Chesnee, South Carolina is a small town a short distance from Spartanburg and not too far from the southern border of North Carolina. It hardly conjures up the same image as other places that host bike rallies such as Daytona, Laconia or even Sturgis. But every year, there's an event in Chesnee, SC called Antique Bikes On Main. I've seen the flyers for many years and even thought about going. For one reason or another, I didn't. Since Chesnee isn't quite as big as Andy Griffith's Mayberry, it was never a priority trip. I always envisioned a handful of circa 1920 bikes and a barbershop quartet singing from the bandstand in the center of town. With all the excitement of an annual turnip festival, I expected more fanfare than substance. Still.. I kept it in mind because.. well, I like 1920s motorcycles too.
For several years, I talked about getting up to the Tail Of The Dragon in North Carolina. It's almost a rite of passage for anyone within riding distance. 311 curves in 11 miles. Two years ago, I decided that I either had to go or I had to shut up and stop talking about going. it was a similar experience with Antique Bikes On Main. I either had to go.. or stop talking about going.
The original plan was to ride up with a buddy but he couldn't go at the last minute. So.. my wife drove the car up and I rode along as the passenger in a cage. One of the advantages to this arrangement, besides spending a weekend with my spouse, was that the car could carry more photography gear. That's always a good thing.
Unfortunately, we arrived in Chesnee around noon, which is the worst possible time for a photographer since mid-day light is about the hardest lighting condition to shoot in. On the plus side, there was hardly a cloud in the sky; a welcome change from what seemed like a rainy eternity back home. The approach to Chesnee concealed the activity that was bustling in the heart of the town. The center of Chesnee was alive with people and motorcycles and festivities. At the very center of town, it very well could have been Main Street in Daytona on a less populated day.. except for the absence of drinking establishments.. and the ocean. It was as though Daytona and Mayberry had a child. And there were motorcycles everywhere that had come to celebrate.
All kinds of bikes and riders filled the streets of this small and normally quiet Southern town. New ones. Old ones. Rat bikes and shiny baggers. Harleys, Hondas, Triumphs and everything else. On Saturday, it didn't seem that there was a specific section for the antique bikes among them. Everyone seemed to be all jumbled together like some vague metaphor of their shared love of riding.
The air was buzzing with a hundred years or so of motorcycle history. Enough stories to sift through to, perhaps, take up a lifetime. For example, there's a little Indian that wasn't. From 1963 to 1977, with a number of people making Indians.. except Indian.. a number of 50-175cc two-stroke bikes were imported or built in Taiwan by L.A. attorney Alan Newman. Newman went bankrupt in January 1977. That's just a part of the story. If you go back further, you find that Newman was sold the Indian trademark by Floyd Clymer's widow. Clymer had also rolled the dice at producing Indians. There may be some question as to whether Clymer actually owned the trademark to begin with. Of course, there's more history.. both earlier and later. There's a lot to dig into. And all of that is behind the one little dirtbike sitting in the back of a truck that's parked on a side road in Chesnee, SC on that particular weekend.
Looking up and down the street, it was littered with motorcycles carrying their own stories. Stories behind the brands. Stories of the machines. And stories of the riders who have owned them. Each machine telling it's tale through the rumble of it's engine. Each acting out it's own history in a ballet of piston, gears and wheels.
I considered how busy it was and wondered if this could become a major event that could draw people from all over the country. Certainly, a lot of people had gotten the word already and had flocked here to see what there was to see. On the other hand, this wasn't Sturgis. It wasn't even Hollister. Even with the streets filled with "the biker scourge", it was quite family-friendly. There were no beer girls in fishnets. There was no loud music pouring out of bars. If that "hard partying biker" thing is what you're after, Chesnee isn't likely to be your destination. Definitely more Mayberry than Daytona. It's probably less than a mile from the largest open air motorcycle swap meet I've ever seen (next to the Wall of Death) and the fair area where it seems that most of the kids and teens were standing in line to ride the Ferris wheel or scarfing down your typical carnival foods. Chesnee seemed to have thought of everyone. And everyone seemed to behave accordingly.
By 7:30 pm, much of the town was rolling up the streets and the only real remaining activity for the day was in the fair area where people sat and occasionally danced to the band. The kids danced in front of the stage pretty much the whole time. But they have that kind of energy. They can do that. I wrapped up my pictures and went back to the hotel to see what I took.
Sunday would be a little cooler as the weekend continued on. But at least earlier in the morning, there were less people on the streets. And on Sunday, there was a section of the street sectioned off for a long line of some of the coolest bikes outside of a museum. Problem solved! I took a ton of new pictures. We called it a weekend and headed back to Charleston. Harley-Davidson of Greenville is about 40 miles from Chesnee. It seemed like another stop to make on the way home.
There were some organized rides that I didn't go on because I didn't have my bike. That would have been fun. But I made it count. I got a lot of good photos. The only regret I come away with was that I hadn't gone to this in previous years. What a great time! I'll be back next year with my camera on the bike. I'm going on those rides.