Ready to bike on Hilton Head? Not so fast -- check these tips first

lfarrell@islandpacket.comMay 26, 2014 

Though Hilton Head Island is bike-friendly year round, things really pick up beginning with Memorial Day weekend.

The beaches at low tide become a lively thoroughfare, walkers on the more than 100 miles of paved pathways the island is known for are joined by their wheeled counterparts, and local drivers approach crosswalks with a small prayer to the bike gods that no one darts out in front of them.

Before you or your summer guests hit the saddle this year, take a few moments to consider some of the pitfalls of island biking. Once that's done, it's smooth riding from there.

FIRST THINGS FIRST

Note to bicyclists trying to pedal past a business' driveway where a car is attempting to exit: Make eye contact with the driver before you move another inch.

Note to drivers: If you're looking left to make sure the lane is clear for a right-hand turn, look right before you move. There might be a bicyclist there.

Intersections are the biggest hazard for bikers and those who don't want to hit them. This is the moment to pay attention and not assume someone sees you.

According to South Carolina law, drivers must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks when the pedestrian is on the driver's side of the road, but even if you have the right of way, exercising a dose of caution -- and paying attention to traffic signals -- will help keep you out of the emergency room.

A LITTLE ETIQUETTE

  • Talking on your cellphone or trying to text with one hand while operating a bicycle? Um, why? Not only is it not safe, the people behind you have to then navigate the resulting uneven movements of your multitasking.

  • Communicate. Whether you're on a multi-use path or cruising on the beach, tell the people you're passing that you're there. "We try to encourage people to let them know they're passing on the left," said Steve Alfred of the Hilton Head Island Bicycle Ambassadors, a group aiming to make the bike paths safer.

  • KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING

    The most common question the bicycle ambassadors are asked each year is "Where is the beach?," according to Alfred.

    Exploring by bike is the perfect way to enjoy the island, but grab a map first. The bicycle ambassadors, volunteers who patrol the paths on Sundays in either a bright yellow shirt or vest, will have maps on hand to help you navigate the island.

    NO SPLASHING

    Mike Fink of Bicycle Billy on Hilton Head Island said the No. 1 problem bike rental places have is that renters steer their bikes through salt water.

    "Salt water rusts bicycles," Fink said. "If someone submerges a bicycle it completely ruins the bike. It only takes one time."

    It not only hurts the bike, it could cause a mechanical problem later on.

    While the bike ambassadors are prepared to help direct bicyclists to a repair shop should they encounter you on the path, it's best not to tempt fate.

    FASHION RULES

    While you won't see too many of them on the beach, helmets are recommended, especially for kids.

    DON'T 'BONK' OUT

    Though both Fink and Alfred say it's a rare thing for a bicyclist to need a rescue after pedaling outside their ability zone, it can happen.

    "On a hot day? Depending on your ability level, you might run out of energy," Alfred said. "Bicyclists call this 'bonking.' "

    It's easy to lose yourself in a long beach ride, so be aware of your location and how the sun is treating you.

    Last year during an extremely hot day in July, Fink said a customer and her children went too far.

    "The exhaustion got them. We had to go get them," he said.

    Follow Lowcountry Life editor Liz Farrell at twitter.com/elizfarrell.

    RELATED CONTENT

    Information on Hilton Head Island biking

    Bike ambassadors aid Hilton Head Island tourists, make paths safer

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