Once upon a time Myrtle Beach may have been ‘Bikers Only,’ but recently it has changed to ‘No Bikers Allowed.’
It was once one of the premier motorcycle rallies in the country, mentioned in the same breath as Daytona Bike Week, Sturgis, and Laconia. The shores of the Grand Strand would be flooded with motorcyclists enjoying the spring weather on the beautiful Atlantic beaches along the South Carolina coastline. Hotels and campgrounds were full, cash poured into the area, and for 68 years Myrtle Beach Bike Week attracted hundreds of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts over the course of a couple of weeks in May. Until last year.
In 2009, the Myrtle Beach City Council and its mayor John Rhodes shocked the motorcycling community when it declared that the city was pulling the plug on a 69-year-old tradition, citing excessive noise, traffic congestion, and general unruliness as grounds for cancelling Myrtle Beach Bike Week 2009. The city of Myrtle Beach itself enacted 15 new rules and regulations aimed at deterring bikers from their annual May exodus to the shores of the Grand Strand. A city-wide helmet law was enacted, the only one in the state, giving police more grounds to harass bikers at every turn.
The end result angered many locals as well as putting off motorcyclists. Businesses that relied on the yearly income boost that hundreds of thousands bikers provided voiced their opposition the loudest, but the damage had been done. Bikers came, but in small numbers. Many avoided Myrtle Beach altogether, opting to take their business to surrounding moto-friendly communities like North Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet instead. With that being said, what about this year? Will there be a Myrtle Beach Bike Week 2010?
The answer is yes, according to Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson’s marketing director, Mike Shank.
“The rally is on for this year. It will be a five-day event, from May 11-16. It will be a nice five-day event, but not what people are used to,” Shank said.
Hmm, let’s see now, how many motorcycles can you count? That means how many people need a place to stay, somewhere to eat, and are looking for a good local dive to pop inside and have some fun? You do the math.
The website Myrtle Beach Bike Week, LLC is a little more ambitious, listing the dates for this year’s rally from May 7-16. The Dog House Bar & Grill is also billing MBBW on the same dates, from May 7-16. But the days of a 10-day long mega-rally disappeared with the enactment of Myrtle Beach’s helmet law, a fact that Shank confirmed.
“It will never be a 10-day event again, unless something drastic happens,” he said.
Myrtle Beach Bike Week will never return to its former glory as long as bikers feel unwelcome, and as of today, the laws that were enacted last year are still in place, the same mayor and three out of four incumbents to the city council who lobbied for the end of MBBW got re-elected, and no vendors are allowed to set-up in the city of Myrtle Beach itself. In fact, vendors have to pay in excess of $900 for a seven-day permit and the areas they are allowed to set-up in are predominantly on the low-visibility fringes of the rally. Limited permit numbers in lousy locations with high vendor fees means it’s not really worth setting up. Noise ordinances are in place, curfews and helmet laws are still in effect, and city police are ready to pad their ticket books with costly citations at motorcyclist’s expense.
But outlying areas like North Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet are still actively promoting the event, attempting to distance themselves from the decisions of the Myrtle Beach City Council. Sonny Copeland, proprietor of the Myrtle Beach Bike Week website, claims that Myrtle Beach’s role has always been more by default than anything else, stating that originally it was called Myrtle Beach Bike Week solely because riders headed to the rally came in on the 501 freeway which dead-ended into town. Myrtle Beach was where they rode into first before heading north or south along the Grand Strand. But now, riders don’t even have to travel inside the town of Myrtle Beach itself. They can skirt it by taking the 31 bypass from Hwy 544 or the 501.
Because even though Myrtle Beach doesn’t want bikers in their town, Sonny assures me that “The working-class business people are for it. They realize that if the bikers
Ahh, remember back-in-the-day how much fun was to be had at Myrtle Beach? Will those scenes fade into distant memory or are new memories waiting to be had? You decide.
come during Bike Week and enjoy the area that there is a high probability they will be back again, maybe next time on family vacation for a week on the beach with family and kids.”
Shank stated that it’s a tough question. “I think overall in the entire county that people are more pro-bike week than anti-bike week. However, in the city three of the four incumbents were re-elected. And that’s what matters most.”
Speaking of incumbents, Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes is still in office after winning re-election in November. Rhodes campaign was well-funded. A SunNews.com article states that he was backed by three political action committees, who shelled out over $250,000 in campaign contributions. This doesn’t include Rhodes personal expenses. His opposition, former Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, is scheduled to release his spending figures to the South Carolina Ethics Commission within the next week, but as of this date it states that he only took in $700. Granted, his campaign spent much more than that between TV ads, signs, and other expenditures, but according to Sonny, McBride spent proverbial pennies on the dollar in comparison to Rhodes. All for a position that pays $20,000 yearly. Apparently a high price was put on assuring that he remained in office. Rhodes was the one who officially declared that the city would no longer host motorcycle rallies and was instrumental in getting the motorcycle-related laws passed.
One of the laws, the city-mandated helmet law, has grown into a bigger issue and is scheduled to head to the South Carolina Supreme Court on Feb. 3. On the surface, the case is a challenge to the city’s helmet law. The larger issue is whether a city government can create a law that goes against state decree. A lot is contingent on the upcoming case. If politically powerful Myrtle Beach residents can get the helmet law passed, overriding state law, then the case could set precedence. If the powers that be can get the helmet law overridden, what’s next? What’s rumored to be at stake is the development of casinos along Myrtle Beach and the big target is hinted to be the statewide gaming ordinances, as gambling is currently illegal in the state of South Carolina. Are the Myrtle Beach helmet laws a front for bigger cases to come? Only time will tell.
To further complicate the issue, one member of the Horry County Council, Harold Worley, and former Horry County Councilman, Mark Lazarus, are lobbying to bring the annual Harley Owners Group rally to North Myrtle Beach. The duo is expected to present their plans to the North Myrtle Beach City Council on Feb. 1. The two said “this permit would
While on the surface, it’s about helmet laws and biker rallies, but it appears there’s bigger issues at stake in Myrtle Beach.
allow the town to test the water with the motorcycle event before moving forward with ordinance changes that would be necessary for a long-term commitment to the Harley group.” The annual HOG convention brings an estimated 10,000 Harley-Davidson owners together. HOG is also considering holding its annual rally in Ocean City, Md., and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Lazarus and Worley have a vested interest in the matter. According to the SunNews.com article, the HOG event would be held at the O.D. Pavilion Amusement Park that is owned by Lazurus and Worley. It’s also ironic that the current and former councilman who are promoting the HOG rally were on the same Horry County Council that reduced the number of vendor permits, increased fees and reduced the days a vendor can sell last year. While desiring to resuscitate an area that has been hurt badly by the recent economic downfall is honorable, the motivations behind selectively allowing one group in is questionable.
So whether Myrtle Beach has a Bike Week or not depends on the rider. The city itself has burned its bridges. But surrounding communities on the Strand could desperately use our help. Will motorcyclists say ‘to hell with them’ and let what once was a hallowed tradition fade into obscurity, or will they thumb their noses in the face of the minority who are trying to keep us out and come anyways? Unfortunately, Sonny summed it up best.
“It’s all greed and politics.”