Harley Rally wraps up, new group of bikers heads to the Grand Strand

For decades now, the end of May on the Grand Strand means a large percentage of tourists who come into town are bikers. The Spring Harley Rally just wrapped up over the weekend and now crowds on sport bikes will flock to the area for the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bike Fest.

The thousands of Harley bikers who came to town for the spring rally are back in their hometowns tonight. The final numbers aren't in but vendors, regulars, visitors and law enforcement said this years crowd was slightly bigger than last year.

"We had a good crowd at Barefoot Landing. There was probably twice or three times as many vendors as we had in the past and the attendance was very good. It was one of those rallies where attendance was good but it wasn't over the top so residents and visitors had a good time," said Pat Dowling, City of North Myrtle Beach spokesman.

During the Harley rally, there were numerous crashes involving motorcycles.

Atlantic Beach is quiet now but there are signs their Bike Fest will soon begin. Some bikers have already come into town and the bulk of the crowd is expected on Friday. The event is a long standing tradition for many.

"Each year there's a special kind of camaraderie that is exhibited when these bikers come in as I often allude to and others. It's like a homecoming and everybody just comes to have fun," said Retha Pierce, Mayor of Atlantic Beach.

Pierce said the number of vendors who want to sell food and other items is up this year. They'll also set up a stage for entertainment.

"It includes different groups and just different activities. I even saw a fashion show I think on one day," added Pierce.

Since Atlantic Beach sits in the middle of North Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach helps manage the crowd. One way they do that is with the chute system where one northbound lane on Highway 17 is designated to bike fest traffic.

The chute will go up Friday morning and extend from 37th Avenue South to 27th Avenue South.

"Most of what we have to do is traffic management so that the bikers can get around. So the residents can get around and also those people who just come in for a nice Memorial Day weekend can get around too," said Dowling. "We do bring in more outside police officers for bike fest simply because there were more people and more bikes on the road, there are also a lot of cars."

Many barricades are already on the side of the road, ready to be put into place.

"What we want to do is make sure that number one nobody gets hurt. Everybody who comes to town has a good time and observe the laws as normal. And if we can do that and get people around the town as best as we can during that period we're happy," added Dowling.

"It's a good event. If people just focus on either the Harley bikes or the higher pitched sound of the bike fest bikes they're really sort of missing the point. It's a crowd and it's good for tourism over the long haul."