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Cycling on Hilton Head Island ... what a bike-friendly community is like

(updated: Oct 21, 2013)

I know this is a bit late to be telling you about a cool place to visit, the summer beach season being over and all, but if you like to ride the bicycle, and you or your family members also don't like to ride in fear while riding the bicycle, then this place is for you. It's Hilton Head Island, and thanks to the Mondello's, our family had the pleasure of staying on the island for the first time this past August.

If you would like to know what a bike friendly place is like, then this place will blow your mind. I know what you're thinking, cars and bikes are like dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria. But it works here. And the reason it works is because they make money that way. I mean, they totally get it.

First of all, there are miles and miles of bike paths all over the island. You can get anywhere you need to without playing frogger or literally putting your life on the line (in Wilmington that's the line along the edge of the road, just before you get knocked into the drainage ditch, you subhuman). But sometimes you do have to cross a street or round-a-bout or intersection. In Wilmington, good luck. Might as well put a sign that says "I explode into cigarettes, beer, and lottery tickets if you hit me" on your back. But in Hilton Head merely heading toward an intersection will cause cars to come to a full stop and wait patiently for you to cross. First time I experienced this, I was like, is this a trick? Is this guy going to wait for me to get to the middle of the street and then gun it and run me over while laughing maniacally?

This map doesn't even include the Sea Pines area. Ed says there are well over 60 miles of paths now.
Bike routes on Hilton Head

In fact I asked Ed about this and he said they really want people to feel safe riding a bike. He said the cops will pull drivers over if they don't wait, and one time a guy got pulled over and the cops were talking to him. Ed went to lunch, and then heading back afterward, the cop was still lecturing the guy, who was sitting in his car, in the summer heat, with the car off, just sweating. He won't make that mistake again. I know, it's like you're dreaming, right?

When you look outside this is what you see ... people on bikes.
Cycling on Hilton Head

I put it to the test. We decided to bike four miles to a restaurant for dinner. Me, Leslie, and our kids Will and Turner. I brought lights because it would be dark after dinner. There were some busy streets involved, too. Sounds crazy, right? But it was really no problem. The only trouble was locating the bike path that took us around the busy roundabout. But after finding it and crossing the busy street at a signaled crosswalk (those things where you push a button and wait for the ok-to-cross light, the ones that are nearly nonexistent in Wilmington?), it was no trouble at all. I felt my wife and kids were pretty safe. This is when you know you have a good bike infrastructure .. . when it's safe for moms and kids to get around by bike.

Turner on one of the nice pathway bridges where you can stop and watch for alligators.
Cycling on Hilton Head

A safe bicycle infrastructure means more tax revenue, because people want to go there and bring their bikes or rent bikes, and ride around, and go to eat, and see more things, etc. More bikes equals mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!

Working up an apatite ... on the way to the restaurant.
Cycling on Hilton Head

A lot of the restaurants and stores are sort of hidden, such that at car speeds, they are really hard to see. Ed said that's by design, so it's really made for slower traffic, i.e., bicycle speeds. And it looks a lot better too. Probably costs no more to develop this way than the traditional strip-everything-from-the-road-to-the-store-and-pave-it-with-free-parking. This is also known as the "Wilmington" method. The Wilmington method also includes the bonus roadside ditch cosmetic enhancement feature.

Another nice thing is that riding on the beaches is allowed. On Wrightsville Beach it's actually not permitted. There were a lot of people on the beaches, and a lot of bikes, and no problems. The hard packed sand and flat beach makes it a breeze to ride on the beach.

Cycling on Hilton Head

Video of some beach riding on Hilton Head.

The end result is that tons of people ride bikes here. There are more people on bikes on the bike paths then driving down the roads. I mean it just made me laugh because these bike paths were like bike highways. You couldn't just walk across them or you might get hit by a bike. It was really refreshing to see. And there are lots of bike and bike trailer rentals, and kiosks with maps to navigate your way around.

Cycling on Hilton Head

Cycling on Hilton Head

Any city can use the same tried and true formula that Hilton Head figured out and apply it to their city. And it doesn't need to be a vacation destination, either. Wilmington would make a perfect example. It's not rocket science ... It's by the ocean, it's flat, the weather is nice, and people do come here to vacation. But so far, NCDOT will spend about $8 million to fix the Wrightsville Beach drawbridge but provide no additional support for pedestrian or non-motorized traffic to get across: Wrightsville Beach Bridge Rehabilitation Project. Building an entire bike infrastructure in Wilmington would cost less than that. For example, the total funding for the Cross City Trail is $4 million (Federal).

Sorry, cars only. The Heide-Trask Bridge.

If you'd like to see for yourself just how great a solid bike/ped infrastructure can be, or you would just like to vacation on Hilton Head, the Mondello's would love for you to stay at their villa. And any mention of this article will get you a discount. Please check out the this vrbo link for more info:
Ocean Walk Vacation Rental


And here are some pictures of the Sea Pines area of Hilton Head, which is really upscale private development. We just rode down the beach to the end (about 5 miles), and went in and toured the area.

Nice beach homes:
Sea Pines on Hilton Head

Sea Pines community on Hilton Head

Sea Pines community on Hilton Head

Sea Pines community on Hilton Head

Sea Pines community on Hilton Head

Sea Pines community on Hilton Head

Ruins on Sea Pines. This is a Tabby wall from an old plantation house, the Stoney Baynard house ruins.
Sea Pines community on Hilton Head. Stoney Baynard house ruins

Close up of the Tabby.
Sea Pines community on Hilton Head. Stoney Baynard house ruins

Harbor Town in the Sea Pines development. Some shops, couple of restaurants, playground, a lighthouse and pier.
Sea Pines community on Hilton Head. Harbor Town.

Leslie spotted this 'gator in one of the ponds by the golf course.

Cycling on Hilton Head

Filed Under: Ride Reports > South Carolina > Hilton Head Island


1. Sir Glidebikes said...

My wife loves taking our kids there and biking all over the Island. We can average 20 Miles easily in a day of sightseeing, lunch, fishing, and playgrounds. Its the only place my daughter will ride a bike. We love not having to drive a car everywhere, it usually stays parked once we get there.

Oct 21, 2013 @ 8:20 PM


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