About This List
From swimming holes to outdoor parties, Tulsa boasts plenty of ways to get outside and enjoy the summer. But there’s no summer celebration like Tulsa Tough, the annual three-day cycling race and festival held across the city every June. This year’s Tulsa Tough is from June 10th to June 12th. From the Crits to the Gran Fondos, to the the newbie-friendly Townie Ride and the infamous mayhem that is Cry Baby Hill, Tulsa Tough is the cornerstone event of any good Tulsa summer. Here’s your field guide to the fun — and if you really plan on celebrating, don’t forget to #TakeMondayOff.
2022 marks the 16th anniversary of this beloved (and world-renowned) event, and after the Coronavirus pandemic left the 2020 races canceled, Tulsans are eager to get back into the streets once again to mind the gap.
Friendly reminder: As with any large post-Covid gathering, you’ll want to take a minute to plan out how you’ll participate before heading to the event. And be sure to consult the CDC for the latest guidelines around group gatherings.
McNellie’s Group Blue Dome District Criterium
Friday, Jun 10, 2022
Homebase: Elgin Ave. and 3rd St.
Races from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
What to Know:
Family-friendly night in the Blue Dome district, perfect for kiddos, co-workers, out-of-towners and everyone in between. Friday night offers a great first foray into the ascending madness of the weekend, and will still get you to bed early enough to feel refreshed for an early ride or spectating on Saturday morning.
Excitement, anticipation and breezy joy fill the streets of the Blue Dome District on Friday night, where Tulsans stake out spots to watch the Mens and Womens elite professional races and feel the wind of the pack in their hair. Because the course is shaped like a figure eight, you’re never far from the action. All evening, super-fast professional cyclists breeze by on hour-long races, while vendors and live musicians keep the energy up.
But it’s not just bragging rights on the line. Tulsa Tough boasts the largest prize purse in the nation; expect to see some of America’s best cycling on display.
- For the best views (and to catch two waves of the race at once), find a spot near the corner of Elgin Ave. and 3rd St., but be sure to get there early; this is prime Friday night real estate, and space goes quickly.
- The McNellie’s patio offers a perfect spot for folks who want to kick back and watch the races from afar. Open Container is a good bet too.
- Full Friday Criterium Races run-down here.
FC Tulsa Arts District Criterium and Gran Fondos, Day One
What to Know:
Another family-friendly day — this one with something for everyone and all skill levels— Saturday offers the best way for amatuer cyclists to get in on the fun (and friendly competition) of Tulsa Tough.
Options are the name of the game here, with 15 different ways to participate throughout the weekend — even if you’re new to cycling! With courses in distances of around 35, 66 and just over 100 miles, cyclists of all levels can choose their own adventure and pick the challenge that feels right for them.
What to Know:
Spread out across Saturday and Sunday, the Gran Fondos feature the best biking scenery that Green Country has to offer. Made up of five tour-style courses that weave across rolling hills, alongside beautiful streams and through the quiet calm of rural roads and surrounding counties, the course route itself makes it worth the work.
- The Piccolo: roughly 35 miles
- The Medio: roughly 70 miles
- The Gran: 100 miles (Saturday only)
- Double Tough: Saturday Gran and Sunday Medio
- Full Fondo schedule here
- Maps here
- Into cycling, but never raced before? Start with a Piccolo. Proponents say it’s similar to running a 5k in terms of difficulty, and a great gateway into racing for less experienced cyclists. (You can totally do it!)
- The toughest Tulsa cyclists can register to compete in one of two more difficult challenges: the Double Tough, or the ACE.
Tulsa Arts District Criterium
Crits Homebase: Reconciliation Way and Boston Ave.
Races from: 9:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
What to Know:
Expect a longer day than Friday, with laid back vibes and slightly more room to spread out. Saturday’s Crits follow an L-Shaped course through the historic Tulsa Arts District and finish up near Guthrie Green, making it easy to pop back and forth between spectating, strolling and re-fueling.
- For the best view, post up at Soundpony Hill with a few friends, bring some lawn chairs and a cooler, and enjoy the show.
- Hungry? Check out one of Tulsa’s downtown eateries for lunch or coffee, like the bike-friendly Chimera Cafe, Que Gusto, or Empire Slice House (note: Empire is an offshoot from the OKC flagship, but we don’t hold that against them).
- Ready to ride? Online registration closes a few days before the races.
McElroy River Parks Criterium, Gran Fondos Day Two, Townie Ride and Cry Baby Hill
What to Know:
More Crits, more Fondos and the most fun you’ll have on a Sunday all year. If you’ve been tracking the competition all weekend long, this is the day you’ve been waiting for. Team and individual winners get crowned after the conclusion of Sunday’s races.
- Homebase: Galveston Ave. and Riverside Dr.
- Race start: 2:15 p.m.
What to Know:
If you’re tired of watching from the curbside and want to stretch your legs and feel the magic of Tulsa Tough firsthand, sign up for The Townie Ride, a free 5.8-mile recreational bike ride for folks who want an easy group ride — kiddos included! Afterward, if you’re looking to avoid crazy crowds, snag a family-friendly spot at River Parks to watch the sprint section of the Crit course.
- Sunday Homebase: 15th St. and Riverside Dr.
- Sunday Races From: 7:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
McElroy River Parks Criterium (aka Cry Baby Hill)
- Homebase: 15th St. and Riverside Dr.
- Races From: 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
What to Know:
The center of Sunday’s action is Cry Baby Hill, the grueling, back-breaking, uphill ascent near Riverside Drive and Southwest Boulevard that’s known to make even the toughest cyclists tear up. It’s also Tulsa Tough’s official party central.
But at its core, the heart of Cry Baby Hill is the spectators, and truth be told, it’s not for the faint of heart. While there are plenty of ways to watch the races without getting pulled into the madness of CBH, why not let your hair down and live a little? That said, it’s good to know what to expect before going in. I.e. Cry Baby Hill isn’t a great place for kids or pets (do everyone a favor and please don’t bring either). Expect big, rowdy, costumed crowds, lots of raucous delight from the thousand person-strong throng and a general feeling of good-natured debauchery. A word from the wise: don’t forget the sunscreen (just make sure you top it with glitter).
- Visitors to Cry Baby Hill should always follow guidance from the referees. You’ll know them by their zebra-striped shirts. They’re volunteers who are charged with keeping racers and the crowd safe throughout the day’s races.
- It’s worth mentioning that 2021 brought new regulations to CBH. Coolers are no longer allowed on the Hill. Instead, folks 21 and older can grab drinks and cool off in a new beer garden located near the main stage, where musical acts will play live dance sets all afternoon.
- If you really want to lean into Cry Baby Hill, be sure to dress the theme. This year's is Beach Party.
- If you’re thinking about cutting through the grass to get around foot traffic, remember that you’re tromping around in somebody's yard (and that you really shouldn’t be). Pick up your trash, stay on the sidewalk and keep Tulsa beautiful, ya filthy animals!
For the uninitiated, learning the Tulsa Tough lingo takes some time. Here’s a quick field guide of terms to know:
Tulsa Tough: A three-day cycling race and festival held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It boasts both sanctioned events and unofficial happenings all weekend long.
Crits: Equal parts sensory overload and cycling course, Criteriums (Crits for short) are hour-long bike races made up of multiple laps on a short, closed-circuit course. They’re known for high speeds, sharp turns, and that general feeling of euphoria felt as the pack zips by.
Gran Fondos: Italian for ‘big ride;’ Tulsa Tough for ‘big fun.’ These are long amateur-level bike races designed not for professional competition, but for camaraderie, participation, and the love of cycling.
Mind the Gap: A friendly warning to be mindful the distance between you and the cyclists racing in the street. The rail helps, but it’s always good to be aware!
Kit: The official name for cycling clothing, or a biker’s outfit. You’ll see a lot of kit on Tulsa Tough weekend, both on the course and around the city. Note: it’s not that everyone’s wearing a diaper; they’re just padded in the back.
Cat: Short for ‘category,’ which denotes the level of difficulty of the races on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the hardest.
CBH: Shorthand for Cry Baby Hill, the place to be on Sunday, June 13th.
“Who are We?: The answer is always: “Sound-po-NEE!” AKA, Soundpony, the name of the cycling bar that sets the theme for Cry Baby Hill every year, and the unofficial watering hole of Tulsa Tough.
Quads: The super-human body part bulging off of all cyclists you’ll see on Tulsa Tough weekend, and arguably the most important of glossary terms to know and recognize.
Photos by Chris Creese.