Black History Month: What is Black Bike Week?

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How the hell have I not heard about Black Bike Week until now? Like how?

The South Carolinian city and beach resort of Myrtle Beach is a mere 5-6 hour drive from the landlocked confines of Metro Atlanta. It’s a rather straight and unmemorable jaunt east along I-20 (dubbed Strom Thurmond Freeway once the state line is crossed) and north along I-95.

In South Carolina, the feeling of being in the South is both undeniable and unavoidable. The air literally smells like BBQ. Cotton fields, churches and produce stands checker thoroughfares. Pickup trucks are in abundance. Black folks have that “I’ve seen some things” look on their faces. And White folks run the gamut of being extremely friendly or extremely dismissive. I would strongly recommend NOT listening to the audiobook version of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns while driving to Myrtle Beach; you will be triggered.

Still there is a definite allure to this place such as the ability to walk through the outdoor mall of Broadway at the Beach in February and not need a jacket, or the fact that happy hour happens 4pm-7pm every day including the weekends, or the regular occurrence of  hetero and homosexual couples holding hands as they walk along the beachfront. South Carolina, much like Strom Thurmond, is a crazy contradiction.

Nevertheless, each year Black Bike Week aka Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest aka the Black Pearl Cultural Heritage and Bike Festival happens during Memorial Day weekend in and around Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As many as 400,000 participants attend this event which is the 3rd or 4th largest motorcycle rally in the United States. Additionally, while 10-15% of motorcyclists in the country are women, nearly half of the participants in African-American motorcycle rallies like Black Bike Week are women—a fact that should not at all be shocking when one considers (and recalls) Bessie Stringfield, the first African-American woman to ride a motorcycle solo across the United States…all the way back in 1930.

Black Bike Week, according to its wiki page, was originally launched in 1980 by the Flaming Knight Riders Motorcycle Club aka Carolina Knight Riders Motorcycle Club in Atlantic Beach. Historically, Atlantic Beach was the only Beach in all of the South where Blacks were permitted. Being in the South, though Myrtle Beach Bike Week aka Harley Davidson Week has been a Myrtle Beach attraction since 1940, Black motorcycle enthusiasts  were simply not welcomed. So, to this day, Harley Davidson Week takes place in early May each year (this year May 10th-19th) while Black Bike Week is celebrated later in the month (this year May 24th-27th).

During Black Bike Week, there is motorcycle racing and concerts and parties and festivals and eye candy on and off the beach. Though I’ve never been, I’m getting a distinct Freaknik vibe…with motorcycles. And since the guy who told me about it is a 61 year old with an adolescent son, I’m guessing that the week is a little more inclusive of families than your more collegiate Freaknik of yore.

How very nice!

I was instantly reminded of my days in Las Vegas when my significant other at the time, who shall remain unnamed, owned an orange Honda Rebel. Back then, I was thrilled to hop on the back and clutch his waist as we sailed up to Red Rock, slicing through the serenity of that elevated landscape on the vibrations of that two-wheeled chariot.  But just before I caught myself swooning over those ever-so-romantic memories, I Googled Black Bike Week and came across this unfortunate development.

Damn, damn, damn, James.

Nevertheless, if you’re Black and you like motorcycles and Southern heat and beaches and/or any excuse to party in the streets, Black Bike Week was specifically made for you.

 

 

 

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