In mid-late 2020, I was disappointed to see so many members of a group I like on Facebook, Long Distance Motorcycle Riding, go to the Sturgis rally. Not that everyone went. But enough to disappoint me. I quit the group, something which exactly zero people noticed.

But this is why.

Any Internet search of the Sturgis rally will show pictures of many, many people in crowded areas with no masks, at the (then) height of the pandemic.

A total of around 460,000 motorcycle riders from all over the US attended the Sturgis Rally. It wasn’t cancelled — South Dakota has always had a very relaxed policy about.

This is image 1:

Crowd in Sturgis, South Dakota
Concert at Sturgis, South Dakota

On the Facebook forum (which for privacy’s sake I don’t want to screenshot anyway), members would talk about how riding motorcycles was about freedom, and it was their choice to not wear a mask. Many don’t care (because they seem to know) that people wear masks for the benefit of other people, not themselves.

Posts chastising others for not taking precautions were removed, deemed “political”. I don’t know how a virus is considered political.

Riders in the group would offer advice like “staying safe” and “taking precautions”, oblivious to the fact that despite this, the toll in the US was over 200,000 — already the highest in the world, a level which it has maintained and which no country has come close to beating.

Since the dates of the Sturgis rally, there has been a huge spike in cases in South Dakota. Over 1,500 people have died.

Which brings me to image 2:

South Dakota COVID cases
South Dakota COVID cases before and after Sturgis rally in 2020

The CDC found that at least some attendees of the Rally both contracted the virus and spread it to other people when they returned home.

There was an aggressive prediction by economics that around 250,000 or 20% of national cases could be attributed to the Rally, but that study was considered a little over-simplified.

I could go dig up more data showing that COVID spread in other parts of the country too, but it would invite a debate with infinite data points and the same obvious questions:

  • Why didn’t people wear masks (when it’s known they reduce transmission), skip a rally (when it’s known social distancing reduces transmission), and stay home or ride elsewhere?
  • Why is it OK for people to have been partially responsible for someone’s suffering and death?

I understand people’s prerogative for “freedom”. I don’t like being pulled over by police.

But I’ve always thought of freedom as being a hard-won right. Freedom is not something that I take for granted. Americans won freedom through war. As an adult, you win freedom through hard work building that foundation. Children earn limited freedom by finishing their homework or doing their chores.

In the same way, I consider the freedom I have in Australia to travel to a lot of places to have been earned by suffering through a lockdown and mask mandates, and to have come out the other side to a daily case rate of maximum 1-2 a day in my state (and many “doughnut days” of zero cases).

To date, Australia has had less than 1,000 deaths, a number which the US exceeds by lunchtime every day.

Australian COVID states by mid January 2021
Australian COVID stats

We have very large and dense cities, just like the US. The cities of Melbourne and Sydney, with populations of 4M and 5M, are just as dense as most American cities. So you can’t explain it away with “we have less people”, because we have just as many people in close contact.

There are many factors in what can cause the pandemic to spread, but it continues to disappoint me that so many American motorcycle riders wilfully ignored common sense advice and put others at risk.

Feel free to send me hate mail. I’ll quote it here and respond.

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