There are lots of ways to explore a city. Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second city but the city most deserving of your visit, has received Bike-Friendly Community awards since 2009 from the League of American Bicyclists, making it one of 430 communities designated as such in the US. Moreover, Bicycle Magazine listed Tulsa as one of the Top 50 cities in America for bike-friendliness. Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to explore Tulsa is on two wheels. Here’s how to do it.
What makes Tulsa so bike-friendly?
Turning an infrastructure built for driving into one optimized for cycling is no small task, and it’s a project that Tulsa has been chipping away at for years. Aside from numerous trails in and around Tulsa, great strides have been taken to make the city more bike- (and pedestrian-) friendly. One of the most notable advances is the new bike share program, aka This Machine, the first phase of the Tulsa Bike Share initiative. This Machine is designed to expand the cycling culture by providing both a high quality and affordable option for residents and visitors. With 160 bikes available across 25 stations throughout downtown and along Route 66, there is always a bike nearby if you need one.
Phase Two is coming soon to expand This Machine to other popular areas of Tulsa, including the Pearl District, Cherry Street, and Gathering Place. Visitors wanting to pedal through town can rent single 30-minute rides for $2 or grab a three-day pass for just $10. Keep in mind that even with the multi-day option, bikes are still subject to the 30-minute increments. In other words, they want you to lock the bike up at each stop and not just leave it sitting around unwatched. If you’re in Tulsa for a more extended period, you can also purchase monthly and annual memberships rather economically.
Download the BCycle app and explore downtown Tulsa and Route 66. There are plenty of stops along the bike-share system map that take you to cultural attractions like the Philbrook Downtown museum and DECOPOLIS, a super-hip Art Deco museum in the heart of the city. Alternatively, art enthusiasts might enjoy hunting the many downtown murals while sports fans can pay a visit to the Tusla Drillers, a Minor League Baseball affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, at ONEOK Field. Of course, do not leave Tulsa without defying the laws of physics in the Center of the Universe, quite possibly the freakiest place you’ll visit this side of the Stanley Hotel.
Explore the River Parks Trail system.
A local bike advocacy group called The Tulsa Townies offer free bike rentals available at stations throughout the city’s extensive River Parks Trail system. There is no cost to borrow a bike, but you will have to provide identification and a credit card in order to prevent theft. To fully explore the area on a bike, I recommend starting here with the namesake River Parks Trail. This path is ideal for any fitness level and guides you to some of the top spots in Tulsa. You can start downtown and ride the East Bank Trail that extends nine miles to 101st or vice versa using the West Bank Trail. This is a good afternoon exercise lined with well-marked pull-offs for a drink, a picnic, or a scenic view. If you’re a road warrior looking to conquer a longer distance, you can extend your route at trail connections on either end. The best resource for mapping out over 80 miles of trail is on the INCOG website, which also provides handy trail closure updates.
More leisurely explorers can easily spend the whole day riding along the Arkansas River. Tulsa’s new pride and joy, The Gathering Place, is located just off the trail on the East side and is a must stop for anyone visiting Tulsa. This mammoth riverfront park opened in 2018 and features a fitness trail, massive playgrounds, and art exhibits. The park is so extensive that it actually has its own app to help visitors plan their way around and stay on top of happenings.
For dinner by the water or a post-ride brew, slide into Blue Rose Cafe or Elwood’s. These two local favorites are situated together right along the River Parks Trail, and both offer excellent patio dining, classic menus, and ice cold beer to refuel. The following trails connect with the River Parks Trail and take you through a variety of experiences, both urban and wild.
Head away from the hustle and bustle.
If you’re an experienced rider and feeling a little adventurous, take a trip through the Turkey Mountain Wilderness. Turkey Mountain connects to the River Parks Trail on the West Bank at 71st. Here you can immerse yourself in the “wilderness” along several miles of dirt trails and wind through this 300-acre park. It can be challenging for the casual rider, and you may even forget you’re in the city at all.
The area is truly kept in a wilderness state, meaning that if you take this trail on, practice typical safety precautions related to remote exploring. The park discourages solo riding and/or hiking and recommends sturdy footwear, ample water supply, and a cell phone with GPS tracking. Be sure to dress appropriately for the weather AND the environment. Nobody wants to end the day covered in poison ivy.
Or take the peaceful path downtown.
Connect to the Aquarium Trail at the south end of River Park East at 101st. This trail offers beautiful views of the Arkansas River and access to the Oklahoma Aquarium, as well as several shops and restaurants at Riverwalk Crossing. If you’re feeling hungry, Los Cabos Mexican Grill is home to some of the best Mexican food in town while Burn Co serves up some of the meanest BBQ in the state.
The Midland Valley Trail is somewhat of a local secret, a wooded path that makes a peaceful alternate route downtown by connecting to the Riverside East Trail near the Gathering Place. This beautiful bike path runs alongside an old abandoned railroad as well as in and around the most impressive parks in Tulsa. If you love ever-changing scenery, Midland Valley is for you because you’ll soak in many aspects of Tulsa on your way into the city center. It’s the perfect introduction to Tulsa.