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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Places To Go Bicycling - Birmingham, Alabama

by Larry Lagarde

Located in north central Alabama with a population of about 250,000, Birmingham is the largest city in this southern state. Founded just after the Civil War as an industrial center, Birmingham is the only place in the world where all the raw materials for producing steel are found in significant quantities. In the first half of the 20th century, B'ham's steel output was so high that it quickly earned the nickname "Pittsburgh of the South."

Due to the way Alabama allocates gas taxes and the city's location at the confluence of 3 interstates & 2 US highways, automobile use in Birmingham is among the highest in the USA and has fueled an out migration to the suburbs since the 1960's. With the steel industry waning in the 1970's, the economy of B'ham diversified over several decades into banking, bio-technology, information technology, law, medicine, research and publishing. Over the last 10 years, an urban renewal has taken hold in downtown's art deco skyscrapers and warehouses, revitalizing disused spaces into lofts, condos, retail developments and restaurants.

Places To Go Bicycling In Birmingham
According to Steve Fair with the Birmingham Bicycle Club, the best place to go cycling in Birmingham is the Shades Creek Greenway Trail. In the region, Steve suggests Oak Mountain State Park, Cheaha State Park, Talladega National Forest, Choccolocco Wildlife Management Area, Bankhead National Forest and the Chief Ladiga/Silver Comet trail from Anniston AL. to Atlanta, GA.

Shades Creek Greenway Trail
Running alongside Shades Creek in Homewood, this paved trail offers plenty of shade and picnic spots on a hot summer day. Fairly level, this is a family oriented trail within the city and very near to Brookwood Mall. No cars are allowed on the trail which is presently 5 miles long.

Oak Mountain State Park
Oak Mountain S.P.'s 17-mile Red Trail loop attracts mountain bikers from as far away as Florida and Louisiana. Built in 1993 by the Birmingham Urban Mountain Peddlers (BUMP), this combination of single track and an old two-lane fire road offers grueling climbs, rocketing downhills and hairpin turns, with sheer drops off the sides and an elevation gain of up to 500'. Several trailheads offer parking & access to the loop.

For those wanting a more relaxed road ride, there is also a bike lane running on the side of Oak Mountain's main road. The lane passes 3 lakes and wooded areas with plenty of wildlife including turkeys and deer. Although the bike lane has several minor climbs, the length of these stretches will grab your attention. Total distance round trip is about 15 miles.

The popularity of the Red Trail has led to other nearby state parks, national forests and wildlife management areas opening trails to mountain bikers. Cheaha State Park has completed a mountain bike trail, the Kentuck Off-Road Trail has opened in the Talladega National Forest as has a trail at the Choccolocco Wildlife Management. Currently, 30 miles of off-road vehicle trails are being built at the Bankhead National Forest.

Chief Ladiga/Silver Comet Rail Trails
Those who are interested in traveling a few miles should consider riding the Chief Ladiga Trail 70 miles northeast of B'ham in Anniston. Currently, the trail currently goes from Anniston to Piedmont, stopping just 8 miles short of the Georgia line; however, paving work on that section is currently under way. When that work has been completed in coming months, the Chief Ladiga will connect seamlessly with the Silver Comet Trail. Cyclists will then be able to bike on a paved, non-motorized trail all the way to Smyrna (a suburb of Atlanta). The current distance for the Alabama section is 25 miles (one way). Since the trail is built on an abandoned rail line, the steepest grade is around 2%, making the trail inviting for families. Picnic spots are easily accessed by car in Jacksonville and Piedmont too.

More Bicycling Info
Each weekend and several evenings every week, the Birmingham Bicycle Club sponsors rides of varying difficulty and distance. For information, call Homewood Cycle at 205-879-3244.

More About Birmingham
For more about other attractions or accommodations in this diverse city, contact the Greater Birmingham CVB at 205-458-8000.

My special thanks go to Vickie Ashford and Steve Fair for their help & suggestions.

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