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« A noble ride on a strange machine | Main | Hilton Head »

Hilton Head's bike paths

If you live on or visit Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, you could manage quite well without a car.

The tiny island just 12 miles long by 5 miles wide boasts 50 miles of bike/walking paths, with even more planned for the future. You can easily do your shopping or get to the beach on a bicycle.

On my recent trip there I managed to get in two rides on separate days. It was refreshing to see ordinary folks riding bikes and seemingly thoroughly enjoying it. Most were on cruiser type bikes, mostly rentals all painted the same; single freewheel with a coaster brake and a wire basket on the front.

I saw only a few serious cyclists like myself, one remarked, “Nice bike” as he rode by while I was stopped taking pictures. I saw another large group of 10 or 15 who seemed to have a tour guide leading them.

In certain places I did not feel comfortable on the path as it follows the road and is really no different than riding on the sidewalk, in that a cyclist needs to be constantly alert, watching for turning and emerging cars at every road junction and business entrance. (Gas Stations were the worst.)

I know that a cyclist has this same problem on the road, but on a bike path one tends to be “Out of sight and out of mind.” Plus being a two-way bike path on one side of the road means that at some point you are riding the “Wrong-way” opposing the flow of traffic. This made me really nervous.

Hilton Head is an island covered with trees, and where one is used to driving in American cities with strip malls and large open car parks; on Hilton Head the strip malls are hidden amongst the trees. While I will be the first to admit this type of planning does preserve much of the island’s natural beauty; it does present certain problems.

A newcomer to the island has a heck of a time finding a specific store or restaurant that is literally hidden in a forest and can’t be seen from the road. The bike path too will follow a main road along the grass verge, then suddenly veer off into the forest to emerge at a place where it crosses a side road or strip mall entrance.

Even if the cyclist stops, as he should, it is sometimes hard to see approaching traffic through the trees and bushes; you start to cross only to have a car come flying around a bend in the road. From the car driver’s point of view, I’m sure all he sees is a cyclist suddenly appear from the forest like a startled deer.

In some, but not all cases, there were warning signs of a bike on a yellow background, but how many motorists take note of them? What is really needed are speed bumps or rumble strips.

So to sum up; if you are going to this island to relax and do some leisurely riding you will enjoy Hilton Head. If you are planning on getting some serious training miles in you may be disappointed. Go in the off season as I did, but you really need more than the few days I had to find your way around.

There are several bike rental companies on the island, here was just one of them and the above picture only shows a quarter of the bikes stored there. I can imagine what it will be like riding on these bike paths when all these get rented out during the height of the tourist season.

Actually bike congestion is a nice problem for a city to have; I would just prefer not to be there at that time.



Reader Comments (7)

Do not ever ride on the road on HHI or those BMW driving asshole golfers will run you over. Having bike paths (and most of them aren't suitable for fast road riding) means they do not want you on the the road and will try to kill you. The paths along the major roads are dangerous because they have so many road crossings and the golfers all pull up to the road without looking. There are exactly two hills on HHI, both overpasses. It sucks for riding a road bike. When forced to vacation there I ride off the island and into the aboriginal wilds of South Carolina where it is less dangerous and generally more friendly.

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeAchervolger

This was exactly the impression I got. A city can try its hardest to be cycling friendly, but it really comes down to the attitude of the other road users. And with a tourist trap like HH, and the constant inflow of outsiders, can you ever achieve that?

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDave Moulton

My riding experiences on HHI were quite similar. Good paths to get you where you wanted to go but nothing for training at a faster pace... I did have an experience as an auto driver while there that I found interesting. Not being used to having bike paths that are separated from the roadway at home, I was constantly pulling into establishments and then going "uh oh! a bike path intersects here." It would take some getting used to the paths to ingrain, as an auto operator, those intersections. As a cyclist, the other thing I noted was the large numbers of people (tourists I'm guessing) who were on bikes probably for the first time in awhile simply being totally unaware of vehicles turning into businesses. During my recent 3 days on HHI, I saw many, many bicycle riders, who appeared oblivious to the car traffic around them. I was surprised that I didn't see any auto/bike accidents at gas stations and shopping entrances.

- Zeke

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZeke

I get a kick out of watching people roll up to the local beach paths with a bicycle strapped to their car, carefully park and lock it, kit up and wrap a helmet around their head and immediately proceed to run a red light at the first intersection and head across four lanes of traffic against the flow to begin their journey.
People Rule!...lol

November 5, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterlocals_only

The "Tourist Factor" (lots of people slightly lost) and the strict archetectural standards (everything looks nice and similar) also serve to create a generally disoriented driving public as well. But you are quite correct, a savvy and thick-skinned local could easily do without a car.

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeAchtervolger

I ride in HH very often and find the bike paths are beautiful and safer than most pathways. A bike rider must always be aware of surroundings, uneven paths, animals, tree limbs, vehicles, other bikers, etc. Having a paved path, signs and beautiful scenery with accomodations of restrooms, food/drink, resting areas, always near by make this a perfect area to be in nature and in touch with any needs that may present themselves while I enjoy a truly nature like atmosphere!


November 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJiL

So, my wife is going for a tennis experience at HHI and I am thinking of joining her for the drive but locate elsewhere for some road cycling. Any ideas of areas within an hour or two that would provide some challenging rides?

January 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

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