Anniston is growing a love and respect for mountain biking and road biking, as the sport continues to grow in popularity in the greater Calhoun County area. The county is already home to major rides such as the Cheaha Challenge, which served this year as the only UCI Gran Fondo World Championship Qualifier in the United States.
Patrick “Wig” Wigley, of Wig’s Wheels, predicts that in a few years you’ll see bikes all over the city, “Kinda like a ski town where everyone has skis on their cars. The same thing is going to happen around here with cycling.”
“There’s a movement going around the country right now because cycling is becoming a known economic stimulus for a lot of towns trying to find their way economically,” explains Wig. He says, “The perfect storm is if they get the Amtrack train station extended so that people can roll in here on the train and take their bikes straight to Coldwater or the Ladiga Trail.”
Brooke Nelson, Cheaha Challenge director, agrees that cycling is an “economic engine for our area”. She says, “tourism numbers are way up” and she credits a lot of that to cycling. At the 25th Cheaha Challenge on May 20, hundreds of riders traveled from all over the world to participate in the ride. Those riders and their families spent the weekend eating and shopping in Calhoun County.
Similarly, teams of racing cyclists and individual racers visit Anniston every year for the Sunny King Criterium and McClellan Road Race. These major cycling events provide an economic boost for our area.
As the director of Cheaha Challenge, Nelson says, “It’s absolutely thrilling to me to invite riders from all over to visit our area. Alabama is beautiful.” She adds that cyclists in Calhoun County enjoy a special luxury, multiple platforms on which to train and ride. “I have a lot of athlete friends in Birmingham, and they are so jealous of what we have here.”
When you consider the Chief Ladiga Trail (the longest continuous paved rail trail in the U.S.), the Coldwater Mountain Bike Trails (38 miles of trails), the BMX track in Weaver, and access to the highest point in the state on Mt. Cheaha you can see that Anniston and the surrounding areas are a cyclists dream.
Wig says plans for a new trailhead in Anniston are brewing, which he hopes to open in the fall of 2018. The Anniston Trailhead will be suited for a national caliber type event, complete with flushing toilets, pavilions, and pump tracks.
Anniston Mayor, Jack Draper, plans to show his support for cycling by participating in a Mayor’s Ride or a “slow-roll”. Plans for that ride are developing now.
More and more school-aged cyclists are popping up as the Alabama Interscholastic Cycling League continues to grow. The league, organized in 2015, provides mountain biking programs for students in grades 6-12. As of now, the league operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based on the financial support of donors and sponsors.
According to the league’s website, the organization operates on five core values.
Until each individual school has enough support for a dedicated team, riders from different areas are forming teams. Individual riders are also welcome to participate. One local team is made up of riders from five counties.
Wig supports this effort saying, “It’s introducing boys and girls, as early as the 6th grade, into competitive racing… what we’re doing is, we’re turning them into lifelong cyclists.”
Naturally, the courses must be certified to keep the sport as safe as possible. As of now, the Anniston area doesn’t have a certified course. Wig hopes that will change, “We’re looking at another couple of sites in town to build the trails specific to the specifications required.”
Wig says this is another example of the economic impact cycling can have on our area. “When there’s a race the families come in, a lot of them come in on Friday nights, to the venue. They’re staying Friday night, all day Saturday, Saturday night, and then leaving when the race is over.” He says some venue cities see 1,200 to 1,500 people visiting for the weekend at these races. “So when they’re there, they’re spending money – that’s injecting into the local economy.” In addition, many riders and families visit the venue the weekend before the race to pre-ride the course.
As the Alabama Interscholastic Cycling League develops and the Anniston Trailhead plans progress, we may all watch as Wig’s prediction unfolds and Anniston becomes a booming city for the avid cyclist.