Myrtle Beach gears up for fall bike rally

The fall bike rally this week might have a little more vroom than last year, thanks to increased marketing and a less abrasive sentiment among some bikers toward Myrtle Beach, according to businesses and rally organizers.

The rally, dubbed Hurricane Alley and set to kick off Wednesday, is expected to follow in the tire tracks of the pumped-up spring rally, which drew more bikers this year after a couple of soft rallies in the wake of Myrtle Beach’s efforts to push the events outside city limits, business owners and rally organizers said.

Bikers have been buzzing about the rally on social media sites, vendors have filed to return to the area and the Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson dealership, which organizes the five-day rally, has promoted the event more this year in industry publications, officials said. All hint at a bigger rally, though no one can pinpoint how many bikers might show up.

“It will absolutely, definitely be better than last year. Last year was very lackadaisical,” said Jamin’ Jamie Keats, owner of Jamin’ Leather, which will host rally events at its store in Surfside Beach because its new location off U.S. 17 Bypass isn’t ready to open yet. “I already see it. It seems like they are all raring to go. I see a lot more gearing up.”

The fall rally always is much smaller and more laid-back than its spring counterpart, but some connected to the rally say it’s been small in recent years as bikers boycotted Myrtle Beach over its controversial helmet law approved in 2008 and struck down by the S.C. Supreme Court a year ago. Last year, rain soaked the area during the fall rally’s first two days, leaving some vendors disappointed in sales.

This year could mark the start of a comeback for the fall event, some say.

“It is starting to come back and starting to slowly grow,” said DeAnna Fryar of FP Showcase, which organizes vendors at Barefoot Landing. “It’s going to resurface.”

Horry County issued 28 vendor permits for the fall rally this year, down three from last year, according to county records. Most of the vendors are clustered on the south end and at the Harley-Davidson dealership off U.S. 17 Business near Myrtle Beach State Park.

Those permits do not include those issued for Barefoot Landing, which didn’t have vendors last fall, and almost didn’t this year until vendors expressed interest in returning to the beach, Fryar said. About 10 vendors selling apparel, glasses and other biker-related items will set up at the North Myrtle Beach shopping and entertainment complex beginning Thursday.

“We weren’t going to do it at all actually but I had a lot of people who really wanted to be here,” Fryar said. “We are going to give it a swing. It’s nice people want to come back.”

Lodging occupancy this week is expected to be higher through Friday compared to the fall bike week last year, with occupancy during the weekend expected to approach 70 percent, said Taylor Damonte of Coastal Carolina University’s Clay Brittain Jr. Center for Resort Tourism.

But the weather forecasts can shift those numbers, with sunny predictions luring the weekend travelers and rainy ones keeping them away, he said. This time of year, weekend travelers base their getaways on how the weather is supposed to be, he said.

“If people get up on Monday morning and the forecast for Friday and Saturday of the weekend is poor, evidence suggests they are adjusting their plans,” Damonte said.

Weekend occupancy at Oceana Resort’s 11 properties along the Grand Strand are strong, but the weekday reservations aren’t, marketing director Michelle Cantey said, though she declined to say how many rooms are booked. Most bikers in the fall will wait to see the weather forecast before booking their rooms, she said.

“Our numbers are looking strong for the weekend,” Cantey said.

Some of the rally boost might come from returning bikers who shunned the area because of Myrtle Beach’s actions, rally organizers said. Attendance at the spring rally surged this year, though many couldn’t pinpoint by how much – they just knew it seemed busier though still way off from the rally’s pre-helmet law peaks.

“[Bikers] still have a sore spot but they still want to come,” Keats said.

The S.C. Supreme Court overturned the helmet law before last year’s fall rally, but the hard feelings hadn’t yet been forgotten, some said. Some bikers aren’t letting it stop them from taking a trip to the beach anymore, though some still may drive through Myrtle Beach without stopping there, Fryar said.

“Everything has kind of calmed down,” she said. “People have actually relaxed a little bit.”

Myrtle Beach Harley-Davidson pumped up its promotion of the fall rally this year, putting ads in national publications and doing more with social media, said Denise Triece, Harley-Davidson’s marketing and event coordinator.

“It will be busier, not by huge numbers but it will be up,” she said.

The rally is one of a handful of events this weekend, including a host of festivals such as Oktoberfest at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach and Ink Life Tour’s Tattoo & Music Festival at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, the first tattoo show in South Carolina that kicks off Friday. Convention center officials anticipate some bikers might make the tattoo show one of their stops.

The events give bikers more options to choose from, Triece said, adding that she would like to join with the other event organizers to share marketing.

“The more the merrier,” she said. “You might as well work together to bring people here.”