Ready to hit the open road astride a bike to get in shape or to participate in an upcoming race or ride? The Lowcountry is a great place to start cycling, thanks to its nearly perfect weather and bike path-friendly terrain. The Town of Hilton Head Island has been recognized as one of the most bicycle-friendly communities in the U.S., and it offers something for beginning cyclists and hard-core athletes alike.
Many cyclists prefer to bike alone, while others enjoy the camaraderie of a regular group ride. Either way, finding a few friends to help get your biking routine in gear can really help, area enthusiasts say.
Excitement is building for Pedal Hilton Head Island. Cyclists from the Lowcountry and all over the Southeast will ride onto the island Sept. 17 to tackle a series of courses ranging from family fun rides on the beach to 62-mile courses that span the island’s bridges and go all the way to the flyovers. It’s the perfect event for riders of all ages and skill levels, organizers said.
IN 1961, KEN LAIDLAW WAS AT THE TOP OF THE CYCLING WORLD — OR AT LEAST AS CLOSE TO THE TOP AS A SCOTSMAN HAD EVER COME.
A year after representing Great Britain in the World Championships and the Rome Olympics in 1960, Laidlaw became the first Scottish rider to complete the Tour de France when he finished 65th, earning most aggressive rider honors during the race’s 16th stage.
Then he quit. At age 26 and a world-class rider at the peak of his career, Laidlaw walked away.
“I was an angry young man,” the 77-year-old Sun City resident recalls. “I did what I was supposed to do — I was the first Scotsman to finish the Tour de France — and nothing happened afterward.”
REINFORCES ISLAND’S COMMITMENT TO BEING A BICYCLE FRIENDLYCOMMUNITY
Long celebrated for its world-class golf courses, thriving arts culture and more than 12 miles of sparkling sand beaches, Hilton Head Island has also gained a reputation as a premier destination for recreational biking.
The island draws more than 2 million visitors each year, many of whom come to enjoy the nearly 60 miles of pristine public pathways and nature trails by bicycle. Hilton Head Island also boasts more than 50 miles of pathways and shared roadways within its private developments.
In 2011, the League of American Bicyclists awarded Hilton Head Island its coveted Bicycle Friendly Community designation.
As more and more people pedal around the island, it’s getting safer to do so, said Frank Babel, co-chair of the Bicycle Advocacy Committee.
“The more riders, the fewer accidents because drivers are used to them,” he said. “The more people who ride, the safer it becomes.”
Even with a spike in the number of recreational riders, the number of car-bike crashes on the island fell 38 percent from 2011 to 2012. The number of crashes rose in 2013, but with so many more bicycles, the rate fell.
“It takes constant education of motorists and bicyclists,” Babel said.
There is a group that never wants Hilton Head Island to forget about the importance of bicycling to the local economy.
The HHI Bicycling Advocacy Committee, formed after the island earned a silver award in 2011 as a Bike-Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists, tirelessly creates and promotes bike-related events and efforts in order to weave bicycling into the fabric of life on Hilton Head.
The 25 volunteers’ work ranges from building and distributing mobile bike racks at community events in hopes more people will arrive on two wheels, to encouraging the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce’s second annual Bike & Dine Week that paired dining deals with biking.
Whether you’re bicycling for family time, exercise or simply to take in the local ?scenery, Hilton Head Island offers no shortage of routes, paths and options.
The island boasts more than 50 miles of public bicycle paths, and the private communities contain many more (Sea Pines alone has 15 for your pedaling needs). The beach is rarely more than a few miles away, and at low tide offers so much space that you can feel like the place is yours alone. For these reasons and countless more (amenable weather, abundant sunshine) you can see why Hilton Head Island has carved out a reputation as an unofficial bikers’ mecca.