Bring in the Fat 

Tour de Fat returns to Boise

When's the last time you heard of a beer company willingly losing money?

"It makes absolutely no sense," said Chris Winn, an employee of Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium Brewing Company.

But that's exactly what New Belgium does every year as it hosts the annual Tour de Fat festival in 11 cities from Chicago to Portland, Ore.

"We take home no revenue. We don't sell sponsorships. When you look at the business model, we're losing money hand over fist," Winn said with a laugh.

Priorities are a little different, though, at a brewery founded by a cyclist and a former social worker.

"[We could be] making money selling a product, but our company product would mean more to people if we make the investment back into the community," he said.

That combination of factors created Tour de Fat, which has grown in the last nine years in both size and scope. What started as a guy in a pickup truck gathering the local bikers for a party has turned into a full-scale bike and beer festival, said Winn, who calls himself the event evangelist and goes by the alter ego of Rev. Ballyhoo during the celebration.

The party rolls into Boise on Saturday, Aug. 23, for the seventh year, but this time it's at Ann Morrison Park. Playing off the idea of a traveling tent revival, the festival includes a bike parade and an all-day party, including a beer garden (of course), music and all-around merry-making.

Winn said Boise is the third largest festival with the second largest parade in a schedule that takes organizers through Chicago; San Francisco; Truckee, Calif.; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Denver; Durango, Colo.; Tempe, Ariz.; and Austin.

While it's gotten bigger over the years, Tour de Fat remains true to its original goal: promoting biking and alternative transportation.

Beyond a one-day bike-themed event, the effects of Tour de Fat are felt in each host community throughout the year. In every town the brewery teams with area nonprofit bike groups that benefit both financially and through public exposure.

Since the event first came to Boise, the Southwest Idaho Mountain Bike Association has been the main local sponsor, funneling money into projects that support riding and trail programs.

As the founding partner, SWIMBA takes home all proceeds from beer sales at the event. Last year, it took in $25,000 and sold 68 kegs of beer, said treasurer Tom Foote.

"This is a very good event for us," he said.

Ongoing projects funded at least partially through Tour de Fat money include the creation of the Watchmen Trail, the Deer Creek Chair trail at Bogus Basin, the development of the valley's new Idaho Velodrome and Cycling Park, as well as support of the Boise Youth Rider Development Squad, Foote said.

Additionally, SWIMBA has just secured funding to build a parking lot and two miles of trail at the 5,000-foot level of Bogus Basin Road, giving mountain bikers a staging area for adventures. Construction is scheduled to begin in the fall, Foote said.

SWIMBA organizers already have high hopes for this year's festival. Foote said attendance has increased by roughly 50 percent each year and he anticipates between 1,200 and 2,000 riders to join in the morning bike parade. He expects between 6,000 and 10,000 people to come out for the party.

That could translate into 100 kegs of beer.

Organizers hope the move to Ann Morrison Park from Julia Davis Park will facilitate that growth. Because of city codes restricting how close to the Greenbelt and Boise River the Tour could sell beer, the event was jammed into a narrow strip in the park.

This year, though, the festival will be able to stretch its legs with more room for entertainment, information booths and even easier access to beer with two pouring stations rather than one.

But both Foote and Winn stress that it's not all about the beer.

"This is a bicycle festival that has beer, not a beer festival that has bikes," Winn said.

This year, SWIMBA isn't the only group benefitting from the Tour de Fat. The Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance will get the profits from the sale of merchandise, as well as the money made from parade entry donations.

Additionally, the Boise Bike Project will hold a bike-raising drive. Founded just less than a year ago, the Boise Bike Project takes donated bikes and fixes them up to give to children, refugees and the homeless.

Anyone who brings a bike or bike parts that can be used to fix other bikes, gets a beer token—kind of a beater-for-a-beer program. Project organizers will also readily accept bike helmets or other bike supplies.

"We'll take it all," said Jen Hallyburton, whose brother Jimmy Hallyburton started the Project with Brian Anderson.

The parade will begin at 10 a.m. and follow a route Foote calls "all right-hand turns." It starts in Ann Morrison Park and heads up Capitol Boulevard to the Boise Depot, across to Americana Boulevard, turns toward downtown to Main Street, and eventually to Ninth Street and back to the park, covering roughly five miles.

Registration begins at 9 a.m., and while participation is free, a $5 donation is requested.

SWIMBA "highly encourages" everyone to come dressed in costumes and decorate their bikes. In the past, themes ranged from "Ride of the Valkyries" to "Dress Like a Hippie." This year promises not to disappoint with "Peter Pan Meets the Pirates of the Caribbean: Everything Goes."

The party will begin at 11 a.m. and continue throughout the day with $5 beers, live music and assorted fun.

The celebration, too, has its own theme, playing with the idea of heaven and hell and asking the question, "Would you trade your car for a bike?"

"This is not an anti-car festival," Winn said. "But we are going to talk about transportation choice.

"Because the world we live in has changed drastically in the last decade, social and environmental attitudes are very different," he said. "What was a fringe activity or recreational sport, across the board is mutating and growing very, very rapidly because people are trying to look at it as a solution."

While Boise was an early addition to the Tour de Fat lineup by virtue of its bike-friendly nature, other towns are being added for the opposite reason.

Both Austin and Tempe, Ariz., as well as Chicago, are recent additions for just that reason. "They need the support," Winn said.

At the same time, outdoorsy towns like Flagstaff, Ariz., and Missoula, Mont., were dropped from the schedule because their transportation problems are not as pressing and there are no suitable bike organizations into which to funnel the funds.

"There are more cities out there that could use the bike support," Winn said.

For more information about Tour de Fat, visit

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