Meet the cycling club putting northeast Indiana on the map for bicycle enthusiasts

The KC Velo Club is building bicycle culture in Kosciusko County.

Greg Demopoulos has been a cycling enthusiast since he was four years old.

“I started with BMX where I got into racing competitively,” he says. “In high school and college, I transitioned to mountain bikes and road bikes. Today, I ride all three and love going for a dinner cruise with my family on the local greenways.”

Greg Demopoulos is president of the KC Velo Club.

Over the past two decades, Demopoulos has done more than foster a growing love of cycling—he’s turned it into a way to give back to his community. In fact, he and other riders in the Winona Lake area have created a movement around bike culture that's earning the attention of cyclists around the nation.

KC Velo members ride the trails they maintain.

In 2001, Demopoulos teamed up with local cyclists, Alan Alderfer, Robbie Gast, and Jim Lancaster, to launch the Kosciusko County Velo Cycling Club (KC Velo)—velo meaning a two-wheeled, single-track vehicle or bicycle.

Since then, these and other cycling enthusiasts have created the annual Fat and Skinny Tire Festival and the Ride+Walk Warsaw+Winona Lake Advisory Committee, earning Kosciusko County recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Community from the League of American Bicyclists in Washington D.C.

The KC Velo Club brings riders together for weekly rides.

As president of the KC Velo Club, Demopoulos leads an organization that rides together and works to make pedaling fun, approachable, and accessible for others.

“Our desire is to provide as many people as possible opportunities to ride in our community,” Demopoulos says. “We love collaborating with the local governments, civic groups, tourism boards, and bike shops to get more people on bicycles, whether for transportation, recreation, or competition.”

Greg Demopoulos leads KC Velo Club members in maintaining the trails.

Surrounded by scenic lakes and forests, the Warsaw and Winona Lake area is ideal for outdoor activities of all sorts. It has 180 miles of bikeway trails, six miles of greenways, and three miles of bike lanes. The KC Velo offers weekly road, mountain bike, and group rides to build a community around cycling that spans gaps in ages and abilities.

The KC Velo Club trails connect to the popular Lake City Greenway.

The club also champions public access to the area's natural resources like trails and greenways with maintenance and usage oversight along bike routes. Not afraid to get their hands dirty, the cyclists volunteer their time to preserve the natural habitat for visitors and wildlife alike by clearing sticks, weeds, and overgrowth.

KC Velo Club members volunteer their time on weekends to maintain the trails.

While some aspects of KC Velo's work are behind-the-scenes, other projects are bold and flashy. In 2004, the club created its famous Fat and Skinny Tire Festival (FSTF) in May with 30 volunteers, 433 riders, and four events.

Over the years, the festival has grown into an annual celebration with more than 200 volunteers and 1,600 riders across 18 events, turning the entire Warsaw and Winona Lake area into a giant cycling course and community-wide party.

 The annual Fat and Skinny Tire Festival turns Winona Lake into a bike course.

Cyclist Matt Zandee, who came from Michigan to take part, says the experience was worth the trek.

“It’s a celebration of all things biking with the box exhibition downtown, guys doing tricks, the mountain bike race, and mixed biking events downtown all weekend,” he reflects.

Hundreds of cyclists from around the country compete in the Fat and Skinny Tire Fest.

The three-day FSTF has something for people of all ages and interests—from casual cyclists to serious racers—with coloring contests, face painting, and bike decorating. The jam-packed schedule includes 100-mile bikes rides, food, music, racing, and demonstrations. A highlight for athletes and spectators alike is the BMX stunt show.

BMX stunts are a crowd favorite at the FSTF.

Zandee says he became interested in cycling as an adult to stay in shape, explore new places, and compete. But he also understands that cycling culture can be intimidating to the novice or casual rider.

“To a beginner, it’s easy to attend an event like Fat and Skinny Tire Festival and be both intrigued and turned off by competing in bike racing and riding,” Zandee says. “It can seem such an inaccessible sport, but everyone involved was a mystified beginner at one time, hooked by this cool, unique sport.”

KC Velo Club trails are rugged and made for mountain biking.

So where do you start?

“Just get on a bike, and ride around town, on dirt roads, and over trails and roads,” Zandee suggests. “Or ride on a tandem, e-bike, or eventually an expensive race bike. There are more ways now than ever to enjoy two wheels, and none are any better than the next.”

A KC Velo club member tests a trail improvement.

To help those new to the sport hone their riding skills, KC Velo is currently building an all-ages bike park near the Winona Lake Park that will complement the current Winona Lake Trails.

“We hope to begin the fundraising phase of the project soon,” Demopoulos says. “Right now, we are in the design phase.”

KC Velo Club members maintain the trails they ride.

To advocate the benefits of safe access to cycling and pedestrian opportunities, KC Velo also offers educational presentations and bike rodeos to schools, corporate health fairs, and social organizations.

One of their programs called Tracey’s Trailer Mobile Bicycle Education Project provides in-class curriculum for third graders, teaching them the rules of the road, the basics of their bicycle, and the importance of wearing a helmet, Demopoulos says. It culminates in an outdoor bicycle skills rodeo where students test what they’ve learned and earn a new helmet.

Helmets are required on the Lake City Greenway and KCV Club trails.

Another way the club is advocating for cycling in Kosciusko County and beyond is by building up the area’s cycling infrastructure and connectivity. KC Velo partners with the Ride+Walk Warsaw+Winona Lake Advisory Committee to expand on the community’s Master Plan of adding bike lanes and greenways to more portions of the community.

“We hope to provide riding and walking thoroughfares to our major shopping districts, our neighborhoods, and schools,” Demopoulos says. “Also, with the recent announcement of the Great American Trail which will pass through Indiana, utilizing the Cardinal Greenway and the Nickel Plate Greenway, we would love to get connected to the town of Rochester, Indiana, adding more bicycle tourism opportunities for the Michiana counties.”
 

Learn more about the KC Velo Cycling Club

The 501c3 Cycling Club meets the last Tuesday of the month, at Mad Anthony’s Lake City Tap House in Warsaw. Beginning at 8:00 p.m. The club is open to new members, whether a veteran rider or someone new to the sport.

For information about the Kosciusko County Velo Cycling Club, check out their website at kcvcycling.org. You’ll find club news, sport-related clothing, and opportunities to volunteer at the Fat and Skinny Tire Festival.

Find photos and a schedule of events on the club’s Facebook page, facebook.com/KCVCyclingClub/.

Photos by Ray Steup and courtesy of the KC Velo Club.

Read more articles by PeggySue Wells.

Writing from the 100-Acre wood in Indiana, PeggySue Wells is the bestselling author of 29 books including The Slave Across the Street, Bonding With Your Child Through Boundaries, Slavery in the Land of the Free, Homeless for the Holidays, and Chasing Sunrise.
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