's grown from something that started as just racing and hillclimbing to the behemoth it is now, digital transition has been at Sturgis every step of the way."

The Sturgis motorcycle rally, located in the Black Hills in western South Dakota, has attracted 500,000 to 750,000 bikers and motorcycle enthusiasts every August since 1938 for a week of drag racing, death-defying stunts, and roaring concerts. The event, famous for attracting gnarly bikers and weekend warriors alike, is a significant economic driver of the region and is a hub for motorcycle culture, a group that's being transformed rapidly by technology.

SEE: Research: Digital Transformation 2017: Strategy, Returns on Investment, and Challenges (Tech Pro Research)

Homeslice Media begins planning for the event months in advance, and Jurgensen says the rally—which is also one of the largest music festivals in the country—is steeped in technology. "From the technology music and bands use to how businesses operate with each other and how money is transacted to how the [cross-country] ride is different with wearable technology on the motorcycle ... it's a different animal and it's all exploded over the past decade or so," he said.

Motorcycle stalwart and rally sponsor Harley Davidson is now manufacturing electric bikes, and the company uses machine learning to generate fresh lead sales. "The growth of [the rally] is obviously because this is a 77-year-old event, but also because, as the world shrinks because of technology, big giant companies use [tech] to their advantage ... to develop new models, new types of riders, and to grow to women riders ... the fastest growing demographic of riders."

SEE: Research: BYOD, Wearables and IoT (Tech Pro Research)

"A decade ago we would use print media to try to introduce new models, new parts, and new tech installs. Now [the entire rally] is on your phone. Video, links, That whole [motorcycle] consumer base has transitioned to a digital world," Jurgensen said.

Every part of the ride is now digital. The Internet of Things (IoT) has a profound impact on biker culture, Jurgensen said, from Bluetooth-connected climate-controlled gloves to in-helmet communication devices to performance feedback systems. "There's a litany of ... apps for your phone that can tell you if there's something wrong, or a belt that's about to be blown, or oil leak somewhere," he explained. "It's something you have to see to believe to understand how technologically advanced some of these bikes have become."


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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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