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June 8, 2014

Statewide bike ride starts in Comanche

COMANCHE — The 2014 Oklahoma Free Wheel statewide bicycle event begins Sunday as riders leave from Comanche to ride 459 miles across Oklahoma to Kansas.

Before starting the trek, some of the riders participated in a 46-mile journey to the Texas state border Saturday, so that they could get the full experience of traveling through the entire state. On the event’s website, www.okfreewheel.com, Comanche City Manager Wilt Brown said, “Comanche is really excited about the arrival of the Freewheelers in our community. We will do our very best to accommodate the needs of everyone in a pleasant surrounding for you to enjoy.”

Duncan resident Pagon Ballard, 60, will be one of at least seven riders from Stephens County participating in the race. One of the more season riders, this will be his 28th freewheel. He said he really enjoys the opportunity to get away from everything and spend a week riding.

“If the phone rings, it’s not for me,” Ballard said. “It’s a good time. I get to be around my friends, lots a people that I’ve met over the years, that I only see once a year on this ride.”

One of the unique aspects of the race is that riders get to experience all parts of the state. They will stay in small towns like Marietta and cities like Stillwater. Each day consists of 50 to 75 miles of riding, with some optional 100 mile routes. Susan Camp, director of Duncan’s Cameron University branch, and her husband, Mark, ride in their 16th freewheel. She said the race bonds those who participate in it.

“You’re literally transported away for a week,” Susan said. “You’re traveling in a community of cyclists. Everyday you’re facing the elements, but you don’t have the comforts of home to come back to.”

It also opens up the riders to new experiences.

“You might never eat at the diner in a really small community, but when you’re on freewheel and that’s one of the few options, you learn to love it,” She said.

“Everybody’s wanting to eat there then,” her husband added.

Most of the places that the bikers will stay in are small towns. Six of the eight rest stops have populations less than 5,000.

There will be more than 1,000 riders participating in the annual event, which will be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Marlow resident, Chris Linsky, 39, is participating in the event for the first time this year. He said he loves riding and prepares all year to be in shape when the summer comes.

“If you just start riding in June or July, you will die,” Linsky said. “During the winter time we ride our bikes in our garages on trainers where there is no air movement.

“I just started riding three years ago, and ever since I started riding I saw freewheel and said ‘Man, I want to do that.’ This year I’m able to do it.”

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