Sober Sturgis: Lessons Learned from Attending a Motorcycle Rally Without Consuming Alcohol

Motorcyclist in front of Sturgis Buffalo Chip | Can you Attend a Motorcycle Rally Sober and have fun?

Being sober at a big motorcycle rally or campout is not a popular topic of conversation. For whatever reason, it has a strange taboo and cultural acceptance surrounding it. Any Bike Week attendee will tell you that alcohol consumption is everywhere and appears to be the social norm. I made the decision to do a Sober Sturgis challenge: I couldn’t consume any alcohol while attending the biggest motorcycle rally in the United States.

While I don’t drink heavily in my day-to-day life, I do enjoy consuming alcohol in social settings, like at motorcycle events. Normally, one of my highlights of attending Sturgis, another bike week, or motorcycle campout is the family reunion, party vibe. We all crack open a beer (or seltzer for me these days) and party into the night, sharing stories and making memories. This year at Sturgis, I decided to do something different. For the first time in over a decade of attending motorcycle rallies and events, I decided to not consume any alcohol. Am I just here to party? Or am I here for the experience?

While mostly a positive experience, here are a few lessons I learned while attending a motorcycle rally, sober, for the first time.

I saved a TON of money

Alcohol is one of the most expensive parts of attending a motorcycle rally. This year, participating in what I coined “Sober Sturgis,” I easily saved hundreds of dollars by not consuming any booze throughout the week.

If you’re considering doing a bike week on a budget, I’d highly recommend limiting your alcohol consumption. Or if you’re like me, you can use that money to buy yourself some better meals when you’re out riding every day. I DEFINITELY splurged on food this year since I wasn’t spending money on alcohol. More room for ice cream after my steak? Count me in.

It’s possible to socialize without alcohol.

As someone who deals with social anxiety, drinking has always been a “crutch” for me when in social situations. The cup in my hand has always been my fidget spinner so to speak. This year, I still had my cup, it just had soda water in it.

Being sober allowed me to engage in more meaningful conversations and build relationships with others. Another plus? I’ll actually remember the conversations and the people. One of the hardest parts about enjoying partying at motorcycle events is the aftermath. My memory is horrible when I’ve consumed any amount of alcohol. There have been numerous people who I’ve met while drinking that, unfortunately, I don’t remember.

The groups of people I hung out with at Sturgis changed this year. I chose to socialize with more people who decided to not overconsume alcohol. Turns out, there’s plenty of them out there!

I could do a lot more with my day.

Since I wasn’t staying up til 3 a.m. watching people do burnouts or hanging around a campfire singing outlaw country songs, I woke up early and got my day started. Most days, I was up by 6 a.m. Some days I even got out on the bike before 7 a.m. and took a ride before most people had even woken up. That was huge. Being able to ride early in the morning and avoid the mid-day traffic and heat was a highlight of my sober Sturgis experience.

I felt significantly better.

Alcohol wreaks havoc on our bodies. From bloat to dehydration, to the obvious hangover if you party too hard…your mental and physical clarity can take a huge toll from alcohol consumption. I enjoyed waking up early and feeling ready to tackle the day. Additionally, being on my bike and feeling fully aware of my surroundings was a plus. There’s nothing worse than riding with a hangover.

I wasn’t a target for the police.

While drinking and riding has never been something I’ve promoted as acceptable behavior, let’s face it: if you had one drink at 2pm and hopped on your bike at 8pm, chances are, you probably understand the anxiety that comes with being pulled over. Are you more than likely okay to ride? From a legal standpoint, absolutely. Are you panicking that you might get a field sobriety test? Probably.

Police will pull you over for any reason in Sturgis. They’re actively looking for intoxicated individuals at every hour of the day. I’ve never been pulled over at a motorcycle event. However, knowing I wasn’t a target for a potential DWI was pretty great.

Drunk people annoy me.

Let’s face it, Motorcycle rallies are full of intoxicated individuals. Especially at the campgrounds where you can let loose for the night and stumble back to your tent or RV. Being sober at a motorcycle rally brought me back to my days of bartending and watching people become inebriated throughout the night. It’s always more enjoyable dealing with drunk people when you’re drunk too.

The first few days (specifically the afternoons and into the evenings) of my Sober Sturgis challenge, dealing with the abundance of drunk people around me was really putting a damper on my enjoyment of the rally. I can vividly remember saying to myself, “Wow these people are annoying. I want to leave. This sucks.” The constant engine revving, the tough guy attitudes…it just wasn’t as bearable to deal with without alcohol.

As the days went on, my tolerance for the party-goers improved. Did I ever enjoy being woken up at 3 a.m. to burnouts and people bouncing their engines off the rev limiter? No. However, I did learn and begin to really understand acceptance. At the end of the day, those party people were there for the same reasons I was: to have fun. Their version of fun is just a little different than mine. And who am I to judge them for that? That’s why we’re all here in the first place.

Can you stay at one of the “party” campgrounds and still have fun sober? Absolutely! You might just need to check yourself and know when it’s time to go to bed before you begin to judge others for having fun their own way. Bring some earplugs. If you can’t handle the 24/7 party atmosphere, then you know better for next time to stay somewhere else.

To be fair, I’m sure I’ve been the annoying drunk person to plenty of people in my younger years as a wild 20-something-year-old. It’s okay for the tables to turn, and accept the fact that you don’t enjoy dealing with others who are heavily intoxicated.

I can have a damn good time at a motorcycle rally without drinking.

At the end of the day, my biggest lesson learned is that I can still have fun at motorcycle events when I’m sober. Are there annoyances? Of course. Dealing with hundreds of adults whose egos are being fueled by alcohol consumption can be a bit irksome. However, it’s ultimately up to me to remember to let others enjoy their vacation and bike rally the way they see fit. After all, you can’t control what others do with their lives. Focusing on what will make your motorcycle rally experience the best it can be should be your priority.

Would I do a Sober Sturgis challenge again? Yes! Even with some irksome moments, I really enjoyed my time avoiding alcohol at Sturgis this year. If you’re on the fence about attending a motorcycle event because you’re not sure if you’ll have fun without drinking, just do it. You’ll find the right group to hang out with who don’t want to party constantly. Or you’ll enjoy some solo time doing what makes you happy.

While I have no current plans to make total alcohol sobriety a permanent lifestyle choice, seeing the rally from a different perspective from what I was used to was worth it. The people, the riding, and the experience are what make Sturgis a destination for riders — not the booze. Even if it’s what popular culture and social stereotypes have lead many us to believe.

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Staci Wilt

I’m Staci: a freelance journalist, photographer, and marketing consultant. I primarily focus those skills around my passions of motorcycles, travel, and food…and yes, we will count margaritas and craft beer in that last category. Thanks for checking out my blog!
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  1. Bryan Allison on September 12, 2023 at 1:16 PM

    Love this article Staci! This is in the face of “popular culture” and I fully agree with life without alcohol. Not that I think its wrong to drink, but instead, life is better without it, Thanks!

    • Staci Wilt on September 13, 2023 at 7:52 AM

      Thanks, Bryan! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

  2. Jeff Johnson on September 12, 2023 at 7:42 PM

    Great article, you touched on everything about partying sober.

    • Staci Wilt on September 13, 2023 at 7:50 AM

      Thanks Jeff! Glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Mike Custer on September 13, 2023 at 7:10 AM

    Been to Sturgis about 20 times yet to have alcohol or other drugs there . Always hang with a sober crew and traveled with some lifelong friends. Met Walter Packala way more than a dozen times. Him riding from Minnesota me from Michigan or Florida. Lots of bikers from the serenity run there every year which happens the weekend before in Cedaredge Colorado. Worlds largest clean sober biker run. Kinda why I moved to that town. Thinking might go Sturgis next y ear celebrate my 40 years clean and sober

  4. Jennifer Swallow on September 13, 2023 at 9:01 PM

    I love this! Myself and my husband went this year sober also and it felt great not to be hungover or dehydrated from the night before. We also noticed we enjoyed the ride a lot more in the hills. He’s done sturgis since he was 1991 and he’s done all that partying all night into the morning hours. He said he is done with and rather enjoy the rally sober from now on.
    Awesome article.

    • Staci Wilt on September 14, 2023 at 8:10 AM

      Awesome! Thanks for sharing your story! 🙂

  5. Mark on September 14, 2023 at 5:20 AM

    What a great article and perspective. I love sturgis. I went in 2019 and hope to get back. I rarely drank a lot but drank often. several nights a week, a glass or two of wine, or an awesome IPA, bourbon etc …. with dinner but earlier this year, I wanted to take a month off and that has turned into currently still not drinking. I was amazed at how much better I felt. I sleep better and have extra energy. I’m able to get so much more done. Once I had a drink or two with dinner, I was done for the night.. Our culture is so geared around drinking. It’s a little odd socially having to explain why I am not drinking, like I need to make an excuse but I’m over it. Not saying I will never drink again but it feels good to hit the reset button and take some time off from drinking. And who knows, it’s also possible I may never drink again.

    • Staci Wilt on September 14, 2023 at 8:12 AM

      I completely relate to your entire comment! Totally get it! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  6. Tiller on September 14, 2023 at 5:32 AM

    Currently on a small streak of no alcohol, about 45 days in (don’t think I’ve gone more than a month since turning 21?). I am trying it for fitness but attending events without alcohol certainly causes some extra anxiety.
    Thank you for putting this out as helpful reminder that it’s not needed to still enjoy the time.

    • Staci Wilt on September 14, 2023 at 8:11 AM

      Glad you enjoyed it! It’s always nice to have a friendly reminder that you’re not alone, for sure!

  7. steve on September 14, 2023 at 9:43 AM

    drunkedness is overated and not cost effective!

  8. Austin Long on September 19, 2023 at 10:18 AM

    This is a wonderful article! Definitely reinforces how I’ve been feeling about trips on the bike!

    • Staci Wilt on September 23, 2023 at 4:28 PM

      Yay! Glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

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