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On July 1, 2015, the great state of South Dakota will no longer penalize motorcyclists with “ape hangers”. For those unfamiliar with the term, ape hangers are when the grips on the handlebars extend up and past shoulder height.
“As a Harley rider who has been riding with 20-inch ape hangers for more than 15 years, I think South Dakota changing their laws regarding tall handlebars has been a long time coming,” said professional photographer and motorcyclist Michael Owens. “Hopefully, other states with restrictive handlebar laws will follow soon.”
The South Dakota state legislature voted in favor of abolishing codified law 32-20-3 and Governor Dennis Daugaard signed Senate Bill 85 into effect as of the 1st of July. Until then, ape hangers are a petty offense with fines ranging from $20 to $120.
This will be great news to riders who have run the risk of being ticketed when visiting the state and in order to experience Sturgis and ride the famed Black Hills. It is estimated that possibly upwards of 1,000,000 riders will be making the pilgrimage to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for the 75th anniversary celebrations during the week of August 3-9. One of those bikers will be legendary bike builder Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas.
Fairless has attended the Sturgis rally for the past 28 years and is looking forward to attending this year in particular. He has experienced his fair share of run-ins with law enforcement over the height of his handlebars and shared the following story with us:
“One year, after recently finishing my 1965 Panhead–I was running some ape hanger bars on her at the time–on my very first ride after arriving in Spearfish, I headed out for Sturgis. Before I even got 10 miles into my ride, I was pulled over and ticketed for running tall ape hangers. I turned right around and headed back to Spearfish and, if you can believe this, I got another ticket for running ape hangers! So that’s two tickets in less than 10 minutes! When I got back to my hotel I pulled the apes off and put on drag bars. I have always thought that law against running ape hangers in South Dakota was beyond ridiculous! Where I’m from in Texas they are legal & I’ve ridden with apes all over the country without any problem. I am very glad that South Dakota got rid of such a worthless law!”
Currently, each state in the U.S. has the right to individually determine these types of regulations and, presently, only one-third of the states do not mandate a required handlebar height. Much like helmet laws, many motorcyclists believe that those that ride should decide.
Also weighing in on the debate is Gene Slater who is the General Manager of Strokers Dallas:
“I was born and raised in South Dakota, so it comes as no great surprise that the state has finally gotten around to repealing the handlebar height law that was set in place years ago by liberals.  ABATE of South Dakota was key to getting this unjust law repealed and hats off to them.  For too long the powers that be had forgotten that South Dakota is not California where people have to be protected from themselves. South Dakota has always had an independent, western prairie mentality.  If I want to be stupid enough to do something to get myself killed and it doesn’t impact or hurt anyone else, I ought to be able to go ahead and do it.  No one needs to dictate how high a set of handlebars should be, or if it is safe to operate.  Just because you don’t see any professional motorcyclist’s bikes equipped with ape hangers should not even enter into your thought process.  Reach for the sky buckaroo.  I support your right to doing what you want and as the saying goes, “I will defend your right till the death to do what you want.”  Hats off to South Dakota and ABATE because you got this one right. “
Regardless of any individual rider’s personal views about using ape hangers, the good news is that South Dakota has embraced the freedom to allow everyone in their proud state to choose for themselves.