Hilton Head Island is one of those places that is best enjoyed at 14 mph or slower. For locals and visitors, this is the place to downshift and enjoy the more relaxed pace of island living. And there is no better way to do that than on a bike.
Criss-crossing the island, you will find 60 miles of mixed-use pathways, running alongside 278, dipping underneath it at Shelter Cove, wandering through lush maritime forests and taking you right up to the sugary sand of our beaches. These pathways have long been the best way to get around the island, but in recent years they have risen to prominence as the island truly embraces cycling.
The big push started in 2011, when the League of American Cyclists recognized Hilton Head Island as a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community. Our miles of pathways, ample signage and 30 bicycle rental shops went a long way toward earning that designation, but we were only getting warmed up.
The next feather in our cap came with the launch of the Bicycle Ambassador Program by the Town of Hilton Head’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. This inspired program put volunteers along our bike paths and at kiosks at several points around the island, ready to help give visitors navigate our island’s bike paths.
Large cycling events have long been a part of our town’s DNA. One of the Boys & Girls Club of Hilton Head’s biggest fundraisers, Pedal 4 Kids, recently underwent a massive expansion and rebranding. With the new name Pedal Hilton Head, it saw cyclists from all over the southeast descending on the island to take in rides that ran from a family-friendly beach ride to a grueling metric century ride over all three bridges and onto the Bluffton flyovers. There is also the annual Chamber Bike & Dine Week, which pairs special menu offerings with cycling routes that take diners to some of the area’s finest restaurants.
The result of this commitment to cycling, at a nearly level of civic life from local government to citizen volunteers, led the League of American Cyclists to promote Hilton Head to gold-level status in 2015. This made us not just the only such community in the state, but one of just 350 in the entire country.
“We are proud of to be the only Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community in South Carolina, but we are always looking to go beyond,” said Mayor David Bennett. “Our goal is to reach Platinum Status.”
Mayor Bennett delivered those comments at an event that truly illustrates the island’s prestigious spot in the cycling world, the Southeast Biking Symposium. Held for the second time this past March, the event brought together some of the brightest minds and biggest names in the cycling world. The aim of the event was to promote cycling as a lifestyle and as a major component in community planning as more and more citizens embrace the cycling life.
“I think you’re seeing coastal communities in the southeast waking up to the fact that not only is it a nice thing to do as far as amenities offered, but it’s fundamental to the experience people are looking for when they come on vacation or if they come to the island for a conference,” said former president of the League of American Cyclists Andy Clarke, who served as a keynote speaker. “Hilton Head Island is wisely ahead of the game and has done more than most in the last five years to really embrace this thinking.”
Embracing that thinking has not only earned Hilton Head Island major accolades from some major names in the cycling world, it’s added a new dimension to an island already renowned for its beaches and golf. For those eyeing a getaway they can spend in the saddle of their bike, there is no better place than Hilton Head Island.