Cycling in Alabama? If you tried it, you’d love it! Alabama is truly a beautiful state with immensely varied geography, elevations from sea level to 2,600 feet, deep forests to open prairie, mountain rock outcrops, and tons of country roads along rolling terrain perfect for cycling. And water – so much of it – that one fifth of all the fresh water in the USA flows through our state’s rivers, streams and lakes.
In the northeast third, there are Appalachian Mountains, ridges, valleys, deep canyons, and plateaus. In the central part of the state, there are rolling river plains and flats; and in the southern third, a sub-tropical paradise of farmland, swamps and sugar-white beaches. And history everywhere you turn – I’d guess we average one historical marker every 10 miles.
And the weather? We ride twelve months a year, almost never get snow, ride early when it’s hot, late when it’s cool, and dodge a bit of rain here and there.
Is it a cycling haven? For many of us, yes. But some out-of-staters have their prejudices: memories of 50-year-ago Civil Rights struggles, persistent jokes about our family heritage, haters of our successful football teams the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tigers – I’ve heard them all as I travel about the country for my work, and cycle in other states.
Crazy people in Alabama? Well, we don’t hide ‘em; we bring our crazy relatives out for all to see. We don’t ask if there are crazy people in your family – we just ask “what side of the family are they on?” It does not help that we’ve had recent viral videos of anti-cycling rednecks (the man was arrested, and apologized.) Yes, I’ve had things thrown at me; I’ve been buzzed, and have gotten into verbal tangles with angry motorists. But you have to admit, there are cycling-haters almost everywhere.
We have thousands of lightly-traveled farm roads. For example, Coach Aldo Safalcin picked the off-the-beaten path town of Ramer, AL for Alabama Cycling Camp described in my last post, precisely because it is surrounded the rolling farmland and country roads perfect for base miles.
I went to that camp last March – and was so very pleased at the courtesy of area motorists, following our group patiently on curves until safe to pass, and the country-store folks who were so glad to have us all there.
Around Tuscaloosa, AL, elevations vary from 120 feet to 605 feet above sea level, and grades can be a shallow 4% to a brutal 20% in some rare climbs. One of my favorite routes is a 25 mile “Lake Loop”; it crosses the same stream four times, giving us 1,200 feet of elevation gain in that span. Our Druid City Bicycle Club boasts over 200 members, and we regularly have 50 or more on club rides, and we’re experts at the after-ride pub crawl.
Organized rides abound, from my hometown “Hot Hundred” in August, the 7,000 feet of climbing in the Cheaha Challenge Gran Fondo, to AMBA – Alabama’s Magnificent Bike Adventure. These are all part of the Alabama Backroads Century Series, at least ten century rides in beautiful settings attended by cyclists from all fifty states.
Want to ride from October through May when snow-bound? Come to Alabama. You won’t regret it.