Some bikers say there’s nothing to lure them back to Myrtle Beach

Some Myrtle Beach businesses would like to see more traffic from the spring Harley-Davidson rally bikers who are congregated south of the city in Murrells Inlet and north in North Myrtle Beach.

Ripley’s, for instance, is offering a biker week T-shirt with a $19.95 admission to any of its six attractions in Myrtle Beach. And at least a half dozen hotels along the south end of Ocean Boulevard have “Welcome bikers” on their message signs.

Raj Pankhania, owner of the Sea Hawk Motel where the message sign also says “We need your business,” said he’s booked for the Atlantic Beach rally on Memorial Day weekend, but hasn’t gotten any bikers this week and has just 70 percent occupancy.

“That’s not good,” he said.

Most bikers abandoned the city limits of Myrtle Beach about six years ago after the city took steps including a helmet law – which was eventually overturned – to drive the rallies out of the city because officials said they had gotten too big.

Pankhania said he believes bikers still harbor bad feelings over it. And while that’s true for many bikers, there are some who don’t feel so strongly.

“We spend more money in Myrtle Beach than we used to,” said Rick Harr of Kingsport, Tenn., who was sitting out Thursday’s rain under cover of an outdoor bar at Suck Bang Blow in Murrells Inlet.

Harr said he and his wife Lisa are at their eighth spring rally and are staying in Myrtle Beach this year, something they wouldn’t have done in the years right after Myrtle Beach yanked the welcome mat from under the rally tires.

In 2008, the city enacted a helmet law – which was later overturned by the state Supreme Court– and a noise ordinance specifically to get rid of swarms of bikers that would take over the town for three weeks in May.

“We’re not in the motorcycle rally business anymore,” city spokesman Mark Kruea said.

The city has nothing against individual bikers among its tourists, he added.

“It’s not who you are or what you ride,” he said of the city’s stance against rallies. The rallies got out of hand when they got too big, lasted too long, were too boisterous and too deadly, he said.

He said the city attempted to work with rally organizers to get the event manageable, but was unsuccessful.

Michelle Thomson of South Dakota, who is at her first spring Harley rally in Myrtle Beach, said she had heard of what the city did and could understand how residents objected to rallies that attracted hundreds of thousands of bikers.

The same thing is true in Sturgis.

“There are a lot of people who would prefer that it wasn’t so disrupting,” she said of that rally.

As it used to be in Myrtle Beach, she said some Sturgis residents leave town during the rally. Some rent out their homes and even business owners will rent out their storefronts.

The latter dynamic backed up Kruea, who said that while the local rallies were very good for some businesses, they were bad for others. Bikers patronized a particular set of businesses, he said, and others saw their customers disappear during the congestion of the rallies.

Roxanne Sabo of Chicago, who is at her second spring Harley rally, said she wasn’t disturbed by the helmet law.

But she and Thomson – also at SBB Thursday afternoon – agreed they don’t go to Myrtle Beach because there’s nothing for them to do there.

Jessica Mula, marketing/PR coordinator for Ripley’s, said it did a similar promotion aimed at bikers some years ago, and is trying one this year to see what will happen.

Mula said Monday that Ripley’s sold 100 of the special ticket/T-shirt combinations last weekend, when the first bikers began arriving. She could not be reached Thursday to get the latest numbers.

“We just started promoting it heavily this week,” she said Monday.

While Kruea said the city welcomes all visitors, regardless of their mode of transportation, he wouldn’t speculate how many of the rally riders cruising city businesses would be enough to draw the attention of officials.

“We expect all our visitors to obey our ordinances, including the noise ordinance and speed limit,” he said, “just as (the bikers’) hometowns would expect us to obey their ordinances if we visited them.”