A story about Alabama Mountain Biking.
The winter weather in the Midwest seems to perpetually exist somewhere between just barely ridable and “don’t get caught by your local trail builders lest ye be judged.” Not the easiest scenario when you desire to lay waste to singletrack. In an effort to satisfy the itch and avoid builders’ eternal damnation we often head south on weekends every winter.
Alabama probably wasn’t the first place you thought of reading the word “south.” Yea, at one time, neither did I. However, the southern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains boasts over 100 miles of singletrack, and an average temperature of 60 degrees in January – ‘Bama deserves a home in our mountain bike vernacular.
Before we crossed the state line of Kentucky, Lynard Skynard’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ graced the speakers of our first truck stop and our trip was ordained. We drove straight for Oak Mountain State Park just south of Birmingham in Pelham, Alabama.
Trail info: Birmingham Urban Mountain Peddlers Oak Mountain IMBA Epic
The Oak Mountain trail system has 30 miles of trails satisfying all skill levels including several old-school rake n’ ride technical sections that will keep even some of the most talented riders on their toes and a ripping fast challenging flow trail, called “Lightning” designed to toss your carcass in the air whether you want to or not. It’s Siamese brother, “Thunder” opened this winter extending the flow trail further up the mountain. The two combined will satisfy almost any flow junkie.
The major loop in this 10,000 acre facility has achieved IMBA Epic status and for good reason. With elevation gain on par with many trail systems west of the Mississippi, Pisgah worthy rock gardens, and enough white knuckled descents connected by hand sculpted, purpose built single track, Oak Mountain is worth spending a day pedaling from sun up to sun down.
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I first recommend riding the main loop, called the red trail, clockwise adding in the Boulder Ridge and West Ridge trails, finishing with the trail called Jekyll n’ Hide. The link below describes the red trail ridden counter clockwise but the included map is marked in the clockwise direction. Did I mention you can usually wear shorts in January? Even go sleeveless if you want.
The Coldwater mountain trail system has sprung from a town pursuing the economic momentum of recreational tourism, resurrecting itself from the manufacturing industry decline. A few mountain bike visionaries with the help of IMBA have managed to create a strong (and lengthy) 30 mile base for Anniston’s new sustainable era with an economy rooted in recreation. The trail system’s crown jewel is a one way, three mile downhill trail called “Bomb Dog”named after Deputy Floyd #73, the 1st bomb dog of the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and beloved by the local mountain bike community.
As the sun dropped below the horizon at the sleepy eyed hour of 4:30 pm we rolled back into the parking lot from the main loop and used headlamps to ready ourselves for the 90 mile drive to our camping destination at Cheaha State Park near our next riding spot, Coldwater Mountain in Anniston, Alabama. We could have camped at the KOA or post up in a hotel closer to the trailhead but we chose the more isolated spot with panoramic views of the green foothills and a short but stout single track, accessible from the campground. We pitched the tent, fixed our vittles, and cracked open a few Rammer Jammers, a cheap ‘Merican Pilsner brewed right in the heart of Birmingham. Quite possibly the funniest beer name I’ve ever seen.
Bomb Dog produces the kind smiles that make your face ache and will have you and your buddies trading stories for hours that are likely to be only half true. Some of the trails are clearly marked as directional so putting a great loop together is easy with a quick peruse of the map. Bomb Dog is the high point of the trails.
The entire system has no shortage of speed or challenge for every level of rider, including three additional flow trails. Although the trails are rated with green, blue and black diamonds, most everything is rollable and accessible for all skill levels. Push it and you can boost plenty of jumps, keep is conservative and you will still have a blast. All of the climbs are the sort anyone can do and not be too destroyed at the top to be fully on your game on the way down. With an additional 40 miles to be added to the existing 30 Coldwater is only going to get better and Anniston will surely benefit because this system is absolutely worth the drive. Oh, and it’s 60 degrees in the middle of winter.
Bike shop: Oak Mountain – http://www.cahabacycles.com/
Campground: Oak Mountain – http://www.alapark.com/oak-mountain-state-park
Bike Shop: Coldwater – http://www.wigswheels.com/
Campground: Coldwater – http://www.alapark.com/cheaha-state-park
Food and Beer: Anniston – http://www.cheahabrewingcompany.com/[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]