Alabama’s Finest – Oak Mountain and Coldwater Mountain : Old vs. New

Project “smear my tires on as many tasty trails in the dirty south” is coming to an end.  Just a couple weeks left in the ATL.  How bout we hit Alabama for some brown pow?  Yep.

I only had one day to ride my bike in the Yellowhammer State, so… where to go?  Oak Mountain or Coldwater Mountain?

Depending on who you ask, most consider one or the other to be the best riding in the state.  So even though my legs were tired and stale, I decided to hit both rides on the same day.  This way I could decide for myself which was better: The “Old School” hand-built, legendary epic that is Oak Mountain – or the “New School” machine-cut, stacked loop, pristine trail system that is Coldwater Mountain?  My conclusion is a definitive and resounding, YES.

Pretty well signed with mileage stats to boot - Rattlesnake Ridge is one of the highlights of Oak Mountain

Pretty well signed with mileage stats to boot – Rattlesnake Ridge is one of the highlights of Oak Mountain

First up, Oak Mountain.  People have been shredding here for many years, and with good reason.  It’s got a great balance of descending and climbing, with the right amount of flow and a few techy bit sprinkled it to keep the white noise in your head from taking over.  No wonder it’s one of the original IMBA Epics.  I rode the “loop” counter-clockwise.  Some people call it the “Double Oak Trail” or “Red Trail” – it’s kinda confusing.  But in a nutshell, although there are many different trail names for all the various sections – it’s basically one big loop.  21 miles and around 1,400′ of climbing.  You can ride it either direction.  I went counter-clock starting at the South Trailhead, as the descriptions I read on the BUMP website (local MTB group that maintains the trails) were in that order.  However, everyone I encountered on trail was going the opposite direction… maybe the locals know something I don’t?  Anyhoo… The ride is fantastic either direction, so flip a coin…

A quick break on the Lake Trail at Oak Mountain to grab a drink and a view.

A quick break on the Lake Trail at Oak Mountain to grab a drink and a view.

A short gravel section of the Lake Trail that has you crossing a man-made dam - different than the rest of the singletrack of the day.

A short gravel section of the Lake Trail that has you crossing a man-made dam – different than the rest of the singletrack of the day.

It costs a couple bucks to park and 50 cents for the map.  Definitely get the map.  Even though it’s pretty well marked, I did go off course by Blood Rock (a rock with red paint on it).  There was only one section of the ride I’d pass on if I did it again.  Even though people told me to skip West Ridge, I did it anyway.  If you’re stubborn like me, you’ll probably ride it too.  It pretty much sucked on a rigid ss.  Could not get a good flow.  Baby head central.  The 32:17 wasn’t workin for me.  It was the only section where the fun factor dwindled for me.  Maybe squish and clicks woulda helped?  Probably not.  But I’m not gonna let 1.7 miles of meh riding distract from the other fab 18 miles.  Rattlesnake was super bueno, Lake Trail offered up sweet views… Cat Dog Snake, Seven Bridges – all smiles… buff/fast sections with a few rocky/tech climbs and descents sprinkled in.  Overall a great ride in a majestic setting.  SWEET!!

Print this map or pay 50 cents for one when you enter the park.  Either way, you should have a map.

Print this map or pay 50 cents for one when you enter the park. Either way, you should have a map.

Between rides, I stopped in to Cheaha Brewing in Anniston and was greeted with some old-fashioned southern hospitality.  The bartender approached.  “My name is Guy.  May I ask your name?”  He then gave wonderful service and addressed me by name the rest of the time.  So unfortunate that the beer sucked.  I got a flight and could not get myself to like any of the offerings.  Although the beer missed the mark, I had a wonderful burger – just the ticket before taking a crack at Coldwater Mountain.

Flight time at Cheaha Brewery between rides.  The beer looks better than it tasted.

Flight time at Cheaha Brewery between rides. The beer looks better than it tasted.

Luckily the trailhead  was only 5 minutes from the brewery.  Score.

I found out later there are two trailheads – the “main” one aka Coldwater, and the “brand new” one aka Anniston (where I parked).  This new one is just off a residential street, and could be hard to find.  It’s not even on the trail maps online yet, but it’s where the Singletrack app sent me.  I took a photo of the trail map at the kiosk – which is newer than the ones online – check it out below.  Anyhoo, it was getting late, and the sun is setting early these days.  So I started jamming… didn’t wanna get stuck riding in the dark (yes, I do carry a light, but lazy to pull it out).  Didn’t stop to take many pictures, since I was fighting time.

One of the few quick shots I snapped as the the sun was dropping late in the day.  Blurry, just like my day!

One of the few quick shots I snapped as the the sun was dropping late in the day. Blurry, just like my day!

Get to it, Alan – how was the ride?  Bomber!!  So much better than I was expecting – especially after Oak, it had a lot to live up to.  Totally different style than Oak.  The machine cut trails are wider when they are new.  They narrow down and get better with age.  I could tell what was built as part of the original 10 mile loop a few years ago and the newer trails that had been opened as recently as last year.  This is an IMBA Bronze Level Ride Center for good reason.  The organization of the loops with varying difficulty makes it easy for novice and expert riders to enjoy equally.  Also, most of the trails are directional, so you don’t need to worry about cross-traffic.  It’s only gonna get better with time as more people ride here.

The Rabbit Hole Junction - I just liked the sign.

The Rabbit Hole Junction – I just liked the sign.

Although it’s considered a beginner/intermediate system, there’s plenty of speed, berms, and some doubles to get rowdy on.  Not much in the way of techy bits, but if speedy, buffy the vampire slayer ish is your bag – than this will have you fist pumping like Jersey Mike.

The highlight of Coldwater is without a doubt, the infamous Bomb Dog Trail.  Such a blast.  It ranks up there with Rib Cage at Phil’s World… well not quite… Rib Cage is in it’s own class… but you get what I’m layin’ down.  Feels like you’re on a roller coaster – effortless pumping and swooshing when you get in the zone.  Mountain biking is kinda like seeking that perfect wave… and once in a while you get it.  Bomb Dog gave me that “endless summer” vibe.  But unlike a fleeting wave of which you get once – you can loop back up and shred dirt til your heart’s content.  Boo YEAH!  I enjoyed the rest of the ride immensely as well.  I wound up looping most of the trails on the system (around 15 miles), and enjoyed every inch of it.

I didn't see a trail sign, but did find this at the top of Bomb Dog - best trail marker I've ever seen, and now I know how it got it's name.

I didn’t see a trail sign, but did find this at the top of Bomb Dog – best trail marker I’ve ever seen, and now I know how it got it’s name.

I barely finished my ride with ambient light.  The red sun setting on the red leaves while climbing Talladega was truly one of the most beautiful endorphin enhanced visions I’ve had.  Then an open-throttle descent of the new Trillium trail had me back to the car with just enough light to cap off a magical day of riding.  Wow.  Best.  Day.  Ever.  Just saw a sweet Eddy Mercx quote today – “Don’t buy upgrades.  Ride up grades.” Damn straight.  So if I had to pick one ride – Oak Mountain or Coldwater Mountain… good thing I don’t have to.

I couldn't find a current trail map that shows all the new trails and Anniston Trailhead online, so I took a picture of one at the kiosk.

I couldn’t find a current trail map that shows all the new trails and Anniston Trailhead online, so I took a picture of one at the kiosk.

 Helpful Links:

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