University of Arizona

Cycling in Tucson - Historic Beginnings

Happy Bike Month!

May is National Bike month and if you are a bicyclist in Tucson, you know that it is pretty easy getting around. You do not even have to be a “Tour de Francer” to be able to enjoy commuting to work or school. However, if you are a devout cycler, Tucson offers its annual El Tour de Tucson in November whereby the expert rider or the most casual can enjoy. The point is, Tucson is a pretty good place for bicyclists. Bicycling Magazine in its 2013 “America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Places” Tucson is 9th on the list because “all new street construction and reconstruction must include bike lanes. The East Pima Region already has more than 700 miles of designated bikeways. Plus, it's sunny year-round” (Bicycling Magazine).

This spirit of cycling, in Tucson, cannot be said to be because of the infrastructure since historically a lot of the roads in Tucson were dirt roads. The only real spaces to race professionally were in velodromes, cycling arenas where the sport of roadcycling had its beginnings and such facilities were not part of the Tucson sporting landscape. Most early bikers were actually curious student travelers who went on weekend outings to Sabino Canyon, San Xavier del Bac, or sometimes further- Nogales.

By the time highway systems took semblance of their current iterations, the sport of biking took new and ambitious form. Rivalry between the University of Arizona and the then Arizona State College spurted what would be called the “Bicycle Pony Express” where teams of riders from each school would relay across a 120-mile stretch of the Sonoran Desert between Tucson and Tempe. It can be said that the infrastructure provides a means for bicycle-friendly protocols, but appreciation for bicycling took place long before those infrastructures ever existed. As a result, this becomes a question of ‘the chicken or the egg’ for what obliges Tucsonan bicycle culture. Perhaps it is the year-round sun.