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B is for Bike, Ballyhoo and Beer

New Belgium's Tour de Fat returns


New Belgium's Tour de Fat returns

Warning: The words contained herein present information for an event about which Boise Weekly has previously written. But we make no apologies. Several annual events in our little city are just so much damn fun that even though we don't have to write about them, we just can't help it.

Tour de Fat is one such example.

This year, only 12 cities will have the honor of hosting what can only be described in its 2007 incarnation as New Belgium Brewing Company's environmental evangelistic ballyhoo of bikes and beer. And thanks to B-town's annual enthusiasm for bikes, beer and a ballyhoo involving at least one of the two aforementioned B's, Tour de Fat stops in Boise this Saturday for its sixth festival, fundraiser and brouhaha dedicated to gathering the bike community, raising money for local nonprofit cycling organizations and drinking a little New Belgium beer in the process.

Last year's circus-themed hijinks totaled up to almost 3,000 people crammed into the Rose Garden at Julia Davis Park, 450 of whom got all gussied up in the best beer-drinkin', bike-ridin' costume they own to pedal in the parade, and most of whom contributed to the draining of 47 kegs of NB brews while listening to Drums and Tuba and Yard Dog Road Show.

Coordinator Chris Winn says Tour de Fat's stop this year is all the same fun, but with a subtle difference. The vaudeville madness that was last year's traveling circus has become this year's carnival, which may be the circus' kissing cousin with one very obvious difference—an element of audience participation in the show.

"This thing is a bicycle revival," declares Winn. "We'll do a tongue-and-cheek performance during which we try to get people to pledge to drive less and ride more. There will be a booth to keep tabs on what the carbon offset will be if the attendees pledged bike miles instead of car miles."

And in one enormous act of salvation, one Boise driver will renounce his life of gas-guzzling travel for a life of personally powered pedal transportation by giving up the keys and title to his car on stage.

"He's someone who is already trying to be car-free," explains Winn. "And this is the nail in the coffin." New Belgium will, of course, supply the new convert with the necessary tools to be successful in this new transportation chapter of his life: a black steel touring bicycle custom made by a builder in Fort Collins and a B.O.B. bicycle trailer (courtesy of B.O.B. Trailers, the California stroller and bike trailer company that recently relocated its corporate headquarters to Boise).

Aside from the automotive emancipation of one vehicular-dependent Tour de Fatter per city, the annual traveling festival will shoot for total fund-raising goals to reach the quarter-million-dollar mark this year. According to Winn, a total of $166,000 went to cycling organizations in last year's 11 participating cities, $12, 917 of which was donated to Boise's Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association and the Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance.

But why bicycles?

"Because a bike is an accessible environmental tool," says Winn. "It's a micro change that can have a macro effect."

The company is as rooted in environmentalism as it is in cycling (the bike on the Fat Tire label is not just for cool points, New Belgium was founded by avid cyclist Jeff Lebesch after a cycling trip through Belgium). For NB, making positive environmental contributions is as important as making beer. At the end of each Tour de Fat stop, Winn calculates the event's diversion rate, or the amount of recycled waste compared to the amount that ends up in the local landfill. While zero-waste status is the goal, Boise managed to recycled 79 percent of last year's Tour de Fat waste.

It's a green philosophy that, for New Belgium, permeates the entire business. In 1998, NB was the first brewery to utilize wind energy, thanks to an employee-funded energy conversion. The brewery itself takes advantage of green building techniques, and whole-heartedly embraces the "reduce, reuse, recycle" rules in everything from turning spent grain into cattle feed to buying recycled products whenever possible.

And despite the heavy emphasis the festival places on nudging car owners into a more bike-friendly routine (because, as Winn likes to point out, "there's an instantaneous economic benefit to changing gears—pun very much intended"), Winn stresses that Tour de Fat is an inclusionary celebration.

"We're not against cars," he says. "We're just a festival for bikes. And not just one kind of bike, either. [Bikers] are already such a fractional part of society and then we further subdivide into mountain bikers and hipsters, and everyone wants to maintain their own cachet, but for this one event, we're all together." In a larger sense, says Winn, each one of the bike-centric towns on the tour is a flower, and Tour de Fat is the bee that hits them all, taking new things from town to town, giving from one community to the next, so that the bike—as beer has been throughout history—is a tie that binds.

Saturday, August 25, 11 a.m. FREE. Rose Garden at Julia Davis Park, And don't forget your costume.