Myrtle Beach Bike Rallies

’Bad taste in their mouth’: Do thinner crowds, fed-up bikers mean Bikefest is dying?

Drive around the 23 mile Memorial Day weekend traffic loop

Time lapse video of a drive around the planned 23 mile Memorial Day traffic loop. Officials plan to implement the traffic pattern for Bikefest from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday during the 2019 Memorial Day weekend.
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Time lapse video of a drive around the planned 23 mile Memorial Day traffic loop. Officials plan to implement the traffic pattern for Bikefest from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday during the 2019 Memorial Day weekend.

Anyone spending time along Ocean Boulevard in Myrtle Beach on Friday never would have guessed one of the largest motorcycle events of the year was taking place.

With ongoing controversy surrounding Atlantic Beach Bikefest, also known as Black Bike Week, between city officials and the NAACP, it was no surprise there was an abundance of cars, sidewalks flooded with police, numerous flashing hotel vacancy signs and fewer bikers than the anticipated 100,000 cruising along the boulevard.

Bikers who kicked off their Memorial Day festivities in Myrtle Beach expressed opposition to the city’s attempt at maintaining public safety with nearly 500 additional law enforcement personnel enlisted, and a scheduled one-way, 23-mile loop lined with barricades along Ocean Boulevard restricting travel to monitor traffic.

“I feel like a mouse in a maze because I can’t go where I want to go,” said Detroit native and sixth-year Bikefest attendee Shakeiya Coles. “I stay away from the loop. It took us nearly two hours to get around the loop last year.”

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A southbound look down Ocean Boulevard Friday night during the first night of Bikefest. Josh Bell jbell@thesunnews.com

The loop funnels traffic from Ocean Boulevard out to the county before returning to city limits. While one-way traffic runs on Ocean Boulevard from Friday to Sunday, the loop starts at 10 p.m. and runs to 2 a.m., but the city canceled it Friday night due to limited traffic.

The NAACP has long decried treatment during the weekend and use of the loop, alleging it’s discriminatory, ruins Bikefest for the predominantly black crowd that attends each year, and isn’t used during other weekends, most notably springtime Harley Bike Week that takes place in early May.

“They didn’t do this last week for Harley week,” Detroit resident Jezus Junior said. “I feel like it’s a race thing, but we’ve learned to adapt throughout the years.”

While North Carolina native Mike Dawson, who has been attending the annual event for nearly two decades, encouraged police officials to do their job when someone steps out of line, he said the city should provide equal treatment to both bike events. Adding that he feels “somewhat offended” by the city’s restrictions, he said there’s no harm in bikers vacationing in Myrtle Beach during Bikefest.

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A heavy police presence filled Ocean Boulevard Friday afternoon on the first day of BikeFest in Myrtle Beach. Josh Bell jbell@thesunnews.com

Myrtle Beach officials have previously argued the loop is needed as a safety precaution. The loop has been the subject of controversy since the city implemented it in 2015 after three men were killed in shooting incidents during the 2014 Bikefest event.

Rebecca Riley, of Washington, D.C., said Myrtle Beach causes unnecessary drama for bikers, asserting how Bikefest generates significant revenue for the city. Citing the city’s actions as “unfair,” Riley said she wouldn’t visit each year and waste her money if it wasn’t for her biker family.

Latisha Knott, who has been coming to the Grand Strand for 20 years for Bikefest, believes Myrtle Beach wants to keep black bikers out during Bikefest, explaining it’s “absolutely a racist thing.”

“We spend thousands of dollars in a week to just feel unwanted,” Knott said. “People have a bad taste in their mouth about Myrtle Beach. We go around (the city) because if we go through there, I’ll just get a sore wrist, overheated bike and harassed by police. It’s just not worth it.”

The NAACP filed a lawsuit last year attempting to prevent the traffic loop, but while a judge sided with the city, it struck back in February asking a judge once again to block the loop, citing discrimination and ever-changing city defense. But the organization’s attempt to halt the detour was again denied on Wednesday, days before the event.

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Bikers roll down Ocean Bouleavrd Friday afternoon on the first day of BikeFest in Myrtle Beach. Josh Bell jbell@thesunnews.com

Anson Asaka, associate general counsel for the NAACP, said in a news conference at City Hall on Thursday that the city used the shootings as a pretext to treat the thousands of bikers who attend Bikfest unfairly and make their visit as unpleasant and unenjoyable as possible.

While Asaka said the NAACP will continue to fight the city until justice is served, Myrtle Beach spokesperson Mark Kruea said the city’s goal during Bikefest has always been ensuring safety for both residents and visitors.

Businesses that rely on the heavy attendance during Bikefest also felt the impact of having fewer customers Friday afternoon. Keisha Moid and Roderick Brisbon, who own Irie Cafe Sweet Treat, said previous years have been busier and believes the traffic loop has affected business.

“It’s not the same as it used to be,” Brisbon said.

Sun News reporters Hannah Strong and Tyler Fleming contributed to this report.

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