“It was beyond my comprehension that I might be able to ride a bike that far,” says now-veteran rider Keith Reed of Perkins.
This is a common statement made by riders who have accomplished the week-long, cross-state bicycle tour known as Oklahoma Freewheel, which is celebrating its 38th year this month, June 19-25 – rain, shine or wind.
Reed has since completed five Freewheels – this year will mark his sixth.
Founded in 1979, Freewheel has grown from a few hundred riders to as many as 1,000 riders who now enjoy a fully supported trek from the Red River to the Kansas state line.
Trevor Steward of Stillwater was first introduced to Oklahoma Freewheel in 2013 when some of his friends participated in the tour. In November 2014, he was hired as the executive director of Freewheel Inc. and is now involved with every aspect of the tour.
“The position of executive director is the only paid position we have, so I get to do almost everything. This includes talking each town into hosting the tour, getting riders signed up, promoting our tour at events across Oklahoma and the bordering states and managing our website and other media,” he says.
“For over 30 years, Freewheel has been Oklahoma’s only cross-state cycling touring event,” proudly states Steward. “We are very excited that our 2016 tour is highlighting the Five Civilized Tribes of Oklahoma.”
Host communities will include Madill, Coalgate, Wewoka, Okmulgee, Sand Springs, Claremore, Bartlesville and Caney, Kansas.
The route changes each year. Distances traveled each day vary from 50 to 75 miles, with a few 100-mile (century) options thrown in for the hardcore cyclists. Riders camp in the rural host towns, and their gear is transported via semi truck while they ride to the next site.
“My assistant, Ross Snider, is responsible for lining out the route. I honestly think he has ridden every road in the state, so he is very good at routing the tour,” Steward says. “We are expecting around 550 participants from all over the country. Last year, we had participants from 23 states and four countries, and I would expect the same this year.”
Cyclists travel on public roads and highways, so the safety of the riders is of utmost importance. As any other vehicle operator, they are required to observe all state and local traffic laws. Two Oklahoma highway patrolmen accompany the riders each day.
Tom and Sylvia Brown, owners of Tom’s Bicycles in Tulsa, are two of the ride’s familiar faces and avid supporters.
“I attended the very first Freewheel as a rider, and I have only missed three over the years,” Tom says. “As a bike shop, I have helped on the road since the mid-eighties.”
Both Tom and Sylvia spend the week prior to the ride packing tires, tubes, bicycle parts, riding gear and other little things that the riders might need.
“Tom takes care of all the tools and repair parts, and I take care of the non-repair merchandise – things people forgot to pack or that they have lost or broken,” Sylvia says. “I pack everything in gallon-size baggies so that the merchandise stays clean and dry. We have experienced several Freewheel evenings where storms pop up, so we have learned from our mistakes as far as merchandising.”
Both wake up with the sunrise to assist riders with last minute details to get started on the day’s route.
“I get on the road as soon as possible, looking for trouble, which I usually find quickly,” Tom says with a laugh. “Sometimes I’m a mechanic, sometimes I’m a cheerleader. The bike shops – usually there are three – follow the riders all day long, and then we set up in camp and work until dark.”
Cyclists near Tulsa, Oklahoma City or Bartlesville can participate in organized training rides to prepare for the event, generally starting at five miles and gradually increasing to 60 miles or more. These rides begin each year in early March.
“Other than riding all you can, I think it’s really important to ride a significant mileage about three days in a row,” recommends Reed. “And this may sound silly, but practice sleeping outside on a hot night and getting up early to ride. I’ve seen people that are very strong riders struggle because they don’t get enough sleep.”
“Oklahoma is such a beautiful state, and the best way to experience it is by bicycle,” says Steward. “We have just about every type of rider – the slow and fast, the skinny and overweight, the young and old, and the new and veteran riders. As long as you and your bike can make it around 60 miles each day, you can ride Oklahoma Freewheel.”
“I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so I really enjoy the laid back atmosphere Freewheel provides,” Reed says. “Sometimes I ride fast (ish), and sometimes I take it easy, but I couldn’t care less who gets there first!”
In closing Reed humorously states, “It’s cool to see old friends get together for this every year. I like to say ‘Freewheel is like a giant, rolling family reunion with one exception – everyone gets along!’”
Visit www.okfreewheel.com for more info.