Freewheel, Inc. is an Oklahoma 501(c)4 not-for-profit corporation promoting cycling as part of a healthy lifestyle and Oklahoma as a travel and tourist destination for cyclist and non-cyclist alike.
Through bicycling, Freewheel connects Oklahoma’s unique peoples, cultures, communities, and landscapes. We celebrate a happy, healthy, safe and sustainable Oklahoma.
To promote and strengthen cycling tourism in Oklahoma.
Let Yourself Go!
Connecting Oklahoma Through Bicycling.
Organizational and Financial Structure
Q: What is Freewheel’s history and how has it changed?
Freewheel was founded in 1979 as a 501(c)4 organization led by a volunteer Board of Directors and part-time Executive Director. Its articles of incorporation state the following purposes: “foster and promote amateur bicycle touring; emphasize the benefits of exercise for fitness and health; and promote community spirit, civic image and betterment of the social welfare of Tulsa and the surrounding communities.”
For over thirty years, Freewheel has been Oklahoma’s only cross-state cycling touring event. Beginning in 1979, the ride was underwritten by the Tulsa World newspaper. The paper’s sponsorship of Freewheel ended in the early 1990’s. Since that time, rider fees and in-kind support from many vendors and volunteers have been the ride’s only funding sources.
In 2013, amid increased scrutiny of 501(c)4 organizations and seeking to ensure Freewheel’s financial viability, the Board of Directors began a process of strategic planning. A primary goal of our planning was to clarify the organization’s mission in line with its 501(c)4 incorporation. Future goals are to improve events in response to rider surveys; develop guidelines for Board of Director positions; better reflect the organization’s statewide, national, and international participation; assess Freewheel’s economic and social impact; and partner with other agencies that share our mission and vision. These tasks all serve an ambitious aim: to become the nation’s premier cycling touring organization.
Q: Freewheel is a 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization. What does that mean?
Freewheel’s articles of incorporation and IRS guidelines require it chiefly to promote social welfare. Therefore, Freewheel legally must further the common good and general welfare of the community. The IRS specifies that social and recreational activities (such as bicycling) for individuals are NOT social welfare; however, if a substantial part (at least 50%) of an organization’s endeavors are dedicated to social welfare along with its social and recreational aims, it may still qualify for 501(c)4 classification. Explanation and examples of qualifying social welfare activities are viewable by clicking here.
Therefore, beyond the personal rewards of bicycling across the state, our engagement with rural communities across Oklahoma is an essential part of Freewheel’s legacy. Starting in 2013, Freewheel is deepening its partnership with host communities not only so that the immediate demands of accommodating hundreds of riders may be met more successfully but also so that our presence creates more measurable economic and social benefit in accordance with our 501(c)4 classification.
Q: Is a yearly cross-state bicycle ride the only thing that Freewheel does?
Not at all! Freewheel has already expanded its cycling advocacy beyond the cross-state tour by hosting OK Freewheel Fandango in October and supporting the Oklahoma Bike Summit. These efforts are part of our work to fulfill our mission, which reflects our 501(c)4 classification.
Q: Since Freewheel is a 501(c)4 not-for-profit organization, why doesn’t it get its income primarily from donations instead of rider fees?
Under IRS guidelines, donations to 501(c)4 organizations are NOT tax-deductible. Though not receiving charitable contributions poses some challenges, it also creates unique opportunities; Freewheel may lobby to advance the cause of cycling, for example. As a result, raising funds for Freewheel necessitates identifying sponsors that derive benefit from and share commitment to our organization’s mission beyond simply facilitating a week-long recreational experience for individuals. We will find the most success in attracting sponsors when our cycling advocacy is visible, measurable, and ongoing. One of the most exciting features of our 501(c)4 status is that we may not only receive sponsorship, but also we may extend sponsorship to other groups who are likewise promoting cycling for the welfare of all.
Q: As a not-for-profit organization, shouldn’t Freewheel have to end the fiscal year with zero dollars in the bank?
Because our organization is required to promote social welfare beyond social and recreational activities, Freewheel’s budget must not be directed to a cross-state tour alone. In fact, to do so would disqualify us from our 501(c)4 classification. Freewheel must operate on sound financial footing so that the organization will thrive into the future.
Q: What documents are Freewheel required to make public? Where can I find these documents?
Q: Where does all the Freewheel money go?
Please see the following chart depicting our projected costs for 2017, which amounts to roughly $150,000.
Explanation of Categories:
- Rider Services–Fruit stops, shower truck, road marking, etc.
- Safety–Oklahoma Highway Patrol labor and route signage
- Community Support and Advocacy–Supporting the 2017 Oklahoma Bike Summit and Host Community Bicycle Friendly projects, etc.
- Legal and Organizational Compliance–Insurance, etc.
- Labor–Executive Director salary.
- Merchandise and Marketing–T-shirts, jerseys, swag, website, etc.
Q: Why did Freewheel’s rider fees increase in 2013? How can I afford the higher fee?
At the end of the 2012 tour, riders were asked to complete an extensive survey asking for feedback on all parts of the ride. Overall, riders expressed their desire for an experience that combines personal challenge with community engagement. The most-suggested improvements were adding more rest stops, improving on-road support, providing diverse and higher quality food options, and increasing positive interaction with host town residents. In addition, a majority of riders requested a greater web presence, including online registration and social media activity. A desire for more services is also evident in the growing popularity of the Shuttle Guy Service year after year.
Freewheel’s Board of Directors spent the rest of 2012 taking action on these requests, chiefly by working more closely with representatives of host towns. Increased signage, a Freewheel Passport Program (to increase engagement with host towns), a better shower truck, towel service, improved food, and a revamped web presence are all results of the efforts made in 2012. There are also some initiatives that may not be quite as obvious, especially fund allocations to host towns for basic infrastructure needs (e.g., port-a-johns, entertainment, etc.).
In the past, Freewheel has operated on a razor-thin margin, in lucky years breaking even and in other years operating at a loss. In 2013, several necessary vendors notified us of impending cost increases for 2013.
For example, our port-a-john vendor that had worked with us for 34 years is officially retiring. This necessitates us contracting locally with each town, which significantly increases our budget for this necessary service. This is just one of many examples of rising costs for our rider services. Here are just some examples of percentage increases in expenses we have experienced from
- Oklahoma Highway Patrol: 17%
- Fruit Stops: 19%
- Shower Truck: 16%
- SAG: 37%
- Port-a-john: 13%
Note: In 2016 we started giving each overnight host town a grant of $500 and each finish town a grant of $250 in order to help them cover the costs of hosting us. Our group can create a huge strain on some of these small towns, and many places would not be able to host us without these grants.
Though we are mindful of the importance of making the cross-state tour affordable, we are also committed to making the Freewheel organization financially secure. Feedback from many past participants indicated they would be willing to pay more for registration. We have also surveyed national bicycle touring events about their cost structure. As a result, we raised registration fees for 2013 to account for higher costs and increased rider services, but to a level that still remains competitive with many similar venues across the country. These are the improvements that you will see this year on our ride:
- Increased signage, both in camp and on the route.
- State-of-the-art shower truck with free towel service.
- Evidence of greater host community involvement. One of the many examples of this is our passport program, and our “Cycle Friendly” stickers for host community businesses. We plan to use proceeds from this ride to fund bicycle friendly projects in each of our host communities.
- Increased budget for our Friday night banquet and entertainment.
- Revamped website.
- Freewheel Pre-Ride in order to better educate both our riders and our host communities about what to expect.
- T-shirt included in registration price.
To help with these increased costs, Freewheels offers scholarships for those with financial hardship. If you would be interested in applying for a scholarship, you may contact the director to start the application process. We have also created a team discount that provides an incentive for riding with friends and family. These services should allow many of you to be able afford the cost of Freewheel.
Further, colleges across the country—including Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma—are embarking on new initiatives to obtain bike-friendly status. These initiatives are compatible with Freewheel’s vision and mission; thus, we have instituted a significant discount for college-aged riders in order to support and attract members of university cycling teams. The League of American Bicyclists has some great programs for establishing bicycle friendly universities. Click here to find out more about what they are doing, and you will see why we want to support this great initiative.
We continue to look for ways to make Freewheel affordable to those with financial hardship; we are eager to hear additional suggestions. Contact us at any time with your ideas!
Q: How does a person become more involved with Freewheel?
We are always looking for volunteers! Go to our volunteer page to see what positions we currently have available, or feel free to contact us if you have other ways you would like to lend us your gifts and talents. Thank you for helping us make our ride the best it can be!