Have you ever experienced “The Lycra Factor”? It’s how Kalamazoo Bicycle Club President Zolton Cohen describes the feeling of insecurity a beginner might experience upon approaching the sport of group cycling.
“We heard that people would come out to our group rides, drive into the parking lot where we meet, and would get so intimidated they wouldn’t even get out of their cars,” he says. “They’d see 60 or 70 people standing around, and to them it looked like everyone was tall, athletic, wearing spandex and leaning up against $5,000 carbon-fiber bicycles. So we started Bike Camp to lower the bar and as kind of entrée into the sport of group cycling.”
The Kalamazoo Bike Camp, started seven years ago and taught by volunteer members of the Kalamazoo Bicycle Club, introduces cycling novices to group cycling — everything from bike fittings to road safety. The five-day camp meets at the Portage YMCA and is spread over four consecutive Saturdays, starting May 17. A one-time introductory meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. May 14, at the Greater Kalamazoo Association of Realtors Auditorium, 5830 Venture Park Drive.
The first day of camp will ease riders into cycling, as volunteers from local bike shops help measure bikes and make sure riders’ equipment is properly fitted to them.
“The No. 1 one reason people don’t ride their bikes is because their bikes hurt them — their butts, hands, knees, wrists, etc.,” Cohen says. “Generally, adjusting a bike so it fits better can help eliminate those pains.”
After the informational portion of each camp meeting, new riders team up with Kalamazoo Bicycle Club volunteers to go on rides, with each group organized according to how fast or long each cyclist wants to ride. There’s no pressure to outperform your abilities, Cohen says.
“Cycling is a sport anyone can do at anytime,” he says. “That’s one thing we try to emphasize from day one — that bicycling is a sport for everyone.”
The camp costs between $50 and $80, depending on when you register and whether you register as an individual or as a family. Camp registration also covers a year’s membership in the bicycle club as well as entry into KalTour, the club’s annual scenic group ride that serves as an end goal of the camp.
The camp might be a good deal economically, but Cohen points out that so too is the sport of cycling. Once your bike is adjusted, it’s possible to get out and exercise easily and, with pointers given at the camp, safely.
“We really try to emphasize how to ride safely on the roads,” Cohen says. “There are so many opportunities to ride on great country roads, and if you are familiar with how to ride on those roads safely, it makes a difference. Even something small, like using a rearview mirror, which costs around $20 — just that little bit of vision in back of you is so important on the road.”
Cohen hopes that after the camp is over attendees will feel comfortable enough to go cycling on their own. Many camp participants continue to ride with the club and experience the victory of meeting or exceeding fitness goals. The Lycra Factor starts to diminish. But, Cohen says, the Lycra itself stays.
“People do wear bike shorts for a reason,” he says. “They make biking more tolerable, and as you ride more you’ll find that a pair of good bike shorts makes a difference. And don’t wear cotton underwear under your bike shorts.”
That’s one of the first lessons of bike camp. And you just got it for free.