Bike festival stands out across the state, says Bicycle Indiana director

Margaret Barawskas, (L) director of Bicycle Indiana, listens as Mike Cusick, co-director of Fat & Skinny Tire Festival, speaks during opening ceremonies Friday night in Winona Lake. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.
By Dan Spalding
News Now Warsaw

WINONA LAKE — Bicycling enthusiasts, both far and near, praised this year’s annual Fat and Skinny Tire Fest.

The three-day festival enjoyed great weather and large crowds Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Warsaw and Winona Lake.

Organized by Kosciusko Velo Club, the festival has emerged as one of the biggest festivals in Kosciusko County and one of the most popular cycling events in Indiana.

Margaret Barawskas, director of Bicycle Indiana, relaxes for a moment while attending Sunday’s Fat & Skinny Tire Fest in Winona Lake. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.

Margaret Barawskas, executive director of Bicycle Indiana, was both a participant in some events and an observer of all three days. She offered her thoughts on how Fat and Skinny compares to other cycling events across the state.

She took the job a year ago and much of her work involves traveling the state and promoting bicycling safety and actities outside of Indianapolis, which has its own seperate orgization.

“There is nothing in the state of Indiana — to me — that I have seen that really does this great of a job,” Barawskas said while taking a break Sunday afternoon in Winona which hosted a full afternoon of competitive racing in The Village.

The variety of events — ranging from competitive racing to mountain bike competition to cross county bike rides — set it apart from other similar festivals, she said.

Barawskas said she’s especially impressed with the behind the scenes production of multiple events.

“Winona Lake and this event is something really special that people don’t realize that brings revenues, brings people together,” she said. “This town does a phenomenal job at promoting the sport, promoting community, and promoting outdoor recreational activities.”

Mike Cusick, co-director of the festival, on Monday afternoon reflected on the weekend, calling it “spectacular.”

He said he was happy with turnout in all of the activities.

Combining Third Friday in downtown Warsaw with the criterium races and the BMX bike stunt show worked out really well, he said.

What stands out about the weekend, he said, is the level of community support — highlighted by a record-setting 345 volunteers, many of whom worked all three days.

“That’s one of the reasons I feel it works so well is because of the community engagement,” Cusick said.

Having support from both Warsaw Mayor Jeff Grose and Winona Lake Town Manager Craig Allebach — both of whom spoke at the ceremonial kick-off — also helped, he said.

Many bike festivals don’t see that kind of support, he said.

Forecasts earlier in the week predicted a 60 percent chance of rain on Friday, but partly sunny skies prevailed ahead of activities in Winona Lake and Warsaw.

“We had great weather all three days, which is rare,” Cusick said. “When you have good weather, that brings out the spectators.”

Cusick was asked if he feels the festival has matured in recent years.

“It’s hard to say something in its 19th year is still maturing, but it is in some ways,” he said.

“If you don’t have this kind of support, you don’t have festivals that last for 20 years,” he said. “It’s taken that time to build that kind of community support.”

Cusick tipped his hat to the early leaders of KVC for taking the right steps to gain support and sticking with it in the lean years.

Youngsters got an up close look at the BMX stunt show Friday night in Warsaw. News Now Warsaw photo by Dan Spalding.