Tahlequah Daily Press


June 16, 2013

World of wheels

SpeedWheel returns to Tahlequah, gives shot in the arm for area cycling.

Norris Park is home to many things. Its cozy surroundings and plentiful options within walking distance make it a frequented destination.

Within a year’s time, Norris Park provides visitors with outdoor movies, an ice-skating adventure, some home-grown produce, and music and musings during annual Red Fern festivities.

It’s also a favorite stop on the SpeedWheel circuit.

Norris Park and “the downtown [area] make it for an excellent venue,” said Ronnie Cookson, event coordinator for SpeedWheel, a NASCAR-style bicycle racing event that is separated into several categories.

Making its first appearance in Tahlequah since 2010, SpeedWheel occupied the Norris Park area on Wednesday and provided local bicycle enthusiasts an opportunity to watch or participate in the various races.

The event coincides with Freewheel, a week-long bicycle event that, in its 35th year, witnesses cyclists riding from the southern edge of Oklahoma to the upper reaches of the state line.

“When you have the [SpeedWheel] event coinciding with Freewheel, you kind of have a captive audience,” Cookson said. “It seemed like we had a lot of local people show up; that was good to see.”

Cookson said Tahlequah — which has hosted SpeedWheel in 2010 and 2006 — is always a successful stop on the race circuit.

“In Tahlequah, we’re always very pleased,” said Cookson, a Tahlequah native. “...The city is also very cooperative.”

David Rogers, the owner of Paceline Cyclery, which is nestled within the race boundaries, said there are two key reasons why SpeedWheel makes periodic stops in town.

“Why it kind of gets done is, one, because of Ronnie Cookson,” Rogers said. “This is his home town, and he puts on SpeedWheel. Plus, they usually like to do [SpeedWheel] in the middle of the week, and Tahlequah always seems to fall in the middle of the week in their route.”

For Rogers, having SpeedWheelers and Freewheelers in town is a boon for business.

“I do sell quite a bit,” Rogers said, “but the only reason I do is because everything is on sale. I always put the store at 20-percent off to stir up excitement.”

Paceline is more than just a parts and supplies store. Rogers said the cyclists who come to town make a pass through the store just to survey the inventory.

“Bike shops are kind of like museums,” he said. “Even if they don’t need anything, people will stop what they’re doing and come by. People like to go to bike shops and look.”

More so than anything else, having people traverse through town on bicycles piques the curiosity of others, Rogers said.

“It does bring bicycle awareness to town,” said Rogers, who bought bicycle shop from Clint Ward in 1992.

“You have some people who say, ‘Man, I need to start riding.’ They see people in shape and see that they’re riding across the state, and they start thinking, ‘I can do this, too.’ You see people come in after Freewheel leaves town.”

With the population of bicyclists growing throughout the years, Rogers said there are now efforts in place to make Tahlequah more bicycle-friendly.

“Right now, we’re in the process of trying to get city roads marked,” Rogers said. “The lanes would be marked ‘share the lane.’ Hopefully that’ll get done in the next couple of months.”

At this point, Rogers said, Tahlequah is lagging behind other towns, in terms of accessibility around town on a bicycle.

“Bicycling and bicycle lanes are becoming more popular,” he said. “We’re falling a little bit behind. Muskogee has bike trails and some bike lanes, and they’re in the process of adding bike lanes anytime they renovate a road or street.”

As for SpeedWheel’s future in Tahlequah, Cookson said it all depends on the route navigated by Freewheelers.

“We kind of go off of Freewheel, and they’ll switch up the route quite a bit,” Cookson said.

He’s making a pitch to at least keep the route on the eastern part of the state.

“The east side tends to be more scenic riding and towns are closer together. It’s better riding. The western part of the state is OK, but not as good as the eastern part,” he said.

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