Oklahoma might be more rolling plains then white-crested mountain tops, but the lack of sprawling mountain ranges doesn't limit the opportunities for mountain bike races. Oklahoma's 2009 Tour de Dirt will fan out across the state, hosting races in Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Stillwater, Ardmore and this Sunday's race in Norman.
According to Tour de Dirt organizer Andy Harris, the term "mountain biking" is a bit of a misnomer.
"When mountain biking first came about, people thought it had to take place on a mountain," Harris said. "Really, it's just off-road racing on a trail."
The Battle at the Bird kicks off the 2009 season at Lake Thunderbird, with three races divided up by skill level: experts, sport riders and beginners. Registration starts at 10 a.m., with the first racers hitting the trail at 1 p.m.
When the last race is complete, a free kids race will be held for children aged 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12.
Mountain bike races are endurance races, with expert and sports riders stretching out for 25 miles and beginners covering nine miles. Organizer Derrick Seys said the races are good workouts, with slower paces that test stamina rather than sanity.
"There aren't too many courses where you break 20 miles per hour, but the challenge is twisting through and navigating," he said.
The draw isn't just challenging one's endurance level, but the experience of riding through nature.
"I do enjoy road riding, but mountain biking is a little quieter, more peaceful, and you get to see things a little differently on the trails," Seys said. "Some of the views you get you just can't cover when hiking, you don't have the time to go that deep into the woods. You can get into places on a bike in just a few hours that if you were hiking, it would take the better part of a day."
Every course comes with different challenges depending on the unique terrain.
"Each of our venues are different and offer different things, some are harder on you because of the heat, some are harder because of the tight turns on the trail," Seys said. "Most of Oklahoma is just cross-country, but we have some nice trails throughout the circuit that are rocky and offer challenges. Here in Oklahoma City, it is reasonably flat, but there are some hills, so it is the length that will get to you."
Because mountain biking is so focused on endurance, Harris said it is ideal for staying in shape. He said he'd settled into a rut with golf before deciding to transition over to mountain biking.
After Battle at the Bird, Tour de Dirt will hit Turkey Mountain in Tulsa on March 22. There will be 10 total races, two of which are out of state. "Charles Martin