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Perfect biking environment adds to the draw for Sanibel

By Staff | Aug 19, 2015

It’s always a good idea to acknowledge the cars on the road to make sure they are stopped when going through a crosswalk on a bike. BRIAN WIERIMA

Having a plan before going out to enjoy the sights and experiences of Sanibel Island is always a good idea to make the most of one’s time when visiting paradise.

For many guests and visitors of Sanibel, one of the most popular activities is bicycling. The biking environment and conditions on Sanibel is about as good as it gets, as well.

The City of Sanibel was recognized with a “Silver” Bicycle Friendly Community award last year. Only three other Florida communities have been awarded Silver in Venice, The Villages and Gainesville.

First, bikers have 25 miles of paved shared use paths and eight miles of natural surface paths to basically get to anywhere on the island.

Second, there are many bike rental facilities on the island to maximize the bicycling experience.

Bike rentals can be found at Tarpon Bay Explorers (239-472-8900, 900 Tarpon Bay Road), Billy’s Rentals (239-472-5248, 1470 Periwinkle Way), Billy’s Bikes and Segway of Sanibel (239-472-3620, 1509 Periwinkle Way) and Finnimore’s Cycle Shop (239-472-5577, 2353 Periwinkle Way).

Last but not least, riding a bicycle in paradise allows the rider the full experience of Sanibel, including the sites, smells and peacefulness the island offers.

“Biking is an ideal mode of transportation on the islands,” said Patti Sousa, who is a longtime member of the Sanibel Bicycle Club and has much experience bike riding on Sanibel. “For families, it just adds more fun. You get to see birds, gators and flowers riding on a bike, you otherwise won’t see driving in a car.”

But with the shared use paths being busy pretty much year round, and vehicle traffic running parallel to the trails, practicing bike safety is crucial.

Also, planning bike trips on the shared use paths offer, is a very efficient way to experience the most of your visit, as well as making the best use of one’s time.

The Sanibel Bicycle Club, with its membership numbers ranging in the hundreds over the course of the year, developed a safety video for individuals and families to watch, just to give some valuable tips to avoid misfortunes on the paths.

The bike safety video can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ClTdJ6m9yo&feature=youtu.be.

Before a ride is planned, wearing appropriate attire is important and will make the trip as comfortable as possible, especially in the summer when temperatures can reach the high 90’s by 11 a.m.

“Wear a breathable shirt, not cotton, but instead a micro-fiber kind,” Sousa said. “You should wear light colored clothing, bright shirts, and never black. The vegetation is thick on Sanibel and it’s hard for other bikers and cars to see someone in black going across a crosswalk because they can blend in with the the (background).”

Sousa also recommends wearing closed toed shoes and not wearing earbuds, since it’s illegal to do so riding a bike and is quite dangerous not being aware of your surroundings. Helmets are required for riders under the age of 15 years old, but should be worn by adults, as well.

“People come to Sanibel because it’s quiet and beautiful, so keep the earbuds out and enjoy the solitude and sites,” Sousa added.

There are several suggested bike trips on Sanibel Island, provided by the Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce.

The first is the Rabbit Road Trail, which runs behind homes and along one of the island’s canals. An early morning ride could produce sightings of rabbits (hence the name of the road), gators, herons wading in the water.

It’s a one-mile stretch between West Gulf Drive and Sanibel-Captiva Road, so visitors can take their time pedaling through the nature.

If capturing wildlife on camera is the goal, the perfect ride is out to “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge.

According to the Chamber’s website: “The four-mile one-way loop around J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, ending three miles north of the starting point on Sanibel-Captiva Road. Along the way, you can stop and hike into the refuge on short trails or climb the bird observation tower. Bicyclists must pay $1.00 per person over the age of 16, (free for children 15 years and under), to enter the refuge Wildlife Drive.”

Sousa also commends the addition of the boardwalk leading up to the Ding Darling Education Center, but also the entire trip can be a challenging one because of the length.

“It’s a one-way trail, so you can’t turn back,” Sousa said. “But there is a good cutoff (route) with the Indigo Trail being much shorter. The boardwalk is really nice amenity, where you can cool down and see birds and gators.”

Another popular route is the Dixie Beach Road trip, where it’s an easy 1.5 mile stretch, which will end near the Heart of the Islands shopping center to San Carlos Bay.

“Where the road meets the bay, you can turn right and gaze at beautiful bayfront homes, or turn left and follow a contorted shell road to an undiscovered place where old island collides with new,” according to the Chamber’s description.

History is also an attraction with the Middle Gulf Cemetery route available, east of Casa Ybel Road and the Middle Gulf Drive. The bike path leaves the roadside and winds through the heavy vegetation, where it leads to Sanibel’s pioneer cemetery, which isn’t accessible by car.

The trip through Dunlop/Wooster Roads brings bikers past the Library, City Hall, the Historical Village and BIG ARTS.

Sousa also recommends a family bike trip to the east end of the island and ending at the Sanibel Lighthouse.

“There’s a good history aspect to ride if you so choose,” Sousa said. “You also can stop at the ice cream shops on the east end.”

A trip which could be a strenuous one is a bike ride out to Captiva. The distance is quite long at over 22 miles roundtrip, but the shared used path also ends well before making it to Captiva.

“We don’t recommend tourists to bike out to Captiva, because you have to ride on the road, which is narrow, and more than likely, you’ll be riding in a headwind on the way back,” Sousa said. “I’ve always learned to end an activity before the fun is over. Your kids will not have fun biking back from Captiva.”

Another trip which should be avoided is biking the Causeway. The risks are heightened with busy vehicle traffic on the Causeway bridges and also add in the fact that the ride is a difficult one.

There is no shade on the bridges and the inclines are steep, making it for a tough ride.

“The rails are also so low,” Sousa said. “I just don’t recommend the Causeway to visitors to bike.”

In the summer months, the most opportune time to take bike trips on Sanibel is before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. Otherwise, the temps get pretty hot and humid.

“A really nice time is after dinner, between 7-8 p.m.,” Sousa said. “It’s a lovely time for a ride. Another scenic ride is the Shipley Trail behind the Bailey Homestead house.”

Abiding by the rules and using common sense is definitely encouraged on the shared use paths, as well.

Stop at all crosswalks, and make sure all cars have stopped to allow passage across the road. Making eye contact with the driver is a good way to ensure everyone is on the same page.

“Don’t just assume the cars will be stopping for you,” Sousa said.

If the bike is not equipped with a bell to warn pedestrians that a bicyclist is coming up from behind, verbal warnings are a necessity, such as “Coming on the left!”

Give enough warning, as well, so not to frighten the person you are passing. Also, always pass on the left.

Another common accident is amongst families who are riding too close to each other.

“It happens all the time, where one person stops all of sudden and then it’s just a chain reaction,” Sousa said. “When you stop, pull off to the side and give plenty of space between riders.”

There is plenty of opportunity to see the best Sanibel has to offer, but being safe and aware of biking rules will ensure a good time is had by all.

For more tips, bicycling laws or more information on the Sanibel Bicycle Club, visit their website at sbcsite.altervista.org/SBC-Site/Home.html.