Rally Report / The Black Hills Get On! ADV Fest Experience

Just about everyone who rides knows that the Black Hills of South Dakota offer some amazing motorcycling. That’s why half a million people are descending on Sturgis right now. Many don’t realize how good the riding can be when you leave the pavement behind in the Black Hills National Forest. How do you find the best places to go? The Black Hills BDR-X is a good start, but even it only covers a fraction of the possibilities. What if you could have a guided tour of the area, and meet other riders along the way? That, in a nutshell, is what Revzilla’s Get On! ADV Fest is all about. I recently attended the Black Hills event (they hold another in California’s Mojave Desert earlier in the year), and got to see what it’s all about.

Full disclosure: Because I didn’t realize until just days before the event that I would be in the Sturgis area at the right time to attend Get On! ADV Fest, I did not have any special arrangements with Revzilla to cover the event as a journalist or influencer. I was a regular paying customer.

Location, Location, Location

Buffalo Chip west box office

Photo: Justin Hughes

The Black Hills Get On! ADV Fest takes place at the famous Buffalo Chip just outside Sturgis. It only uses a fraction of the facility, centered on Adventure Beach. (The Buffalo Chip normally calls it “Bikini Beach”) There’s plenty of room to pitch a tent, or you can rent a cabin or bring your RV. I splurged for an RV spot to have room for my moto-glamping rig, but opted out of hookups because I’m self-contained.

Van camp at Get On! ADV Fest

Home sweet home. Photo: Justin Hughes

Adventure Beach is also where all the vendors set up, the largest of which is Revzilla itself. A $25 gift certificate for use at the show is included with admission, so I took the opportunity to buy my V-Strom some saddlebags at a discount. Demo rides are also available from some of the usual suspects like Harley-Davidson and Triumph, as well as others like CFMoto and Zero. Given the nature of the event, these rides are off-road focused, so Harley has a fleet of Pan Americas instead of Road Glides. The demo routes themselves also include some dirt. I’ll get more into the demo ride itself in my review of the Zero DSR/X. Meals are included with your admission, and they’re also served at Adventure Beach. The bar is also open in the afternoon and evening.

Routes on a Silver Platter

V-Strom on the route

Photo: Justin Hughes

The facilities on site are quite good, but we’re here to ride, not party at the Buffalo Chip (at least not until after the ride). The rides are the main focus of the event. The organizers use another Comoto property, the REVER app, to provide the routes. Just make sure you have the app on your phone, scan a QR code on the sign, and you’ll get access to several routes that drop each day with various skill levels, including entirely paved routes. The written route descriptions accurately describe the conditions and any challenges you might encounter. Select your route, display the track, and follow the little blue line. There are also a couple of short loops available to demonstrate exactly what they mean by an easy route versus a moderate one. That way, you don’t get 100 miles into a moderate ride only to find yourself in over your head.

REVER track

Screenshot: Justin Hughes

They also make it easy to find other people to ride with. Near the REVER tent there are marked places to meet people interested in easy, moderate, difficult, or expert rides. Choose your skill level, and others at the same level will join you. There is no need to venture out alone. Meeting new people and the camaraderie of having this experience with them is a big part of what Get On! ADV Fest is all about. It’s also good to have multiple people with the route loaded up in REVER. My app crashed, and I was unable to get the track back without cell service, even though I thought I saved it offline. Fortunately, I could just follow my group. It’s also safer to ride in a group in case you run into trouble, like a flat tire or an injury.

I’m not the greatest dirt rider, and I only recently got my V-Strom set up to leave pavement, so I stuck to the easy routes to get a feel for the bike and how it differs from my old KLR. They still take fun paved routes in and out of town, and any ride down Vanocker Canyon Road is a good one. Thursday’s easy route was mostly well-maintained gravel roads through the National Forest, but with one short rocky downhill, and a few miles of more challenging two-track with a water crossing. This pushed my limits of what an “easy” ride is, but I was also getting to know a new bike in the dirt. Friday’s easy ride was long but genuinely easy, with seemingly endless winding gravel roads just over the Wyoming border and no challenging sections at all. Sunday’s ride description mentioning a section to give you a sample of what a “moderate” ride is like intimidated me a bit, so my next-door neighbor and I rode the paved route including Iron Mountain Road instead.

After Hours

Black Hills BDR-X reveal

Photo: Justin Hughes

There’s plenty to do after the ride, as well. You never know who you’re going to run into, especially in the line for dinner. I was happy to meet Inna Thorn of Backcountry Discovery Routes right in front of me in the dinner line. I introduced myself as the person who seems to always write up their new routes for ADVrider. Revzilla brought in quite a few popular motorcycle YouTubers and influencers, not to mention Revzilla’s own people like Zack Courts and Spurgeon Dunbar, who all mingle with the crowd and chat. There’s an opening meeting on Thursday night. Various evening activities follow, from slow races to s’mores, as well as movies at the Adventure Theater. Friday night showed A Rally for Rangers, and Saturday night was the Black Hills BDR-X reveal. Vendors are open until 7 PM so you can do some shopping after your ride, too. People eventually wander back to their camps, wind down for the night, and do it all again the next day.

Is It Worth It?

Get On! ADV Fest Dinner Line

Photo: Justin Hughes

Admission to the Black Hills Get On! ADV Fest was $399. That’s a lot of money for included meals and a piece of ground to sleep on, and more if you get a cabin or RV spot like I did. I’ve been on some individual group rides that were just as much fun and cost nothing at all. How do you justify the price tag?

For me, it’s the fact that they did all the work for me. I normally have to do my own research and plan my own routes that I want to explore. Here, I could just drop into Sturgis, load up their pre-determined routes that I know are going to be good, and follow that little blue line. A Black Hills off-road permit is included with your admission, making it as easy as possible to ride legally. They also make it easy to meet new friends and riding buddies at your skill level. It’s still a small enough event that you tend to keep running into the same people over and over again, which adds to the feeling of community. It’s also great to have so many vendors gathered together in one place, and the $25 Revzilla coupon helps. As a full-time van lifer I’m used to bringing my own food and supplies with me, but for the tenting moto-camper, having a full food plan included can seriously cut down on how much they need to bring with them.

Not everyone is into this kind of format, though. Some prefer less planning, or to dive into the woods and set up a dispersed camp right on the trail. Others don’t like riding with strangers or prefer riding alone. Get On! ADV Fest does a great job to be as inclusive as possible. They even offer paved routes so that you don’t need an adventure bike or to even leave the pavement to participate. I suppose whether it’s worth the money or not depends on the way you prefer to ride, explore, and adventure.

Even if you’re normally a solo rider, like me, I think it can be fun to do something a little different, break out of your comfort zone, and put your skills and your bike through some paces more difficult than you usually do, since you have that support network with you. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the individual rider whether such an event matches their riding style or preferences.

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