Starting Sunday, approximately 1,000 riders will participate in the 30th annual Oklahoma FreeWheel bicycle tour. The tour begins in Marietta, near the Texas border, and concludes six days and about 418 miles later in Caldwell, Kan.
Tour director Ellen Proctor said the route is different every year, with scheduled stops in Sulphur, Seminole, Henryetta, Drumright, Perry and Tonkawa. Riders stay overnight in those towns. Proctor said the tour gives an economic boost to small towns.
"For some of these towns, FreeWheel is the biggest event of the year," she said. "We work with civic organizations and city governments when we plan the route. Usually, the towns will provide meals and a place to sleep, but our riders and their families use local businesses: Wal-Mart, Dollar General, gas stations, restaurants, that sort of thing."
The Tulsa World started FreeWheel in 1979, and the newspaper continued to sponsor the event until the mid-Nineties. According to Proctor, because of that sponsorship, the tour used to be restricted to Tulsa World's distribution area. When the paper ceased its support, FreeWheel began to expand, thanks to the work of volunteers and one paid employee who kept the tour going.
"We've only had one tour in the true west," Proctor said, "but we have plans to do another. This has always been a huge deal for bicyclists in eastern Oklahoma, and now we're seeing growing interest in the Oklahoma City area."
The tour's legs range from 41 miles to 70 miles. The tour include a "day zero" that features a ride from Marietta to the Red River and back on Saturday, a round trip of 30 miles. Riders who participate in day zero will ride a total of 448 miles in eight days."Greg Horton