by James Wagner
Tulsa Tough. The name alone is alienating to many. The first time I heard it, I thought this must be some niche event for spandex-wearing cyclists who are a little too confident with their figure. Although I had moved from Atlanta to Tulsa to work as a city planner focused on making the city more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, and in fact was even a bicycle commuter myself, I had no connection to this fast-paced racing scene. When most people think of a bicycle race, they think of the long winding roads of France they’ve seen on TV. Tulsa Tough is definitely not that. This isn’t the Tour de France.
As people started to talk about the event in the days leading up to it, I grew curious about the buzz. Even non-cycling fans talked about it as if there was some kind of secret knowledge of the best places to watch the races. I had to start looking into this. Could my hometown of Tulsa have some really great event that I had never heard of? Could it really be as cool as people were saying it was, even for someone who had never raced a bicycle? I had to find out.
I remember walking down to the Blue Dome District as the workday wound down on Friday afternoon and seeing all the roads blocked off. I waited around a while and when the races started, I immediately saw that this was legit. Cyclists were racing around corners just inches apart moving so fast you couldn’t even see the numbers on their jerseys. Amazingly, there were only a few crashes.
So why is Tulsa Tough the best event? Just a few reasons:
1. Party on the Hill.
What started as a few people getting together to cheer on cyclists as they crest the top of Crybaby Hill (the area around West 13th Street and Jackson Avenue) has now become a famous gathering spot on Sunday afternoon. Crybaby Hill is what many of the cyclists at Tulsa Tough come for. The excitement of the throng of shirtless men spraying you down with hoses while holding a baby doll on a stick is an experience no racing cyclist can duplicate. If you want to join Party on the Hill, you’ll want to arrive early. Parking in the Riverview neighborhood can fill up by 10 a.m.
Walking around the race circuit, you’re bound to run into many people you know. Some are curious about all the hype while others are veterans of the event and have been spectating for years. While Tulsa is slowly adding places like Guthrie Green that bring people together, there are still relatively few places where people have unplanned meetings in public. Tulsa Tough is one place where that happens a lot.
Tulsa Tough is an event the whole family can enjoy. You can find places along the course where you can set up a folding chair and relax, or you can stand near the finish with the kids on your shoulders cheering on the racers.
4. It’s free
I don’t know of very many sporting events you can attend for free, and of all the ones that you might pay a lot for, I can almost assure you this will be more exciting than most of them.
What you’ll see:
Friday night: The first night of racing is under the lights on a Figure 8 course in the Blue Dome District. There’s something about watching the races at night that just takes it up a notch. The announcers make every lap like watching a basketball game called by Dick Vitale. A huge added bonus on Friday night is the Tulsa Drillers do fireworks after the game, about the same time as the last pro race of the night. Picture fireworks going off in the background as the final laps of the night’s pro race end in dramatic fashion. Exhilarating.
Best viewing location: Near the finish line facing to the north, so you can see the fireworks.
Saturday day/night: The second day of racing is in the Brady District. This time the course is four straight legs, so you really get the sense for the speed on the longer legs.
Best viewing location: At the end of one of the long straightaways where the cyclists have their maximum speed going into a turn.
Sunday: The last day of Tulsa Tough is the best. For this, I’ll split my recommendation into two groups. If you’re with your family and have kids or grandma, I’d suggest the hill on Galveston Avenue just up from Riverside Drive. This location has the best combination of seeing the cyclists speed and skill as they round the tight turn and head north on Riverside to the finish.
For those more adventurous, without kids, aim to check out Party on the Hill. This organic event is really more like going to Rocklahoma than a bike race. The name speaks for itself, but if you want to see Tulsa Tough in full tilt, head to 13th Street and Jackson Avenue around 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Enjoy the best of Tulsa this June 12-14.
For more information about Tulsa Tough, head over to their website, tulsatough.com.
James Wagner is the Principal Transportation Planner at INCOG, the Tulsa metro’s transportation planning agency responsible for auto, transit, bicycle and pedestrian planning.