For mountain bikers making the trek to South Dakota it would be foolish to spend the whole time in Rapid City. Instead, spend a few nights in Sturgis and Spearfish and explore the singletrack that these smaller towns have to offer.
While most of South Dakota is prairie, the Black Hills are heavily forested with deep canyons and some of the highest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains. Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Spearfish set a world record for the fastest temperature change in 1943, when the temperature went from – 4°F to 45°F in just two minutes and then back down just about a half hour later.
Rapid City has a long history of an active mountain bike community. In the past most of the mountain bike trails were north of town along Interstate 90 towards Sturgis and Spearfish. But recently IMBA has taken on the Hanson-Larson Project, a massive effort to develop mountain bike trails in the center of Rapid City on Cowboy Mountain, also known as M Hill.
In addition to new trails, Rapid City is also the location of the Black Hills Fat Tire Festival, which takes place in May.
The trails on M Hill are all designed to be fun on a mountain bike, meaning lots of banked curves and other features. The design is somewhat similar to that of a ski area with the easier trails near the bottom and the tougher ones near the top. Check out the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association web site for more about M Hill.
Spearfish has some of the most accessible singletrack for a medium-sized city in South Dakota. Many of the best trails begin right in town, including the Dakota Five-O and the Tinton trail. As the home of the Black Hills State University, the town has a lively college-town feel to it.
Spearfish is the home of several great mountain bike events, such as the Dakota Five-O and the Tinton Downhill. The Dakota Five-O (or 50) is a 50-mile mountain bike race usually held in early September that focuses on the festive side of mountain bike racing. The race itself is challenging, but some riders take advantage of the beer, Twinkie and bacon aid stations.
If you make it to Spearfish, the best riding is any section of the Dakota Five-O course and some of the trails that run parallel. Expect to find yourself in heavily forested areas with flowing singletrack at moments and then riding ridge trails that flow through ponderosa and aspen occasionally dipping into babbling brooks. Most of the trails are pretty smooth so a short-travel cross country bike works best.
The best bike shop in Spearfish is Rushmore Mountain Sport on Main Street adjacent to Alpine Coffee. For lunch swing by the Bay Leaf Café and for dinner check out the Spearfish Chop House and Whisky Bar. For a nice place to stay check in at the Wander Inn Bed and Breakfast. If you prefer to sleep under the stars there is plenty of camping in town at the Spearfish Park Campground or just on the outskirts in the national forest.
Sturgis is probably best known for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, which has attracted thousands of motorcyclists every August since 1940. Apart from the motorized scene, Sturgis is also in close proximity to some ripping singletrack that is off limits to motorized vehicles.
Sturgis is also home of the Knife Blade Rock ‘n’ Roll mountain bike race that is part of the Bikes, Art, and Music (BAM) Festival that takes places every year on the weekend after the Fourth of July.
The Centennial Trail begins in Bear Butte, right outside of town and goes on for 111 miles until it reaches the Wind Cave National Park at the south end of the Black Hills.
The best trail to tackle from town is Bulldog, which is part of the Centennial Trail. The Bulldog trailhead is located at exit 34 on I-90 at the Alkali Creek Campground. The Bulldog is an out-and-back featuring a gradual climb out and a fast flowing singletrack on your way back. The beauty of the Bulldog is that it is easy to get a good ride in right off the interstate.
If you choose to spend some time in Sturgis the Holiday Inn Express is a convenient place to stay. The Alkali Creek Campground is also pretty good and provides a toilet and running water and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. For a hearty dinner and live music in a smoke-free environment swing by the Loud American Roadhouse.
If you go: Black Hills, South Dakota
Must-do trail: Rapid City: M Mountain; Sturgis: Bulldog Trail; Spearfish: The Dakota Five-O
Best bike shops: Acme Bicycles, Two Wheeler Dealer and Rushmore Mountain Sport
Best map: The U.S. Forest Service has free maps of the area, however many of the mountain bike trails are unmarked
Best coffee: Common Grounds and Alpine Coffee in Spearfish
Riding season: March to October
Getting there:Rapid City Regional airport, 5 miles out of Rapid City. Interstate 90 goes right by Rapid City, Sturgis and Spearfish. It is about 45 miles from Rapid City to Spearfish and Sturgis is between the two
Lodging: A wide selection of B&B’s, historic inns, hotels, cabins, and camping available
Other: Best thing to do is to make a week of it and stay in all three cities.