Bicycle enthusiasts seek helpers to assist other riders

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If you look up Hilton Head Island on TripAdvisor, you might be surprised to find out what is the number one most popular attraction for tourists. It isn't our local food, or museums, our boat tours or even our beaches.

It's our bike trails. The island boasts 117 miles of shared-use pathways, most of them paved.

In fact, in 2015 Hilton Head Island was recognized as a Bicycle Friendly Community, and is one of only 24 communities to receive a certified Gold rating, by the League of American Bicyclists.

The Town of Hilton Head Island is the only Gold-level community in the Southeast, and one of only two on the East Coast. This is due largely in part to the continued efforts and advocacy of the Hilton Head Island Bike Advisory Committee, a collective of bicycling enthusiasts who are dedicated to keeping Hilton Head Island's bike trails safe, clean, and as enjoyable as ever.

Now, they're calling on volunteers in the community interested in becoming bike ambassadors.

Frank Babel, co-chair and founder of the committee, and Steve Alfred, committee member and president of the Kickin' Asphalt Bicycle Club, started the bike ambassador program in 2011 as a way for volunteers to support cyclists along the island's many trails.

"What I found out is that a lot of people didn't know where to go," Babel said. "The biggest question for many was 'where's the beach?'"

Along with guiding bikers through the trails, ambassadors are used to foster a friendly and inviting setting for tourists. Certain members have scheduled days that they patrol along their routes, always ready to lend a helping hand, while other freelancers take on their responsibilities during their normal ride times. Their mission is to make cycling on the island safer and more user-friendly for everyone.

"We want to make visitors to the island feel more welcome and create a safer experience," Alfred said. "We had the idea for an ambassador group that would interact with the tourists, give advice, and help with maps, minor mechanical repairs and first aid."

Babel and Alfred are both involved in the Kickin' Asphalt Bicycle Club, which is open to cycling enthusiasts, who work in tandem with the committee to further cultivate the social and safety aspects of bike riding.

For more information about becoming a bike ambassador - just in time for May's National Biking Month - email Maurice LaRoche at MLaRocheLM @roadrunner.com.

All ambassadors will go through a two-hour training session to prepare them for the volunteer position on the trails.

In addition, the committee and the club sponsor events regularly. Every Saturday, Kickin' Asphalt holds a 26-mile ride beginning at 9 a.m. at Main Street Village, in the parking lot behind Main Street Cafe.

A Ride of Silence will begin at 6:30 p.m. May 18 at Street Meet in Port Royal Plaza to honor bicyclists killed in motor vehicle collisions.

For more information, visit www.kickinasphalt.info.

Sam Posthuma of Bluffton is a freelance writer and production assistant for The Hilton Head Sun.

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