NORMAN — Eighteen years ago the Norman Conquest bike ride was born when the Bicycle League of Norman talked to Jeff Stewart about the possibility of O’Connell’s Irish Pub and Grill sponsoring a local bike ride.
“Norman Conquest originated at O’Connell’s and it got too big for us to handle,” said Stewart, who is still a race sponsor. Last year, Stewart added a free pasta dinner as part of the ride registration package. Accompanying friends and family members can also eat pasta for $5.
“It’s great fun. It’s the second year that we’ve done the pasta feed,” Stewart said. “We share in the cost as part of our sponsorship.”
Last year they ran out of pasta, Stewart said.
Former Conquest director, Michelle Carr said there were a record 650 riders from across Oklahoma and six other states at last year’s ride.
While a few of those riders may just blow into town, ride and leave, many come early and spend the night or stop somewhere for lunch before heading back out of town.
Stewart said O’Connell’s gets some lunch overflow from the Saturday event and it’s great to hear cyclists saying how much they enjoyed the experience.
“It definitely brings people to town,” Stewart said. “There are a lot of cyclists who travel from event to event. This is a great event. The cyclists are happy with the ride and its organization.”
Rocky Chen is massage therapist at the Health Club at Brookhaven Village. He offers free massages following the bike ride.
“My first year was 2001,” he said. “One of my friends who was in massage school with me needed help.”
At that time, Chen said the event was still at O’Connell’s and O’Connell’s was at its former location at Lindsey Street and Jenkins Avenue. Chen has continued his involvement ever since.
“We see a lot of riders that come up from Texas and Tulsa,” he said. Chen said there are, of course, a lot of local riders from the greater Oklahoma City metropolitan area.
“It’s a good event. East side Norman has a lot of hills,” Chen said.
Until they do the Conquest, some cyclists may not realize the training opportunity here.
“Some people use this as a training ride for the Hotter than Hell 100,” Chen said.
In recent years, the ride has started and ended at the J. D. McCarty Center, a pediatric rehab hospital for children with developmental disabilities in Norman. The BLN donates the proceeds from the Conquest to support Camp ClapHans scholarship fund. Camp ClapHans is J.D. McCarty’s residential summer camp project.
Chen is the Massage Director for the OKC Memorial Marathon and the Redman Triathlon. He also goes out of state to events, and has served at the 2004 Paralympic games as a volunteer massage therapist. Those are the official Olympic games for athletes with physical disabilities.
He is thrilled the Conquest benefits Camp ClapHans. He also enjoys talking with other cyclists about training and nutrition with cyclists as well as talking about stretching.
“On top of being a massage therapist, I’m an athlete,” Chen said.
Stewart isn’t an athlete, but he looks forward to the Conquest every year.
“It’s always just been for fun. The overall thing is a fundraiser and it promotes cycling in Norman,” Stewart said.
O’Connell’s also sponsors a rest stop. Other event sponsors include Sun & Ski Sports, Buchanan Bicycles, 405 Bicycles and Al’s Bicycles, all of which are located in Norman.
The ride starts at 7:30 a.m. but will have a staggered start this year, varying by route distance in 3 to 5 minute intervals.
The 10-mile town tour favored by families features an entirely new, flat route through Norman. The 22-mile route introduces some hills to the tour. The 46-mile and 64-mile routes are progressively more hilly. All the routes have rest stops and SAG support.
Register online at active.com, pick up a Norman Conquest registration form from local bike shops or register from 5-9 p.m. July 12 at O’Connell’s Irish Pub & Grill, 769 Asp Ave. Same day registration will be available at the McCarty Center starting at 6 a.m. until 15 minutes before the ride’s 7:30 a.m. start time.