No Fear of FLYING


The Joy of Mountain Biking: A continuous feedback loop of ever-

changing terrain and conditions that require instantaneous

response and input from the rider.

words and photos by edward badham

Mountain Bike Free

The blue sky surrounds you, the cool air grabs your lungs, the crisp wind gently chaps your cheeks.  Trees and branches whisk past your head. Your legs are screaming with joy and pain. Your mind is free. The bike glides so gently between your legs it almost vanishes, and all at once you are flying. There is no thought, no worry. The bike is riding itself; your part in it is pure instinct. Every shift, every pedal stroke and turn is involuntary. It happens just as simply as your heart beats.

These moments on the bike don’t occur all the time—sometimes it feels more like the exception than the rule—but it is for these moments that I ride. The suffering that occurs between these times is of little consequence. The pain, exhaustion, the blood and bruises—these are just the cost of admission that you pay willingly and eagerly.

The beauty of mountain biking and cycling in general is that one can achieve this feeling of freedom  without any previous experience. I remember distinctly the first time I felt it, on my first day on a bicycle. I taught myself to ride on my shiny, new purple Schwinn banana seater. It had riser handle bars and silver flecks in the paint. I would push the bike up the hill in my front yard and attempt to coast down. After multiple failed or aborted attempts I found myself back at the top of the hill and, with a gentle push, I began to roll. As I lifted my feet I felt the acceleration beneath me. I was struggling to maintain a semblance of control and clear the tree in the center of the driveway, and all at once I took flight. I suddenly possessed power and speed that I had never known before. I was flying, and it was awesome! I was eight years old and I was in love.

Since then my relationship with the bicycle has grown. Over the years, my bike has been my mentor, my friend, my therapist, my transportation and my escape. Of course, there have been periods of neglect and abuse on both of our parts, but the love has never faltered.  I have experienced that same sense of freedom many times since the first time. I felt it when my son first completed the Oak Mountain loop with me at the age of 10. I experienced it pulling a 50-pound trailer through the state of Mississippi along the Natchez Trace. I felt it a few weeks ago. Remember that one day in August when the temperature dipped below 100 degrees?  I happened to have time to hit the trail.

I love biking in any form, but I especially love mountain biking because I love nature and I love dirt. When I am on the trail I have a sense of peace and connectedness to the earth, albeit through knobby tires and  Fox Racing Shocks, but the feeling is real. There is no traffic, no exhaust fumes, no road rage to be reckoned with. If I have a bad ride in the woods, I can only blame myself.

Indian Springs Mt. Bike Club

Birmingham is blessed with a world-class mountain-bike trail network just 15 minutes to the south in Shelby County. It is known as the Red Trail at Oak Mountain State Park. This growing network of trails, which weaves its way through Alabama’s  largest state park,  has been granted Epic status by IMBA (the International Mountain Biking Association, www.imba.com). There are only 52 trails worldwide  accorded this status.

People began riding the trails out at Oak Mountain in the early 1980s, but the park management became wary of it and eventually banned mountain biking altogether. It wasn’t until 1990 that  the 16-mile Red Trail loop officially opened to mountain bikers.  This was accomplished entirely through the efforts of BUMP (Birmingham Urban Mountain Peddlers, www.bump.org) The trail became popular but remained mostly stagnant with only a few minor changes for over two decades. It is only during the past several years, with the completion of the lake trail, the Lake Trail Bridge (a.k.a. Dam Bridge) and the Rattlesnake Ridge trail, that trail building and improvements have exploded.

This new attitude toward mountain biking and trail expansion is due to the leadership of BUMP After countless hours of blood, sweat and tears, they were finally able to get the State of Alabama, Shelby County, The City of Pelham, Oak Mountain State Park and various state funding organizations  involved  and raised the capital needed to complete the Lake Trail Bridge. This enabled BUMP to connect the loop and eliminate the need to ride on the road. Everyone began to see the revenue potential that could be realized through mountain biking. The old  Red Trail loop has been transformed from a great place to ride, if you were passing through the Birmingham area, into a true mountain-bike adventure destination.

These trails literally have something for everyone. The entire loop is 22 miles, with a myriad of variations of segments and out-and- back rides to create the perfect route for any skill and fitness level. The Family and Lake Trail are fun, fast and easy, great for young children and families. If you want something a little more difficult, Rattlesnake Ridge is waiting. Up on Double Oak Mountain lies Boulder  Ridge. A series of rock gardens and drops make this newest addition to the network a double black-diamond run for experts and  immortals only. There is also the  grueling 2.2-mile fire-road climb that doubles as an exciting downhill run.

I have been riding these trails for 25 years now and am yet to get bored. Each and every ride is as exciting as the first. So get out and ride!

To view an interactive map of existing and upcoming trails, go to www.bump.org/oakmountainexpansion.html.

Joe Cotlin "Trail riding provides a natural high, is way more fun than being in a health club, and is cheaper than owning a bass boat." Joe got his first Mountain Bike in 1986 as a Freshman in college. He was immediately addicted to the freedom and fun the bike offered. He moved to Birmingham and joined BUMP in 1992. As an active member of BUMP Joe had played a large roll in transforming the Red Trail from a single dirt road into the epic system it is today.

Stacey Davis "I'm inspired by people in my life that overcome obstacles and mountain biking is all about overcoming obstacles" Works as a personal trainer at the YMCA and leads two group rides at Oak Mountain each Week. Stacey, also a mother of two, made a lifestyle choice 12 years ago to live healthier. In the process she discovered mountain biking and now 50 lbs lighter she has never looked back.

Ronald Vines; Ron received his first Mountain Bike as a birthday gift from his sons. This was 20 years ago and he was a wee lad of 57 years. 20 years later Ron is now the Patron of the Red Trail. He rides 2 or 3 times a week and has no problem completing the 22 mile loop.

Omar Fraser "One loop around Oak Mountain reignited my enthusiasm for riding" Omar won his first mountain bike in a raffle when he was 11 years old. He immediately fell in love with the sport. He began winning races in middle and High school in the Maryland area. But had to give up riding to swim for Auburn University during college. A few years after graduation Omar moved to Birmingham and immediately started riding again. He has been on the podium at the X-Terra world championship and won a cat 3 state cyclecross championship, not to mention a myriad of Cat 1 mountain bike races.

Kim Cross "I love after a ride when I feel the grit in my teeth, I know I must have been smiling." Kim is the travel editor for Southern Living Magazine and founder of the Magic City Cycle Chix a local women's cycling group. She is a multi sport athlete and has competed at a national level in several sports, including water skiing, triathlon and adventure racing. Through MC3 Kim hosts mountain and road clinics for women. Kim first fell in love with OMSP in a water skiing competition, Now with Mountain biking she has fallen in love all over again.

Jay Bradford "My greatest accomplishment is that I still love riding as much today as I did 20 years ago" Mountain biker and landscape artist. Jay is a stalwart of Birmingham Mountain biking. He has been riding since the mid eighties and has been in the fight and in the dirt making this trail what it is today since the very beginning.

Chuck Lewis "The More technical the more satisfying" Accomplished trials rider (means he can ride over anything) and bike mechanic extrordinaire. Currently is the service manager at Bike Link in Hoover. Chuck has been Mountain biking since 1991 and loves the technical stuff. He had been a leader in the trial building at OMSP. He, along with Jay was one of the leading architects of the Highly technical Boulder Ridge Trail.

Casey Fannin "Oak Mountain has given me a great, and beautiful place to train and race." Two time X-Terra world champion. Casey had been riding since the late 80's and competed in his First X-Terra competition in 1998. X-Terra is the premiere off road triathlon. Nissan even named a vehicle after it. Since then he has participated in over 180 events and has won 10 Southeast regional and two World titles. He also met his wife at one of the events.

Austin Badham "Riding at Oak Mountain is always the high point of my week" Austin is 16 years old and has been riding a mountain bike since he was 7, he rode the entire Red Trail loop at age 10. He is a homeschooler and plays competitive soccer. He rides for the love of the sport but says he might be interested in racing at some point.

11 Responses to “No Fear of FLYING”

  1. Lon Cullen says:

    Fun article. Thanks.

  2. Pete says:

    Great article. Thanks for promoting the sport I love and Oak Mountain State Park trail system.

  3. This is a great article. Thank you for your support.

  4. april rogers says:

    What a great article thats fired me up to leave the road &hit the trails this winter! So fun to see several people i know profiled.

  5. Chuck Lewis says:

    Great shots, Edward! Thanks for bringing the trail expansion out to the public. We’re very fortunate to have these trails in our backyard, and very fortunate to have the support we have to further this project!

  6. Darrell O'Quinn says:

    Awesome! I second the notion that it is great to see folks I know! Mountain biking at Oak Mountain is a huge asset for the region. Before I became a Birmingham resident, I traveled with friends from Baton Rouge, LA for the sole purpose of riding the Oak Mountain trail. It and the great cycling community here were important factors that influenced my decision to move to Birmingham.

  7. Kim Cross says:

    Great essay and magnificent portraits. Thanks for drawing attention to one of our region’s most wonderful assets – Oak Mountain State Park. We are luck to have trails like these in such a beautiful setting within a half-hour of our urban center. Big thanks to BUMP for the trails, and to the riders who keep them alive and interesting. (And thanks, Edward, for making my sweaty self look good.)

  8. Alan Brown says:

    After returning to Chicago 4 years ago, I have missed the Oak Mountain trail and bragged about it constantly. The article does it justice. Way to go BUMP and Birmingham. Best Mtn Biking up here is Kettle Morraine State Park in La Grange Wisconsin – 28 miles of loops and a 12 mile connector to another park. Stop by sometime and visit the La Grange General Store and tell them you are from Alabama! Mike the owner will love it.

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