Cyclists find joy in their addiction

Friday, December 24th 2004, 4:05 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Suzanne Cannon is used to being around people who aren't quite normal, including her husband.

``The man is crazy,'' said Cannon, a drug counselor from Yukon. ``I think he is nuts.''

Gary Cannon's aberrant behavior, which some call an addiction, involves sitting on a tiny seat for hours and struggling through cold, rain and, as in a 100-mile Texas event in August, heat. Cannon is among the thousands of Oklahomans who gather at dawn for group tours, strike out alone on rugged routes or go to other extremes to pursue their passion _ cycling.

``It was an activity I just fell in love with,'' said Cannon, a retired postal supervisor who, along with his more casual-riding spouse, owns more than a dozen bikes.

From city streets to back roads to backcountry trails, cyclists pedal all kinds of wheeled devices, from full-suspension mountain machines to composite road racers to recumbents or unicycles. Cyclists can be soldiers, professors or a guy like Reese Scott.

Several times a week, the Ada man heads out on a carbon-frame Trek road bike similar to racing legend Lance Armstrong's ride and doesn't return until he's covered up to 50 miles. Nearly every year for more than two decades, this former competitive runner has joined hundreds of others on an annual ride across the state.

Scott is 83.

``One of these days, I'm going to have to quit,'' he said.

But Scott, who built his own airplane in his 70s and cuts all his own firewood, plans to pedal as long as he can. Like other bikers, Scott figures the payoff is worth the investment.

``I get out there and look at the scenery and ride along,'' said Scott, founder of a company that manufactures church furniture. ``Just kind of forget about everything. Just go along without any thoughts or worries.''

To nonriders, what serious bikers do seems beyond strange.

``I thought it was really kind of nuts,'' Libby Stalter recalls.

Until friends talked her into trying it. Since then, Stalter, 44, of Tulsa, has served as director of Oklahoma Freewheel, an annual week-long ride across the state.

``You get out with these people and you realize there's a passion, then you just get hooked,'' she said.

The pursuit has families taking cycling vacations together, riders traveling to off-road meccas in other states and groups signing up for road tours in Europe or beyond. Bikers have met future spouses on rides. A woman and her son once held a memorial for her biker husband on an Oklahoma tour ride.

``They brought his ashes on the trip and had a little service and spread him out in the mountains,'' Suzanne Cannon said.

Riders range from casual enthusiasts and ``weekend warriors'' to dedicated daily riders or hardcore racers who travel the country to compete. Their reasons for riding are as diverse; exercise or competition, camaraderie or solace, or just a fascination for bike technology.

``It's a love of the sport,'' said Stalter, who particularly enjoys ``being out in the middle of nowhere.''

For bikers, Oklahoma is a good ride. Weather is moderate enough for year-round biking, scenery is diverse and routes abundant. For roadies, touring ranges from mountains of the southeast to plains of the west. For the dirt crowd, off-road trails are surprisingly diverse and numerous.

``Oklahoma's a sleeper state,'' Brian Urquhart said. ``The mountain biking here is incredible.''

Urquhart, 39, an electronics technician from Pennsylvania stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, is retiring this month from the Navy. He plans to stay in Oklahoma, he said as he geared up to hit a mountain bike trail near Lake Draper.

``This is definitely a big reason why,'' he said.

Whatever your preference, the world from a bike is a different place, whether it's following deer along a remote leaf-covered trail or pedaling down a country blacktop to the rhythm of oil pumps. It's seasons, smells, sounds and silence.

``You get a real sense of freedom because you're moving and flowing through the trees,'' said Tobin Vigil, mountain biker and owner of a bike shop in Norman. ``You can rage down the trail as fast as you can without killing yourself, or you can kind of putter along and soak in the scenery. You get a rush either way.''