Summer is the perfect season to dig out the 10-speed from under the box of Christmas tree ornaments and take to the streets, highways and bike trails across Oklahoma. Whether tackling grueling tests of endurance or casually cruising across the metro, there's a club or event for you.
But before donning the bicycle shorts and heading out the door, Oklahoma City Hellkats founder Adam Murray suggests finding a few friends. Like schools of fish, bike enthusiasts should travel in groups to protect them from their natural predator: distracted drivers and their debilitating addictions to cell phones.
"I was hit by a car while going over an overpass and then thrown from the overpass to land on the highway below," Murray said. "I was unable to ride a bike for about a year; I actually have the record for most fractures sustained in one accident at the OU Medical Center. I was pretty banged-up."
Urban bike riders are further hindered by the fact that Oklahoma City prohibits bike riding on sidewalks, yet doesn't provide bike lanes to protect them from cars. Murray said that riders have to either ride on a shoulder " if there is one " or hug the curb and hope passing cars are on the lookout.
The Hellkats began in Tulsa, and Murray started the OKC chapter as a casual club, allowing riders to seek safety in numbers. The Hellkats meet regularly for bar crawls and "alley cat" races inspired by bike messengers in larger cities. In those, participants receive a "manifesto" listing the places they have to hit before the end of the race.
"It's up to you to determine the best way of getting there," Murray said. "Everyone plans out the fastest way, and we find out who wins in the end."
Many cyclists want to escape the city with their bikes, and the Oklahoma FreeWheel ride is custom-fit for the rider with a lot of time to kill: one week, to be exact, as participants pedal across the state.
"We offer our riders the opportunity to visit the wonderful little towns of Oklahoma, and we give these towns an economic opportunity by having civic organizations serve up meals and beverages so they can make a little money from our visit," said Ellen Proctor, director of the annual event.
The route starts in Hugo on June 12 and ends 436 miles and seven days later in Joplin, Mo. Approximately 1,000 riders are anticipated, aging between 7 and 85, according to Proctor.
She noted that would-be participants who haven't already been training for the race probably should skip this year and set their sites for 2011.
"We recommend that people start training in the spring, riding both Saturday and Sunday and adding to the distance they ride each week," Proctor said. "Most of the days on FreeWheel are in the 60-70-mile range, and riders should be able to do back-to-back long days before they go on FreeWheel. We are coming up the eastern side of Oklahoma this year, and it is a very hilly ride. You need to be trained, or you won't have a very good time."
Pavement isn't everyone's idea of prime cycling surfaces, however, and for those hearty off-road riders, the annual Tour de Dirt is Oklahoma's state mountain bike championship series, pitting Mother Nature against man and his bike. Director Andy Harris said there are 10 events throughout the year, with the on June 13 in Sand Springs.
Harris said because each trail varies greatly, it takes more than endurance to excel in the Tour de Dirt.
"It is always best to pre-ride the course and familiarize yourself with the trail," he said. "As far as training goes, you would want to have a good understanding of how your bike operates, how to shift gears. Also, have a knowledge of how to do some trailside maintenance, like changing your tire."
photo For more information on the 2010 Oklahoma FreeWheel tour, visit www.okfreewheel.com.