There are two biker weeks in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina every Spring. One is mostly attended by middle-aged, white bikers on Harleys. The other is mostly attended by young black revelers on sport bikes. Unfortunately. the two events are conflated in the public mind.
The mostly white event is variously called the “Spring Rally” and “Myrtle Beach Harley Week.” This year it unfolded from May 9 to May 18. The city of Myrtle Beach tried to chase off the Harley riders in 2008 by passing a quiver full of unreasonable laws and the laws largely succeeded.
In years past the 75-year-old event has attracted as many as 300,000 mostly peaceful, biker tourists. This year’s events attracted no more than 125,000 Harley riders. Those biker tourists seem to have been loud but mostly peaceful. The County hasn’t announced how much those visitors contributed to the local economy. The Harley event came and went without making much of a splash.
Black Bike Week
This year most of the headlines have been about the other Myrtle Beach rally, which is officially called The Atlantic Beach Bikefest or Black Bike Week. It unfolds during the week before Memorial Day and this year it was particularly memorable. Three people were killed and seven were injured in five confirmed shootings over the long weekend.
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President Brad Dean issued a statement yesterday about the violence that urged observers to remain color blind. He wrote: “The senseless acts of criminals and unruly visitors have once again marred what should have been a stellar weekend celebrating our Armed Forces and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of America.”
“Unfortunately, none of us are surprised, as the Memorial Day Motorcycle Rally continues to create unanswered challenges for the community and visitors. Safety is a necessity for a tourism destination to thrive, and no amount of publicity and promotion will counter the bad publicity generated this weekend.”
“The issue is not race. The issue is responsibility. Visitors must act responsibly by following our laws, and our local governments must act responsibly in providing adequate protection to both residents and visitors.”
Pat Dowling, a spokesman for the city of North Myrtle Beach, said that far more tourists showed up for Black Bike Week than for the older Harley event. According to Dowling there were 53 arrests and 125 tickets issued to the Harley riders in that city earlier this month. Over Memorial Day Weekend, North Myrtle Beach police made 105 arrests and issued 489 tickets.
According to The State newspaper, local residents are alarmed. At a Myrtle Beach City Council meeting last night, some citizens complained their lives were “threatened all weekend long.”
Ray Booth, manager of a local motel said the issue was the age of the people who attend Black Bike Week. “It’s an age issue,” he said.
Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said the solution is more police. “We don’t have enough law enforcement officers,” the mayor said. “We only had 400 total. Two hundred per shift over 60 blocks. We needed 800.” The mayor said he would meet with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley this week to ask for state help.
How much the events of last weekend will effect next year’s Harley rally are impossible to foresee but it probably isn’t good for the Harley riders that the two disparate events remain linked in the public mind.