Jul. 10—The Norman Conquest Bike Tour drew hundreds of cyclists to the J.D. McCarty Center early Saturday to ride for something bigger than themselves.
After last year's 25th annual ride was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, riders were happy to participate in an official event for the first time in nearly 18 months. The ride benefits the J.D. McCarty Center for children with developmental disabilities. All of the proceeds go towards this organization.
"You're not doing it for yourself, you're doing it for others," rider Kris Bowline said. "Whether it's a J.D. McCarty Center, or the guys that love to ride and not being able to do that for a year has been very painful."
Bowline is a veteran biker who's ridden most of her life and has participated in the Conquest for years, she said.
She rides nearly every day, but having the ability to ride for a bigger purpose and raise money for a cause that means so much to her is special, she said.
"We all ride all summer long — we just don't do it for a real reason," she said. "We just get together and ride. This is for a reason."
Cyclists had the option of riding a 22, 50 or 66-mile course, each of which had rest stops stationed along the way. Participating in the tour also is free — organizers ask that riders donate whatever they can, but if they aren't able to donate, they can still ride.
"It's for a great cause, and it's just a great way for everybody to have camaraderie, ride together, come back and enjoy all the snacks, and it's just a big event that's loved by everybody," said Todd Hamm, president of Bicycle League of Norman.
This event doesn't just bring out experienced riders — it also draws beginners who have never ridden in something quite like the Conquest.
"This is my first official bike race and I'm excited," Jill Coker said. "I'm from Norman, so I'm excited to ride in my town, but I'm a little nervous about the hills. Everyone says this is a hard ride ... but I'm excited about the feeling after pushing my body that much for hours. It's going to be a good challenge."
Coker, who used to ride in high school, said she got back into it after her co-worker, Peter Dolese, convinced her to give it another shot.
The reception and lunch held after the race make Norman Conquest stand out from the rest of the bike rides in the state, riders said.
"Just the camaraderie of all the wonderful people that are out here [is amazing]," Dolese said. "Afterwards, people meet up at the J.D. McCarty Center and it's absolutely the best meal of any ride anywhere else, it's absolutely the best. And that's super fun because everybody kind of sticks around does that afterwards.
"[There's nothing like] this community of bicycle riders."
Reese Gorman covers COVID-19, local politics and elections for The Transcript; reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @reeseg_3.