RideBHM Brings Downhill Bike Park Riding to Alabama

Alabama might be known for a lot of things: blue skies, the civil rights movement, and yes, even a Silver Lever IMBA Ride Center, but the the Yellowhammer state is not yet known for its downhill bike parks. Hobie King and Emile Hughes are hoping to change that with a newly opened downhill park, RideBHM, located just ten miles outside of downtown Birmingham.

“We kind of reached what we felt like was a plateau,” said Hughes of riding in Alabama. Though there are mountain bike-optimized trail networks like Coldwater Mountain in Anniston, and a smattering of trail networks in Huntsville, Hughes and King felt like the state lacked proper gravity riding, especially after traveling to other parks in the Southeast, like Ride Kanuga and Windrock.

In 2020 right before the pandemic, Hughes found himself in a position to get his hands dirty and expand the riding opportunities for Alabama mountain bikers. He was the COO for a medical startup and sold his project, freeing up time and resources. First, he wanted to get his black belt in jiu jitsu, but with gyms closed because of Covid, he honed in on another project: bringing a downhill bike park to Birmingham.

Without the money to buy a major chunk of land, they knew they’d have to find somewhere special to install the park. King and Hughes approached Red Mountain Park, a former iron-mined mountain that has been reclaimed as a recreational area on the outskirts of Birmingham, with hiking trails, a 6-acre off-leash dog park, and now a 200-acre bike park. Hughes said RideBHM was a perfect fit and addition to Red Mountain since locals have been seeking more mountain bike trails.

“This was kind of an answer for them,” said Hughes.

Digging in

Though RideBHM secured a solid hunk of land to build a mountain bike park in, the development was far from easy. Red Mountain, with its rich red dirt from its iron ore layers had been mined extensively and the land had been tossed and turned.

“So we come into the piece of property and we basically have a big rectangle, kind of ridgeline southern facing with a chunk carved out of it for chert mining and then the top of the ridge is just scored from where they sampled for iron ore.”

Hughes says the soil had been unstable from mining and the natural vegetation had been stripped, so land managers planted kudzu — a viney, invasive species — and privet, a plant that has been described as “worse than kudzu.” Kudzu vines had pulled down trees and the land was littered with fallen wood and infested with ticks. The kudzu and privent may have added some shade and stability, but much of it needed to be removed again to build trails.

RideBHM, who hired Dialed Dirt for their layout and trail building, used skid steerers to remove as much of the privet as possible and opened up the forest canopy above and the dirt canvas below.

A vision for the park

Hughes and King didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. After traveling the country, and visiting bike parks close by and afar, they knew what they wanted: an accessible and beginner-friendly bike park, close to a major urban center, with something for everyone.

The two loved riding the Windrock Bike Park, but there isn’t an easy way down the mountain, Hughes said. And Ride Kanuga has a good spread, but the 500′ climb might be too much for some riders. But, there was one trail at Ride Kanuga that Hughes and King fell in love with.

“Must have Tortuga,” they told each other the first time they rode at Kanuga. The flowy, blue-rated jump trail has smooth berms, catapulting-lips, and wide landings. RideBHM must have jumps, they insisted, and it must have a jump trail like Tortuga.

After approaching Ride Kanuga for advice, the trail builders from the North Carolina bike park came down to Birmingham to build something that mirrored the fun. RideBHM called their new blue trail Kanuga.

They also took inspiration from the Red Bull drop at WindRock, a big, speedy drop toward the base of the bike park where onlookers can watch as they load up into a shuttle to take them to the top. RideBHM called it Big Bertha; it’s a big step-up jump that shoots riders into the air as they finish their runs near the parking lot.

The other big priority for RideBHM is accessibility. They want to expose mountain biking to communities that may not have seen it and make the activity an affordable proposition. Being a public-private entity and a benefit corporation, they’re saving 20% of the available slots in instructional classes for disadvantaged youth, so kids can join in and take advantage of rental bikes and mountain bike education.

Following the opening of RideBHM at Red Mountain Park, Hughes said they have several other plans in the works and goals for the park(s). They’re adding a 3-mile cross-country track and may have short-track XC races, and would like to add a dirt jump section and a pump track.

But, Hughes said they also want to open more parks in Alabama, possibly in Huntsville or maybe Anniston, and a season pass would work at any of the locations.

“Hopefully this is just the beginning.”