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Jun 26, 2024

Bicycle Safety: Make It a Habit

Lynne Cope Hummell

Photography By

To help keep riders and pedestrians safe on the pathways, the volunteer Bike Walk Ambassadors provide their services on a regular schedule during the summer, and on a more relaxed basis year-round. The program was created in 2013.

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Whether you’ve been on Hilton Head Island as a resident or visitor for many years or just a few, you might have noticed that lots of folks of all ages enjoy riding bicycles. Moreover, it’s likely you have ridden a bicycle to and from somewhere, sometime – or perhaps you ride everywhere, all the time.

It makes sense that so many riders enjoy cycling here. Not only is Hilton Head Island a beautiful place, but it is a gold standard Bicycle Friendly Community, first designated by the League of American Bicyclists in 2011 as silver level. Currently, Hilton Head Island is the only town in South Carolina with a gold designation.

Along with growing numbers of annual visitors and full-time residents, the island’s biking community has seen tremendous growth as well. For starters, the availability of leisure paths for bikers, runners, and walkers has grown to 134 miles of multi-use public and private pathways, and that doesn’t include our 12 miles of beaches.

With so many people and paths, it makes sense that we need rules to help keep everyone safe. What exactly are they?

There isn’t an easy answer, because there are a lot of rules. 

A visit to the Town of Hilton Head Island web page on the topic ( shows a detailed list, starting with “Obey all traffic signals and pathway markings.” One stand-out section makes clear that motorized vehicles, golf carts, and Class 3 e-bikes are NOT allowed. Exceptions are power wheelchairs, Class 1 and 2 e-bikes (max speed of 20 mph), emergency vehicles, and authorized maintenance vehicles.

To help keep riders and pedestrians safe on the pathways, the volunteer Bike Walk Ambassadors provide their services on a regular schedule during the summer.

As a League Cycling Instructor certified by the League of American Bicyclists, Linda Warnock teaches classes in bicycle safety. She reviews a list of 20 tips and guidelines for people new to the island or to bicycling. 

The tip list includes the need for all cyclists to wear a helmet; obey all traffic signs and signals; make eye contact with motorists and other cyclists at intersections; and ride predictably, in a straight line at a steady speed.

“That list of 20 tips is still valid, but the likelihood that someone will read through them all is low,” Warnock said. “Most folks believe they already know how to be safe riding a bike or walking our pathways.”

Kiosks with bike etiquette and maps are posted in various locations around the island to help our visitors find their way and stay safe.

Frank Babel, known in many circles as Mr. Bicycle HHI, is a member of Bike Walk Hilton Head, a group that began in 2011 as the Bicycle Advisory Committee when the town got its first silver bicycle friendly designation. He chaired that first committee and has been at the forefront of spreading the bike safety gospel ever since. 

While the focus of the group was bikers, there was another segment of the population in danger. After the island earned its gold status as a bike friendly community, Babel said the group started to observe that throughout the country, there was an epidemic of pedestrians getting hit by cars and killed.

“Part of it is because of angry people, and part of it is because they’re making roads more efficient, people are driving faster – and the other part is the front ends of these cars now can mow down people. They’re huge!” Babel said. “If you got hit before, like 10 years ago, you just kind of were thrown in the air, but now if you get hit, the odds of surviving are very small.”

That was the impetus for the name change and a renewed focus.

“Our mission now is helping make Hilton Head Island safer and more bike and pedestrian friendly,” Babel said. “We’re trying to address the issue of walkers, so that brings me to where we are about safety.”

Bike Ambassadors Tim Harriger, Sue Rapp, Bruce Huester, Tom Hopkins, John Witherspoon, Frank Babel, Joe Darwal, Marie Watters, Ray Morton and Clarke Jones (front)

Cyclists were not paying attention nor adhering to the long list of safety guidelines made available.

“One of the things that we have observed is there seems to be a direct relationship between the lack of interest in the number of rules that are out there, and lack of retention by anyone who reads them,” Babel said.

Over the past couple of years, the group distilled the long list into an abbreviated message: “Use bicycle etiquette.”

Wear a Helmet!  The children of the Boys & Girls Club Bluffton get their helmets on for safety before getting on bikes and starring in a music video about Bike Safety. Follow CH2 Magazine  on social media to watch! 

“We felt shifting users’ mindset to etiquette – how they can be courteous to others while enjoying the unique pathways of the island – encourages more people to stop and take in the message,” said Warnock, who is also a member of Bike Walk HHI. “The goal was a consolidated list with fewer words, but a big impact.”   

The message is being posted on all the Island Pathways map kiosks located around the community. The town has produced pocket-sized cards to be distributed through bike rental shops and vacation rental agencies.

The simplified etiquette message is:

• Keep right, pass left

• Announce to pass

• Watch your speed (12 mph limit)

• Keep the way clear

• Approach intersections with caution

• Wear a helmet

• Be kind

Bike Walk Ambassadors

To help keep riders and pedestrians safe on the pathways, the volunteer Bike Walk Ambassadors provide their services on a regular schedule during the summer, and on a more relaxed basis year-round. The program was created in 2013.

“The idea of the Bike Ambassador Program basically was to have a physical presence of people who knew something about biking and had an interest in safety and, most importantly, trying to make the experience of the people who were visiting here a really good experience,” Babel said. “A lot of [the visitors] just didn’t know where to go, what to do. They had a bike and they had a pathway, but where do we go, what do we do?”

Babel said about 200 people were trained to be Ambassadors in the first six or seven years. They carry maps, basic first aid kits, and offer their extensive knowledge of island sights, highlights and activities. Ambassadors also hand out the safety cards.

Ambassadors can be found on primary pathways and at the pathway’s many kiosks from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays and Mondays. This service is active from Memorial Weekend through the first week in August. 

In addition, “freelancers” are those experienced Ambassadors who help out year-round on their own. “They just put on their shirt and ride around and help out whenever and wherever they want,” Babel said.

The Ambassadors are available only on the 64 town-owned public pathways. On the remainder of the pathways, within gated communities, the etiquette guidelines should still apply but might not be officially accepted. Still, it’s a good idea to ride as safely as possible.

Babel said there are hopeful plans in the works to add simple graphics to the pathways to aid cyclists, such as stripes in the middle to remind bikers that the pathway is similar to an American highway – with drivers on the right. Or maybe “little emblems that show a circle with an arrow that pictures a biker and next to it will be a circle with an arrow that shows a pedestrian, side by side on one side of the pathway,” Babel said. “And, sooner or later, these people who haven’t ridden a bike in 30 years are going to realize, ‘Hey, I should be on the right-hand side.’”

Babel, who started Pedal for Kids about 17 years ago, hopes to have all cyclists and pedestrians on the same page eventually, exploring the pathways with the same guidelines and courtesies. And he hopes that more people will start to ride their bikes to the beach and shopping and work, and maybe help ease vehicle traffic congestion on the roads.

“I love biking and I just love the joy of seeing these families get on their bikes and just enjoying this island,” Babel said, “because that’s the best way to see it.”

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