MYRTLE BEACH - In an annual rite of spring on the South Carolina coast, the Harley-Davidson motorcycle rally is underway and organizers say it is expected to attract about 125,000 bikers to the Myrtle Beach area.

This year's rally, the 75th, opens Monday and continues through May 19.

It was 1940 when the Piedmont Harley-Davidson Dealers Association in North Carolina started the rally when Harley riders got together for several days on the Grand Strand and rode their bikes on the beach.

The event is considered the nation second-oldest Harley rally. Laconia, New Hampshire, will hold its 91st rally next month.

Some business owners along the Grand Strand - the 60 miles of beaches from Georgetown to the North Carolina state line - say attendance at the South Carolina rally seems to be recovering to what it was six years ago, before the Myrtle Beach passed an ordinance requiring all riders to wear helmets in the city.

That law was tossed out by the state Supreme Court because it conflicted with a state law allowing anyone over 21 to ride without a helmet.

The ordinance caused a sharp drop in attendance at the rally and some business owners say they don't think the rally will ever draw the numbers it attracted before the ordinance was passed.

Jerry Ellis, a former policeman in the nation's capital, came to his first rally in the 1980s. He's attended every rally since he retired and moved to Socastee back in 1990.

He tells The Sun News of Myrtle Beach that the rally hasn't been the same since Myrtle Beach passed the helmet ordinance - something he refers to as "that little incident."

Harley riders are not the only bikers to head to the South Carolina shore each spring.

The Atlantic Beach Memorial Day Bikefest, which attracts mainly black biker riders, opens May 23 and continues through May 26.