COLUMBIA -- Bikers coming to Myrtle Beach for annual rallies once again can ride their motorcycles without helmets or eyewear.
The S.C. Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that the city cannot mandate the protective gear in the absence of a state law.
The Myrtle Beach City Council adopted the ordinance in 2008 after years of complaints from residents about noise, lewd behavior and congestion along the 60-mile Grand Strand, and the helmet rule had an almost immediate effect -- rallies saw double-digit percentage drops in attendance last spring.
Individual cities each making distinctive rules on helmets and eyewear would lead to chaos for motorcycle riders, the justices ruled.
"Local authorities might enact ordinances imposing additional and even conflicting equipment requirements," wrote Justice Costa Pleicones. "Such burdens would unduly limit a citizen's freedom of movement throughout the state."
State Rep. Thad Viers, a local lawyer who challenged the ordinance, said the decision reaffirms important limits on government power.
"It's a great day for freedom," the Myrtle Beach Republican said. "I think the court spoke very clearly about what local governments can and can't do in the state of South Carolina."
Calls to Myrtle Beach officials were not returned Tuesday.
Sonny Copeland, who organizes Myrtle Beach Bike Week in the spring, said he doubts that the court's ruling will have much effect on reviving biker enthusiasm for the city. He said the city, which covers about 14 of the strand's 60 miles of coastal vistas, has made its feelings clear.
"If you ride a motorcycle, you're not welcome in the city of Myrtle Beach," Copeland said.
He said he expects future motorcycle events to bypass the city altogether.
The city council adopted the ordinance unanimously. There are two major rallies -- the bike-week rally in the spring attracts mostly white riders, while most bikers at the Atlantic Beach Bikefest during Memorial Day weekend are black.
Biker rallies have been going on in Myrtle Beach for decades, but the events have grown rapidly over the last 20 years.
The helmet rule had carried a $100 fine.
Michael Norman, an Atlanta biker who's been ticketed for not wearing a helmet in Myrtle Beach, welcomed the court's decision. But he said the city is no longer the favored destination it once was.
"They don't really like the bike rallies anymore," he said. "They're not as friendly. They're not as geared toward welcoming visitors."