Bikers vs. hikers — who really owns the road?

Should bikers and hikers share the same paths? I have mixed feeling about this, especially after our recent visit to Hilton Head.

Before you jump to conclusions, I feel I should disclose that I have been known to enjoy both pastimes, cycling along San Diego’s Mission Beach and Sanibel Island’s Hammock Trails as well as hiking along sections of the Appalachian Trail and winding paths surrounding Hawaii’s famous volcanoes.

Still, I’ll admit it, my preference is to travel by foot.

So when visiting Hilton Head Island, I was really looking forward to exploring its 100 miles of trails.

But that didn’t happen. After just two days navigating the sidewalk traffic we decided to spend our time enjoying the pristine beaches avoiding the nature walks and paths as pedestrians.

Why? I blame the bikers.

Group size matters

First of all, on Hilton Head bikers travel in clusters. They aren’t the type of cyclists you see during the Tour de France, though you can occasionally spot a brightly-colored Lycra-wrapped hard body pumping muscles along highway 489 on his streamlined carbon demo bike.

Nope, we’re talking about man-powered bikes of leisure, some with two back wheels or dragging a kid cage but most sporting two fat all-terrain tires so riders can smoothly switch from asphalt to sand. And if you’re on wheels you’ll want to take advantage of the fact that Hilton Head is home to one of very few beaches with sand packed hard enough to traverse on bikes.

Across the island but especially near the popular resorts and beaches, you can witness large groups with people of all ages pedaling, presumably in family packs of three to ten bicycles. Our favorite style to spot was the tandem-style kid extensions trailing behind. Often the kid’s feet would be flying.

A warning to walkers, if you aren’t careful to get far enough out of the way you could get swept off your feet by one of those double-wides. Also, watch out for the little kids, they don’t make the best drivers.

Cyclists can make a lot of noise

I should probably be grateful that not all the rental bikes come with a bicycle bell or bugle horn. I’ve since trained myself not to flinch or whip my body around every time I hear the tintinnabulation of a bell approaching at high velocity from behind.

Can you imagine the cacophony when it’s more than two cyclists ringing warning bells?

And I was completely over the novelty of sharing the narrow paths after about ten minutes of hearing disgruntled bikers shouting “on your left” from behind.

What’s with that? How am I supposed to remember my right from my left when you’re barreling down on me from behind and shouting in your angry voice?

Give us walkers a break, it’s not as though we have eyes in the back of our head or secret Spidey senses and are just trying to mess with you. Sheesh!

Best practices for walkers on congested trails

My advice is if you want to walk and talk, take it off the main thoroughfares. Head for the shore or the more remote stretches of trail where family clusters are less likely to congregate.

If you’re out for exercise with a group of two or more, walk single file or have a look-out checking for bicycles coming from the rear.

When hiking alone, be alert and don’t bother cueing up your mp3s. Or at the very least keep the volume low. You’ll definitely want to hear when someone’s coming up behind you.

Keep it friendly, make eye contact, smile and greet others on the pathway. Even though it was interesting sharing the path, we did enjoy the friendly calls of hello and the occasional basket filled with a cute cuddly puppy passenger, too.

We noted that there were a number of popular spots to avoid walking to because the bike traffic is so heavy, including the Harbour Town Lighthouse, South Beach and the Salty Dog. Interestingly enough we had no troubles at the Baynard plantation ruins or the ancient shell ring historic site.

Bikers and hikers might not always get along but it should be possible to find ways we can do better at sharing the trail. I’m sure there are more ideas on how to make it possible. But would both sides go for it?

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