When the bikes roll in

May 31, 2012

By Randall Hill

The residents of the small coastal communities along South Carolina’s Grand Strand feel the floors vibrate in their homes each year around the middle part of May. The cause is not natural in nature but man-made. For it’s the start of the annual motorcycle rallies that flow and ebb into the area each spring and bring in the start of the summer tourist season. It comes like a boxers hard punch to the face and floors the locals to the mat and into submission.

A biker known as Wild Bill, parks his bike at Suck Bang Blow biker bar in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, May 19, 2012 . REUTERS/Randall Hill

The rumble of the motors build as the first rally begins. Bikers, mostly comprised of older white males, ride Harley-Davidsons and other cruiser type motorcycles. They seem to be trying to live out their testosterone-filled dreams like the characters in the 1969 film Easy Rider. Most are bankers, lawyers, mechanics and other professionals who trailer their bikes to Myrtle Beach looking for an escape from the everyday experience they live back home.

The second rally, The Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest, is comprised of mostly young African-Americans in their 20’s, decked out on Japanese sports bikes the locals call crotch rockets. Most come celebrating the Memorial Day weekend with members of bike clubs formed back home. They dart in and out of traffic en masse like large swarms of wasps.

Covering the bike rallies over the last 12 years for the local newspaper and this year for Reuters has been a lesson in sensitivity and respect for those that are unique and different. The bike weeks bring out the extremes of culture for both whites and blacks. A journalist is caught between making sure the harsh stereotypes of culture are not carried on but rather that the truth of the events are told.

We see everything and sometimes things you don’t want to see.

For instance, this year during the Harley rally, during intermission at a Midget Wrestling event, there was a competition where ladies competed to see who could get a midget wrestler aroused. The top prize was $50 dollars and a photo with the wrestler. Beer girls in string bikinis took tips in their cleavage. Many were mothers trying to make ends meet with the extra money they earn during the rallies.

Most residents look forward to the rallies. The money the bikers bring into the area more than makes up for the havoc they cause. Residents endure the loud pipes piercing through neighborhoods as bikers leave the many biker bars early in the morning.

One such bar Suck Bang Blow in Murrells Inlet, SC is named for the stages of the combustible engine on a Harley. During day and night the bar is a hub for bikers looking for a rest from their rides. Inside bikers are treated to southern rock cover bands and scantily clad girls pushing Jell-O shots. The bar has a special pit out back designed for bikers to blow out their motorcycle tires. This ritual fills the grounds with a sea of white pungent smoke and cheers from those standing nearby.

With the extremes, the bike rallies are a dream for a photojournalist to cover. At each turn there is another photograph to capture and the events are never boring. We can’t wait to see what the bikers will bring us next year.

One comment

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Nice post, I think you did a good job of illustrating how classy most of the bike rally attendees are. The rallies do net that area a lot of money, even after the bikers’ disproportionately large use of the area’s emergency services is taken into account. Unfortunately, a lot of the frontline service sector workers who have to deal with these visitors more than anybody else (except probably the emergency services personnel) don’t seem to see much of it. All the people I know who work in the service sector in the MB area say the bikers are bad guests and lousy tippers – how many people want extra hours at jobs that generally don’t pay much, just to put up with inconsiderate (and, from the looks of it, very insecure) jerks?

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