When motorcyclists gather, they come to party, as they do each year for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
But amid the weeklong revelry, every now and then a wedding breaks out. And when one does, the couples tend to give a biker spin to their pledges to love each other.
“Grab hold of the throttle, let your engines growl, your chrome gleam. You ride because your bikes represent what’s truly inside of you: your desire for freedom and adventure,” were among the officiant’s words at the wedding of Heidi Phraner, 36, and Roger Thurlow, 56, who traveled to the Sturgis rally on their Harley-Davidsons.
They were married Aug. 1 in a ceremony under the trees at the lowest point below Roughlock Falls in the Black Hills National Forest west of Sturgis.
Ms. Phraner, an electromechanical test technician, knew she wanted to include a biker-themed message. She and Captain Thurlow, a police officer, who live in Salisbury, Mass., had been riding their bikes to the beach in July 2014, when he slowed his Harley Road King Classic to a crawl, held out a ring box flashing a diamond secured with wire, and shouted “Will you marry me?” to Ms. Phraner, who was atop her Harley Dyna Super Glide.
Bikers have been roaring up to the Black Hills on hogs, as Harleys are known, for the rally since 1937, and this year was a milestone: the 75th anniversary. About 800,000 bikers traveled to Sturgis.
The Phraner-Thurlows were far from the only couple to plan a Sturgis wedding. Meade County, S.D., reported that it had issued 122 marriage licenses to Sturgis Rally attendees, more than double last year’s total.
This obsessive love of leather jackets and boots and the roar of a Harley or vintage Indian bike does not mean that biker couples — many of whom revel in a not-always-deserved reputation for toughness — are incapable of exposing their mushy, sweet sides on their wedding day.
The couple share a kiss as a married couple overlooking Roughlock Falls.
Kristina Barker for The New York Times
“I promise to love you, to remain honest and faithful to you, to be available for you when you are in pain or grief, and when you are filled with happiness,” said Captain Thurlow to his bride during the service. “I love you with all my heart, and I will love you for the rest of my life.”
Heidi Phraner and Roger Thurlow were among the dozens of couples to marry at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally earlier this month.
CreditKristina Barker for The New York Times
Dale Merrill, a 42-year-old mechanic, and Chaside Zeager, a 41-year-old bartender, who live in Montoursville, Pa., are strictly bike people, riding all over Pennsylvania on Mr. Merrill’s big blue chopper.
At their Aug. 5 wedding, each said to the other: “I wish to join my life with yours. To stand by your side and sleep in your arms. To be joy to your heart and food to your soul. To work as partners and live as family.”
Guests had to drive their bikes up the two-mile dirt road to get to the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower in Deadwood, S.D., which has a sprawling view of the hills.
It is also one of a few local spots during the rally where you can’t hear the near-constant rumble of motorcycle engines, which allowed this moment that the couple shared to be heard clearly: “While we grow old together, I vow to love, honor and respect you, to hold you to my heart, but not bind you to my will.”
But then the ceremony’s focus veered back to the couple’s gasoline-fueled outlook on life and love.
“You ride together, side by side, without touching each other, indeed barely touching the road, each responsible for your own journey,” said Mary Maisey-Ireland, the couple’s officiant. “You are free, but joined by your love of the road, by your shared destinations, deeply enriched by the joy of shared experience.”
Chaside Zeager and Dale Merrill celebrated their wedding at the top of the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower in Deadwood, S.D. Tim Goessman for The New York Times
Addressing a bond many biker couples share, Ms. Maisey-Ireland added: “If you’re going to ride on the back of somebody’s bike, you have to lean when they lean even though everything in your body wants to lean the other way. You can’t be that close to somebody and not have a depth of relationship.”
That certainly is true for Stacydawn Quick, 42, a coordinator in a bank mortgage department, and Richard Cecil, 47, a heavy-equipment operator. Ms. Quick has Ménière’s disease, which can cause her to fall from dizziness, so she rides on the back of Mr. Cecil’s bike. “Never in my life have I felt this safe,” she said. “I’m not afraid to go anywhere with him.”
In their wedding vows, each pledged: ”To love you, to remain honest and faithful to you, to be available for you when you are in pain or grief, and when you are filled with happiness. I promise to challenge you always, to support and nurture you, and to be receptive to the gift of your love.”
Mr. Cecil, who lives with Ms. Quick in Mantua, Ohio, said he knew he could commit to her because she kept up with him. A case in point: A man who had cut off Mr. Cecil as they rode pulled into the same gas station, and Ms. Quick reflexively cursed and howled at the other man.
“If anybody messes with him, I don’t care if I’m only 140 pounds, I will mess with them,” said Ms. Quick, who pointed out that she supported and nurtured Mr. Cecil when he had a back operation, taking off from work so she could sit upright next to him for four days on the couch while he healed.
She looks out for him in on the road, too. “I don’t pay attention a lot,” he said. “She does. I gawk at the scenery and she navigates. She’s like, ‘Babe, there’s traffic, stop going 80.’ ”
Quite a view for Stacydawn Quick and Richard Cecil, whose wedding ceremony also took place at the Mount Roosevelt Friendship Tower.
Tim Goessman for The New York Times
There was a time in the 1960s that the Sturgis rally was known as a lawless bacchanal ruled by motorcycle gangs and outlaws. But then the Sturgis city government imposed its will, keeping the hill climbs and runs while giving other visitors reasons to come: to show off their bikes, shop, listen to rock concerts and entertain their children.
In doing so, Sturgis also began attracting what some call “weekend warriors,” with professional or white-collar jobs, who came to experience the fantasy of being an outlaw, if just for a few days.
Nancy Grout, 51, and Jeff Lightholder, 52, who were wed on Aug. 5, also by the Friendship Tower in Deadwood, are all about having each other’s back.
“When you ride with somebody, you have to put your life in their hands,” said Ms. Grout, a real estate agent. “I love riding with Jeff because I believe in him, and I trust in him.”
“She’s like my little backpack,” said Mr. Lightholder, the president of a construction company. “She rides with no back rest or butt pad. She’s rightthere.”
Like many of the couples who married at Sturgis this year, Ms. Grout and Mr. Lightholder, who live in Cocoa, Fla., are empty nesters, so they can ride their motorcycle alone to restaurants and rallys.
Nancy Grout and Jeff Lightholder, newly married, got back on their bike as their guests looked on.
Tim Goessman for The New York Times
They were close friends for a decade before they became closer. It was in the parking lot of a bar while attending bike week in Daytona Beach, Fla., that Mr. Lightholder, who is divorced, asked Ms. Grout, also divorced, to kiss him for the first time.
She said: “I can’t. You’re my best guy friend, and I’d never want to ruin that.” He said: “Maybe that’s the start of something.”
Throughout their relationship, they had a running gag. She’d demand that he say, “I’m nothing without you.” He’d answer, “That’s right, you’re nothing without me.” Finally, when it was time to swap vows on Aug 5, he gave her the line the way she ached to hear it, calling her his “special someone.”
“I knew she wanted me to, so I had to say it,” he said.
ancy Grout and Jeff Lightholder leave their wedding ceremony on their motorcycle.
Tim Goessman for The New York Times
Flying down the highway on their Harley Dyna Wide Glide is meditative for Annemarie Richardson, a 34-year-old server, and Geno Rozzo, a 51-year-old general contractor, who met in Narcotics Anonymous. Mr. Rozzo, who says he has been clean since New Year’s Day 2012, was impressed by how humble Ms. Richardson was when she spoke at the meetings.
“It’s freedom. The wind’s in your face and the sun is beaming down on you, and the whole rest of the world just goes away,” said Ms. Richardson, who says she has been clean since Christmas Eve 2011. “I think about our life and how we stay clean.”
To go near drugs again “would be suicidal,” said Mr. Rozzo, who lives with Ms. Richardson in Pittsburgh. It’s why they insisted on including a statement of intent about how they were prepared to join with “deep commitment and high expectations” during their ceremony at the gazebo in Spearfish City Park on Aug 7.
“Recovery is all about growth and change, and that’s why that language stood out to me as meaningful,” Ms. Richardson said.
Wendy Taylor, 37, and Steve Moore, 35, a British cycling couple who were wed Aug. 4 at Sylvan Lake in Custer State Park, S.D., addressed their admiration of the biker lifestyle by incorporating some lines from the American cable television series “Sons of Anarchy” into their vows.
After Ms. Taylor promised to be “his old lady,” Mr. Moore responded:
“I promise always to cherish and protect you, and treat you as good as my leather.”