As anticipated by anyone who was around the Black Hills in August, the 2016 Sturgis cycle rally was much smaller than the 2015 milestone event, and actually saw the lowest traffic count in 25 years.
The final estimated attendance at the 76th Sturgis motorcycle rally held this summer was down nearly 40 percent from the monster 75th milestone event in 2015.
The city of Sturgis released its rally wrap-up numbers this week showing that in 2016 the estimated rally attendance totaled 463,412. That compares to 739,000 in 2015, roughly a 37 percent drop.
South Dakota Department of Transportation rally counts show that traffic for the official rally dates (from Aug. 8 through Aug. 14) was down 35.4 percent from 2015. Traffic entering Sturgis at the eight locations in 2016 was 329,789. Traffic entering for 2015 at the eight locations was 510,749.
The 2016 count was the lowest traffic entering since the DOT began taking counts at the rally in 1990. The previous low was 356,954 in 1991.
Sturgis City Manager Daniel Ainslie says the city bases its numbers on 10 days around the official rally dates whereas the DOT traffic counts coming into Sturgis are for the seven official rally dates only.
"Because the rally was so late this year, we saw a lot of people in town the week before the rally," Ainslie said.
In the recent past, the official start of the rally has been the Monday of the first full week in August. In 2016, that was Monday, Aug. 8.
To simplify things going forward, the Sturgis City Council this month passed a resolution making the official start of the rally the first Friday of each August and will continue through the second Sunday following the start.
"We wanted to make it consistent for attendees," Ainslie said.
When the rally start date falls later in August, it makes it difficult for some to attend, namely those who are teachers, Ainslie said.
"We want to make sure it doesn't run too late. The later in August it gets, the more challenging it is for some individuals to make it," he said.
The change means that the 2017 rally will begin Friday, Aug. 4. In 2018, it will be Friday, Aug. 3.
For 2019, it will be Friday, Aug. 2, and for 2020, it will be Friday, Aug. 7.
Other statistics used by the city to determine attendance include the tons of garbage hauled by city crews during rally week, the number of visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial and a count of people in the official Main Street photo taken on certain days at the same time.
This year, the city hauled 537 tons of garbage during rally week as compared to 812 tons in 2015 and 539 tons in 2014.
Visitors to Mount Rushmore over the 15-day period around the rally was 56,135 in 2016 as compared to 82,751 in 2015 and 59,807 in 2014.
The Main Street photo showed 2,848 individuals compared to 2,696 in 2014.
The city of Sturgis issued 722 temporary vendor licenses in 2016 compared to 916 in 2015. There were 681 issued in 2014.
Some positives for the city to take away from the 2016 rally include record-setting social media exposure, attendance by more foreign visitors, and representation by a variety of motorcycle manufacturers, Ainslie said.
From July 22 until Aug. 18 this year, the Sturgis Rally Facebook page reached 2.95 million people and Twitter reached 432,000 people. Those numbers surpassed the social media activity during the 75th event. Sturgismotorcyclerally.com had 1.1 million visitors during the past year.
"The ability to showcase the Black Hills to the world has been a driving factor in the promotion of the rally as well as South Dakota in general as a year around travel destination," Ainslie said. "The message is getting out worldwide."