Several hundred riders will pass through Rolla on a leg of a 300 mile, five day trek through Missouri.

Big BAM (Bicycle across Missouri) will be riding through Rolla and St. James on June 21, day four of the five-day ride that starts in Joplin and ends in Eureka, where cyclists bike along historic Route 66.

The anticipated 550 to 600 cyclists will have a pit stop at the Visitor Center in Rolla where the Rolla Chamber of Commerce is hosting an event in partnership with Big BAM, stated Tourism Director for Rolla Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, Aimee Campbell.

The 304 mile ride would seem daunting but local cyclist and biking enthusiast, Chester Kojro, states that the long distance ride is actually quite easy, and anyone in reasonable health can do it as long as they condition themselves by riding to get in shape and to avoid sore muscles that can occur on long rides such as the Big BAM.

And with the annual Big BAM ride passing through Rolla, The Rolla Daily News reached out to Kojro to answer some of our questions about all things cycling.

RDN: What first got you interested in cycling?

Kojro: I grew up in Chicago, and a bicycle sure beat walking. It was great for running errands, going to the city parks, and grade school was three-fourths of a mile away. It was a snap by bike.  High school was around three miles away, and a bicycle was faster than city buses when you figured in all the stops.

Why did you continue to cycle?

In the ‘60s, most bikes were heavy single speed cruisers.  Lightweight English three-speed and ten-speed ‘racers’ that had narrow tires were new and uncommon.  I got a Robin Hood three-speed in the sixth grade of 1966. Around high school and college, I started riding for pleasure and exploration, often doing 50-mile loops. I had to pedal miles of city streets just to get to those suburban forest preserve trails and county line roads, and then back along city streets to get home.  Joining the Army in 1976, I left the Robin Hood with relatives but soon after in Fort Lewis, WA, I bought a nice Viscount ten-speed racer.  I enjoyed weekend 50-mile bike rides, first for exploration and then just for relaxation.  I took the Viscount with me to Germany and also back to Fort Knox, KY, where I also got back my Robin Hood.  After leaving the Army in 1987, I spent eight months in Virginia near Fort Belvoir where I enjoyed pedaling the sites.  I came to Missouri in 1988 and enjoyed riding through Pulaski County and around Fort Leonard Wood.  In 1996 I moved to rural Phelps County and found the gravel and dirt roads very unpleasant and the hills rather steep.  I pretty much lost interest and even gave away the ten-speed but kept the Robin Hood for sentimental reasons.

When did your interest come back?

Over the next 15 years, I had some health issues.  Running and other exercises became miserable as joints and muscles often ached, and I put on unhealthy weight. I still pedaled a little, but it wasn’t enjoyable, often even miserable.  I became curious and started reading up on the history and technology of bicycles and bicycling. Ignoring the advertising for high-priced nonsense, I soon learned that all I really needed was lower gearing to get up the hills and wider tires to handle the dirt roads.  In 2011, I went to Route 66 Bicycles in Rolla where for about $15, I had the Robin Hood’s gearing lowered and loved the results.  Soon after, I purchased a Trek entry-level 21-speed hardtail mountain bike.  Between the two, I started riding about 1,000 miles a year; the Robin Hood mostly on road trips and errands and the Trek for exploration.

What are the benefits of cycling in your opinion?

Better health through exercise is obvious. It is also much faster than walking and much less strenuous than running-- cycling is low impact; very easy on the joints and muscles.  It is as easy or strenuous as you choose and yet you can still travel useful distances.  Cycling burns fat and saves money. 

What training goes into being able to ride the whole duration of the Big BAM ride or other long rides?

Long distance rides are actually quite easy.  Anyone in reasonable health can do them.  You need some conditioning rides to get in shape to avoid sore muscles and bottom, but this isn’t racing; just steady riding.  Once you can ride five miles, you can do ten.  When you can ride twenty, you can do thirty.  Fifty miles at a leisurely pace only takes about four or five hours.  That leaves plenty of time to recover, rest, relax, change clothes, dry out and walk it off. Most organized rides like Big BAM will carry all of your gear for you to the next day’s campsite.  You get to skip all the heavy lifting and just enjoy the ride.

What is the hardest thing about Cycling?

Getting started, deciding to ride and then heading off.  There are countless reasons to not ride:  time, distance, weather, effort, cost, difficulty, danger-- the list is endless.  Once you are done, you wonder what that nonsense was all about.  On the other hand, you can do something foolish and attempt a difficult ride in horrendous conditions that surpasses your skills, ability, and endurance and even risks killing yourself.  Numerous bicycle magazines and blogs are filled with articles about how ‘the sport requires that you suffer,’ but that’s just crazy talk.  Ignore that foolishness and enjoy yourself.

What are the steps you would suggest for people to start cycling, so they can eventually do a long ride, such as the Big BAM?

Start pedaling and put on some miles, preferably with other riders who will teach and guide you.  You want a good comfortable bike suited to your roads and hills, not an expensive racing model.  Remember, you are the engine; there are no fast bikes, only fast cyclists.  You need to practice road handling skills, especially steering, braking and shifting gears.  You need to know how to fix a flat.  The more that you learn about adjusting and fixing your bicycle, the more comfortable and confident you will be.

Do you think more of destination or exploration when biking?

I usually choose a destination, but it might simply be a distance, simply a point on the map or a road junction.  From there, I map out a route and then it’s all exploration.  Some rides are simply out and back, and it’s amazing how different everything looks from the other direction, but I prefer to plan a loop when convenient.  I always use county maps, available from MoDOT, or most tourism bureaus.  State highway maps show only State, U.S., and Interstate Highways, but none of the countless county roads and forest trails.

Do you have any favorite stories or moments (funny, exciting, blissful, enlightening, frightening, etc.) related to your riding?

Pedaling along at an average 12 mph is completely unlike anything else.  It’s much faster than walking and yet much slower and quieter than driving.  You clearly see, hear and smell flora and fauna all about you.  You watch the roadway ahead of you, but you still notice everything alongside, above, and to some extent, even behind.  Being almost silent, you often come upon critters.  I’ve ridden into the midst of wild turkeys as they were crossing a road, scattering away in all directions at once.  I’ve come upon and startled feeding vultures and then rode a quarter mile with two of them alongside and one just in front, flapping desperately but unable to gain altitude without losing airspeed.  I’ve unintentionally stampeded livestock when the ones closest to the road started running away with the entire herd following after.  That’s why I always talk to livestock; hearing a human voice tends to calm them, and they just keep grazing.  After most climbs comes to the joy of coasting downhill.  Since the earliest bicycles, cyclists noted the sense of flying that only a bicycle gave.  On a long grade, I sometimes hit 35 mph.  Encapsulated in a car, that’s nothing; but leaning forward, completely exposed, wind in the face, looking down and seeing your only contact with the road is a tire 1-3/8 inch wide, well, I know what they meant.

Do you ever worry about safety when biking?

Of course. I always watch for traffic and pay special attention to blind curves and passing vehicles.  And I watch for dogs.  In all my years of cycling, the only crash I’ve had was three years ago when a dog running alongside me suddenly dashed across and hit my front wheel.  I crashed atop him and went sliding along the roadway.  Fortunately, the dog got up and appeared uninjured, bike damage was minimal and easily adjusted back into position-- remember always to carry bike tools-- and my scraped palms and knee soon healed.  Since then I wear gloves.

What kind of impact do you think Big BAM will have on Phelps County?

I recall the Tour of Missouri stage races, patterned after the Tour de France.  For two consecutive years, one stage ended in Rolla, and the next one started in St. James.  There was a huge carnival atmosphere in both cities.  But I don’t expect Big BAM is having much impact on Phelps County any more than I’d expect from a passing circus. Indeed, the various overnight stops will profit when 600 cyclists and who knows how many drivers, support staff, and tagalongs show up and purchase meals, supplies, and souvenirs, spend the night, and so on, but that will be Waynesville in Pulaski County and Cuba in Crawford County.  Still, it will be interesting to see what the local sponsors have planned.  I’m curious if Newburg, Doolittle, Rolla and St. James plan to do anything to coincide with this event.  Traffic Control at key intersections, perhaps, is always a good start.  Local radio stations might try tracking and reporting on the cyclists’ progress.  Since this ride is organized, I don’t expect many cyclists to stop randomly for refreshments, but there might be plenty of roadside spectators, also known as “potential customers.” Whether the riders and accompanying support vehicles come through in a tight group or stretched out over many miles over several hours, I have no idea, but it will certainly be a spectacle. 

And with Big BAM, Kojro hopes that it might inspire more people to give biking a try.