End of the road for America's biker culture?
Fed up with growling tailpipes, one more city cracks down on the world's largest Harley rally.
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The city's answer was to "throw everybody into one big basket and say, 'We want none of it,' " says Carol O'Day, a mom-and-pop hotel owner who has filed a civil suit against the city over the helmet law.Skip to next paragraph
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City officials concede that there is some truth in Ms. O'Day's assessment. "Let me be clear: We're not against riders, we're against the rally. We don't want to be the center of the motorcycle universe in May," says city spokesman Mark Kruea.
Simply put, residents had had enough, says Mayor John Rhodes. For one thing, students in schools along 29th Avenue couldn't hear their lessons for the roaring of bikes outside, the mayor says.
"All we've ever asked of bikers is to respect people in community, treat it the way you would treat your own neighborhood or city, and if you can't do that, why should we have to tolerate that?" Mr. Rhodes asks.
Tom McGrath, the Harley-riding lawyer who has filed suit against the city to overturn both the pipe and helmet law, has a different take. "What's noise to some people is music to others."
Mr. McGrath is also representing participants in a "Freedom Ride" that took place shortly after the helmet law went into effect, where police ticketed 50 of the protesters for helmet law violations. There's now a chance that all 50 could go to jury trial in municipal court. [Editor's note: The original incorrectly represented Mr. McGrath's role in the event.]
At issue is whether a city can trump state law and make its own helmet laws. South Carolina does not require an adult to wear a helmet. For many riders, that's just too big of an affront to bear.
The result is that, for now, many bikers are likely to scatter to the four winds and attend smaller rallies. New Bern, N.C., is expecting as many as 5,000 riders in response to the Myrtle Beach crackdown.
Meanwhile, organizers here in the Grand Strand region are still throwing a rally, including in Murrells Inlet at the SBB, but the problem is that most hotel rooms are in Myrtle Beach proper, where police are waiting, new noise meters in hand, to see whether some riders will test the new laws.
On a recent weekday, however, the most noticeable two-wheeled vehicles in Myrtle Beach were rented scooters driven by skinny teenagers.
For all the problems that riders bring to Myrtle Beach, the city might end up regretting its decision, especially since today's Harley riders fit into "one of the highest disposable-income demographics you can find," says Mr. Dulaney, the consultant to National Geographic.
Riders have been run out of towns before, including North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Daytona Beach, Fla. A few years after getting rid of "the element," as the bikers are often called, those places began welcoming the rallies back.
"They'll miss us when we're gone," says Johnston.