Motorcycle Fans Ride To Sturgis, S.D., For Rally

The famed Sturgis motorcycle rally is wrapping up its 72nd year in South Dakota this weekend. As the rally ages so do many of the riders. We look at what's new on three wheels.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Oh, the famed Sturgis motorcycle rally is wrapping up its 72nd year in South Dakota this weekend. And as the rally ages, so do many of the riders. NPR's Amy Walters was there with some rally old-timers - rally old-timers - checking out what's new on three wheels.

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AMY WALTERS, BYLINE: On Main Street in Sturgis this week, you can see a motorcycle covered in real fur, with buck antlers coming out of the handlebars. Another bike is painted like an American flag. There are new bikes, too, but most are classic, just like their riders.

LARRY KALASH: I've been riding bikes for 40 years, but Harley about the past 15.

WALTERS: Larry Kalash just rode in from Grand Forks, North Dakota. It's a 14-hour trip, and he's still up for a test drive.

KALASH: OK. I'm going to start it, here. It's kind of nice not to have to put your feet on the ground all the time.

WALTERS: Kalash found his way to the demo area to try out the latest trike. It's a Harley Davidson with three wheels.

KALASH: My next bike probably will be this, because my wife will make me buy one.

MIKE MORGAN: We like to say it extends people's ability to ride.

WALTERS: Mike Morgan is at Sturgis representing Harley Davidson. He says trikes are selling well.

MORGAN: When we're out here at Sturgis, we listen to our customers, and this is one of the things they said they wanted. Obviously, it's worked out very well for everybody.

WALTERS: For the do-it-yourself-ers, there's three-wheeler kits, too. Got a bike? Make a trike. And there's something else.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The Can-Am Roadster is a different type of road vehicle: two wheels up front, and one behind.

WALTERS: Can-Am's parent company, Bombardier, introduced the snow mobile in the 1950s. The Roadster came out in 2007. And the wheels aren't the only difference. Visibly lacking in chrome, the Can-Am doesn't look anything like a Harley Davidson. It looks more like the future.

KALASH: It'll have to be something I experience to really know what to think about it.

WALTERS: That's Kalash again, our Harley devotee from North Dakota. He's shifted attention from the Harley's to the demo Can-Ams.

KALASH: I'm curious. I'm always ready.

WALTERS: Kalash takes off again.

KALASH: Controls are different, but you have to get used to them. It's not a big deal.

WALTERS: He heads up the street and back down.

KALASH: Well, we're almost done with our ride, here.

WALTERS: His review?

KALASH: When you make a quick response on a turn, it doesn't seem to jerk you off your seat as much as the conventional three-wheeler. I'm impressed. It's a cool machine.

WALTERS: Can-Am's sales increased by close to 50 percent last year. They expect good things this year, too. But come on, this is Sturgis. This rally was once infamous for wild parties, stabbings, shootings. Three-wheelers? Here?

DAVE BAJARI: No self-respecting, cool biker would ever be seen on something like that.

(LAUGHTER)

WALTERS: Dave Bajari and his buddy Randy Elleston are parked on Main Street and lounging by their vintage Harley's like they own the place. They're tough on the three-wheel riders, but they do grant a few passes. They're OK for handicapped, anyone over 70 and women. But the truth is, they'd rather have the women riding with them.

BAJARI: You want to ride?

WALTERS: Isn't it dangerous?

BAJARI: Of course it is. It's a motorcycle. Shut that thing off now, and let's go for a ride.

WALTERS: And they're still dangerous. The bikes, the trikes, and even some of the riders, despite their age.

Amy Walters, NPR News.

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