Outdoor

Marie McAden

SOUTH CAROLINA INSIDER

 

Bicycle friendly communities let the good times roll!

Posted 7/5/2012 3:28:00 PM

When it comes to outdoor fun, South Carolina’s sandy beaches, fish-filled rivers and scenic mountains have always taken top billing. But these days, it’s the state’s bike trails that are getting all the recreational raves.

Winding through popular vacation destinations from the Lowcountry to the Upstate, the ever-expanding network of pathways allows visitors to explore their surroundings at a more relaxed pace, enjoying vistas they couldn’t see from their car window.

CHECK OUT A VIDEO ABOUT BIKING ON HILTON HEAD ISLAND!

Nowhere is the park-and-pedal phenomenon more prevalent than on Hilton Head Island, where more than 100 miles of multi-use trails provide access to virtually anywhere you want to go in the family resort. The pathways have proved so popular, the city allocates $1 million a year for new trails.

“Biking has just exploded,” said Frank Babel, an avid bicyclist and a member of the town’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. “Of the 2.4 million people who visit the island each year, 40 percent of them ride bikes.”

Many visitors ditch their cars for bicycles as soon as they cross the bridge and reach their hotel, rental house or villa, avoiding traffic and parking hassles. Using the flat, well-maintained pathway system, they can bike to beaches, parks, restaurants, shops and museums.

Even sweeter, the beach itself is bikeable. The hard-packed shoreline offers another 12 miles of coastal cruising.

On Hilton Head, you can BYOB (bring your own bike) or use one of the 20,000 bicycles available for rent. Whether you’re looking for a single bike or a fleet for the whole family, bike rental companies will deliver whatever you need to your door.

Finding your way around the island is just as easy. A map of the pathways is posted at kiosks all along the trail system. You also can download one here.

“Biking has become one of the island’s most popular attractions,” said Charles Cousins, the town’s director of community development. “It’s more than just an alternative to driving. It allows people to experience the natural beauty of the island on a more personal level.”

Last year, the League of American Bicyclists awarded Hilton Head Island silver status as a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” making it one of a select group of cities in the Southeast to receive the prestigious honor.

Four other cities in South Carolina — Greenville, Spartanburg, Columbia and Charleston — have earned the bronze award for providing safe accommodations for cycling and encouraging biking as a means of transportation and recreation.

Spartanburg, the first city in the state to receive the designation of “Bicycle Friendly Community,” has long been a Mecca for cyclists. The Assault on Mount Mitchell, a grueling century race from Spartanburg to the highest point east of the Mississippi, draws 750 riders from all over the country.

The city also stands out as the first community in the Southeast to offer a bike share program. Bikes can be rented with a credit card at either of two self-serve downtown stations. It costs just $5 for a 24-hour pass. The first hour of use is free; every additional 30 minutes is $1.

In its first year of operation, the Spartanburg B-cycle system has logged in 2,800 trips covering 21,490 miles — the equivalent of riding three-quarters of the way around the world. According to Partners for Active Living, the organization that runs the program, members have burned 859,626 calories. That’s enough to work off 4,298 glazed donuts, 2,046 chicken biscuits and 511 chocolate milkshakes combined.

Cycling has become so much a part of Spartanburg’s recreational culture, the city hosts a bicycle-themed art exhibit each year in Morgan Square. Using recycled bicycle parts, regional artists have created everything from dinosaurs to wildflowers for the Artcycle show on display April to October.

Nearby Greenville earned its own two-wheeling distinction in 2012. Bicycling magazine named the Upstate community among three “Best Small Cities for Cycling” in its online roundup. The centerpiece of the city’s bicycling amenities is the 17.5-mile Swamp Rabbit Trail, an old railway-turned-paved pathway that snakes along the Reedy River into the center of town.

Greenville also is home to the U.S. Pro Cycling Championships, one of a series of 17 national events that determine the best professional rider and team on American soil.

In Columbia, the University of South Carolina earned bicycle bragging rights this spring when it became one of just 35 campuses nationwide to rank as a “Bicycle Friendly University.” It was awarded bronze status for having a free bike repair shop, air pump stations throughout campus and a bicycle recycling program that offers abandoned bikes to students and employees for the cost of the parts to repair them.