Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

Sturgis 2005 - Jackpine Gypsies Hill Climb

Written by  August 31, 2005

The Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club has been associated with motorcycle competition at the Sturgis Rally from its very beginning. This year’s lineup of events during the Rally included motocross on Sunday, August 7, A.M.A. sanctioned short track races every evening Monday through Saturday, and hill climbs in the afternoon on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All of the events took place at the Gypsies’ 40-acre racing complex south of Interstate 90 between exits 30 and 32. Motorists heading west along that stretch of I-90 have a clear view of the nasty hill, and law enforcement officials are kept busy trying to keep the highway’s shoulders clear of vehicles during the hill climb competition.

The hill climbs are popular, and hundreds of spectators pay the $15 admission fee for the privilege of watching riders of all ages challenge the hill. The rider fee is $5 per class for the first two days and $20 per class on Pro Day Friday.

On Monday, the hill was at its meanest. Riders who managed to get past a series of nearly vertical sections still had to cope with tons of sand piled at the top, and none succeeded. By Wednesday, the bikes’ knobby tires had eroded the lower sections of the hill enough that a few riders made it over the top and many more broke the timing beam. Over 150 riders signed up to attack the hill on Friday. By this day, the riders benefited from the experience of numerous attempts on the preceding days and from the deterioration of the hill from impossibly nasty to just really mean. Even more riders were able to reach the top, many with impressive times in the vicinity of nine seconds.

As Mike and I photographed the climbers from various vantage points on the hill, we were afforded a great view of the competition. We also had the opportunity to observe the work of a behind-the-scenes team that is absolutely essential for a hill climb to take place, the catchers. When a rider goes down, this crew of six or seven men quickly converges to assist the rider and get the bike raised or lowered to a position from which it can be ridden down the return path. During intermission on Wednesday, I had a chance to visit with one of the catchers as he took a well-deserved break.

CC: Do you personally work several events on this hill or just during the Rally?
Rob: Just during the Rally. I worked one other event here last month. That was my first event as a catcher. Before that I had been to lots of hill times as a spectator. It’s a chance to get a great view of the competition and make a few bucks at the same time.

CC: Have you ever entered a hill climb as a competitor?
Rob: No, I haven’t. I’m not ready for that. You’ve got to have the right kind of bike to do this, and I’m not going to try taking my Harley up this hill. I think hill climbs kind of run in families.

CC: I’ve seen that. I’ve been to events with competitors from three generations of the same family.
Rob: I was at an event near Moline, Illinois, where they had an 85-year-old rider with sons and grandsons competing.

CC: Are you a member of the Gypsies?
Rob: No. I’ve never been a member of a motorcycle club. I just sort of do my own thing. But they’re really a friendly group. The club has a lot of history. I’m thinking of joining.

CC: Please talk about this hill.
Rob: They’ve made some changes since last time to make it more difficult. Each section has it’s own challenges makes it tough to get set up for the next one. Each rider makes it a little easier for those who follow.

CC: What about the riders?
Rob: They are divided into classes based on age and the size of the motorcycle, so a rider might have three bikes and compete in four classes.

CC: You guys look like you’re working hard!
Rob: It is hard work. We have to move quickly. Our first priority is rider safety. When a rider falls off we need to get to the bike as soon as possible to secure it. Then we help the rider to get his footing. We team up to get the bike up or down to a place where the rider can take over. Of course it’s easier to go down, but we also need to consider minimizing possible damage to the bike. It’s important to get this done quickly to keep the program moving and get the next rider started up the hill.

CC: Thanks for the visit.

The next time you’re at the Sturgis Rally, I would highly recommend checking out one of the Jackpine Gypsies events. They are a lot of fun and are a big part of Sturgis tradition.

Story by Stripe

Photos by Stripe and Mike Schweder