In this week’s Top Gear USA, the boys went to South Dakota, on a gearhead pilgrimage to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Of course, they had to have the right mode of transportation and tonight’s overall challenge was to earn the right ride. They used a two-fold reward system, giving the winner a chance to race an Ariel Atom against the Attack Technology MotoGP™ racing bike; and the loser would perform a stunt with one of the stars from History Channel’s new series, American Daredevils. While the man no neither won nor lost (just like a middle child) would get nothing. Apparently the producers were inspired by video games because each challenge gave the hosts a chance to level-up as they approached their destination. Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood and Tanner Foust arrived at the Black Hills Harley-Davidson to collect their motorcycles. Unfortunately, that’s not what was waiting for them.
If you’ve never experienced a Bike Week in any part of the US, then allow me to explain. Imagine that all of your town or city’s roads, parking areas, fuel stations, hotels, restaurants and malls are full of motorcycles. Each of these motorcycles represents at least one person. So it’s pretty much a swarm of bikes, bikers and their babes. Also, motorcycles are loud, especially Harleys, so a group of about thirty of them tearing on the street at full charge, sounds like a hurricane in motion. The riders, some of whom have travelled great distances with their clubs just for that event, are going to make the most of it; so most if not all of their activities are turned up to 11. They’re tough, no-nonsense, folks who live and party hard. During Bike Week, there’s stuff happening out on the street that you’ll never, ever, ever normally see, and I’ll leave it like that.
So you can imagine the hosts’ genuine distress to discover that their first level of this Sturgis game was to ride fifteen miles on Piaggio Scooters. Bless them and their matching jackets zipping down the road, but the sound of their single cylinder engines were overshadowed by the near-incessant complaining. To be fair, taking to the streets during America’s biggest Bike Week, on a little thing that can’t get to 40mph, probably took a lot more courage than they’ll ever get credit for. However, there’s no time for that kind of reflection because we’re too busy laughing at them.
“He’s not very good on four wheels, why would you wanna take two of them away?” – Rutledge “Fruit Punch” Wood on Adam Ferrara
Speaking of hosed, we should thank Mr. T for sparing us the sight of that dirty scooter, covered in so much mud, sleet, air! That darned air from the trees and mountains had that little Piaggio Fly 50 4v covered in…molecules that needed to be scrubbed from its pretty paintjob. Well done, sir! Anyway, their first challenge was to see who had the best riding position and involved bowls filled with fruit punch (Kool Aid?) attached to their helmets. Though not blessed with stellar bike skills myself, I shall refrain from making too much fun, for fear of dreaded karma. I will say this however, Adam Ferrara really surprised me. For someone who got his motorcycle license because of this episode, he did quite well.
In typical Top Gear style, the loser was left to fend for himself, so Rutledge Wood was all alone on the road with a camera crew for the longest twenty mile ride of this life. That is until their next trip in or on embarrassing vehicles. The other two sped away on their Yamaha V Star 250 motorcycles until it was time to level up again at the Deadwood Go Kart Track. Like before, there were only two bikes up for grabs in a three-way race to be slowest but steadiest in a test of control. The first person to cross the finish line lost. This may be hard to believe but these are the most entertaining segments on this show. With insults and cheating galore, this is another uncut video that I would love to see.
This next time they got on the road to Sturgis, all three were on motorcycles. Tanner snatched up the 2013 Harley Davidson V-Rod Muscle, while Rutledge happily commandeered the 2013 Harley Davidson Street Glide. Adam was stuck with the Yamaha, but not for long. After their visit to Trevino’s Leathers for a wardrobe change that was more questionable than anything else, he switched to a 2007 Suzuki LS650 Savage / S40 Boulevard with Sidecar. What the…? How the…? Dude, you can’t get away with that! Their final challenge was to transport three members of the New York-based band, Sweet Cyanide to the Sturgis Buffalo Chip Campground. That was a hilariously awkward little trip, and we found out what genuine fear sounded like when Rutledge Wood did the unthinkable.
“Hey, you ever been to one of these Bike Washes?” – Tanner Foust
Thank goodness for those Bike Washes; and let’s not forget those conscientious motorcycle hygiene specialists, who valiantly wash the bikes wearing mostly nothing, instead of daring to risk the motorcycles’ exposure to contaminants like denim. Jokes aside, it must have been a task for this production team to keep the footage clean. Not that every woman is running around Sturgis with hardly anything on, but from my experience at the Daytona Beach Bike Week, this isn’t for kids; and probably why most of the episode was spent getting to Sturgis, than actually being in Sturgis.
The penultimage segment was a car versus bike race, with Tanner in an Ariel Atom against Steve Rapp on the unique Attack Performance APR CRT racing bike. We’ve seen this kind of race before on Top Gear UK and Fifth Gear too, but this is Tanner Foust in an Ariel Atom. (I’m still dreaming of a Tiff vs Tanner race called Battle of the T’s) Quite frankly, watching him tear up and down the mountain road would have sufficed, but no. They went to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, and having seen a bike race in person, I knew which way this was going to go, but darn it – that was fun to watch. When you get professional drivers and riders on to a track and tell them to have at it – it’s a thing of beauty, and one of the reasons why I absolutely love to watch racing.
“Oh! See I was afraid of the fire but now that I have an intercooler, should be fine.” – Adam Ferrara
Last but not least was a smart way for History Channel to promote their new series, American Daredevils that premiered right after Top Gear. Adam’s lose non-prize was to participate in a stunt set up by Mr. Dizzy, but what kind of promo would it have been if the daredevil present didn’t do something daring? It was staged but we shouldn’t be surprised since there were explosives involved. Still, it wasn’t a bad way to use the closing minutes of the show.
I knew that it was only a matter of time before they went on a motorcycle adventure. Car culture is huge in the United States, but so is the love of motorcycles and why not? They’re an incredibly efficient way to get around and there really is something about travelling without being confined in a box. No matter how sleek or fancy they may be, a car is a box with wheels. With a motorcycle, it’s a much more interactive experience. The way you position yourself on the bike affects the ride. You supposed to feel like you’re one with the machine and part of the world around you, as opposed to being shielded from it. Of course, a car comes in handy when you go to the grocery and there is the ever-present danger of crashing, but I’m glad that the joys of motorcycle riding were highlighted in this episode.
Next week, they’ll try to make cars travel across water again (see: Continental Divide), by attempting to cross one of the Great Lakes. For more insight into the series and other interesting topics, read my interview with the Top Gear USA cast for My Life at Speed.