Tour de Fat 

The ballyhoo of bikes and beer returns to Boise

Recipe: Add equal parts vaudeville extravaganza and costume-crazed, beer-drinking bicyclists having the time of their lives, with keg upon beautiful bottomless keg of New Belgium beer. Ferment. Enjoy. Add in good causes, and you've cooked up the 2006 Tour de Fat, which happens Saturday, August 26, in Julia Davis Park.

Tour de Fat is New Belgium Brewery's "philanthropic cycling circus" of good will and good times. Back in 2000, Tour de Fat started by visiting only a few cities. In spite of still being a small tour (they visit 11 cities now), they have managed to utilize their "ballyhoo of bikes and beer" to raise large quantities of money for good causes. Since their operation began, New Belgium has donated over $1.6 million to organizations in the communities where they distribute beer. This year alone, Tour de Fat has already raised over $380,000.

New Belgium's Boise event coordinator Chris Winn declares that Tour de Fat is not just a modern rendition of a vaudevillian revival--it's the revival of interpersonal contact. He describes it as "the most non-commercial commercial event anyone could go to."

"We're not out there to beat people over the head as to why they should buy our beer. If they're there [at the festival], they probably already do. We're just here to party with the folks who support and love our beer and raise money for good causes."

With competitions like the Slow Ride (an annually recurring challenge to determine the slowest bike rider at each festival) and a bike limbo, Tour de Fat is really an opportunity to slow down and embrace your inner child (except your inner child wouldn't drink). Winn says it's a "stop and smell the roses kind of festival, with bikes and beer." His favorite sporting event of the day is the Slow Ride. "Metaphorically it's the antithesis of what everyone is trying to do 99 percent of the time; how do I go faster, how do I do more? You have no choice but to live in that one moment and go slowly for a change." He adds, "You have to be rolling forward though, no stopping. It's sort of a test of everyone's inner ninja."

Two Boise organizations, Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association (SWIMBA) and Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance (TVCA), will reap the financial benefits of this year's tour visit. SWIMBA was formed in 1992 "to promote socially responsible and environmentally correct cycling in the Boise Front and public lands throughout the region." With just around 150 members who work with federal, state and local agencies, SWIMBA preserves and maintains existing trails in the Boise foothills areas, as well as works to develop many new ones. SWIMBA has also built several yurts on the trails and is an integral part of outdoor recreation preservation for the Boise area.

Established in 2004, TVCA's mission is to raise awareness of the health, economical and environmental benefits of bicycling. They work in the community to ensure bicyclists safe, lawful and enjoyable riding experiences by "gathering the knowledge and experience of local bicyclists in order to help the Treasure Valley be a community whose citizens understand the importance of bicycling and whose elected and appointed officials recognize the rights and needs of bicyclists for the sake of community well-being."

Founded by electrical engineer Jeff Jordan and his wife Kim (who was a social worker at the time), New Belgium Brewery has always focused on being energy efficient and socially responsible. Their brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado, was the first brewery in the nation to operate on wind energy. Sun tubes are used for light throughout their buildings and New Belgium also has its own water treatment facility. They have used only green building techniques on all of their expansions since 2002 and incorporate the three R's of environmental stewardship: reduce, reuse, recycle. In addition, employees are offered ownership after their first year of service, and on that anniversary are awarded with a limited edition Fat Tire bike. Winn says of his employment experience, "It's better than I'd treat myself if I owned my own company. They take care of all of us." When asked how he lucked into his job as event coordinator for the Tour de Fat, Winn grins and says, "I liken it to stepping in dog poop and being struck by lightning at the same time. I didn't have a chance in hell on paper of getting this gig, other than having a college degree and the fact that I do like beer a lot. Of the 160 applicants, I was the one they decided to take a leap of faith in. Plus I look really good in a crappy spandex super hero suit, so it was worth it for them."

So not only is New Belgium a role model for businesses and a charitable organization that gives back to the community, they brew some pretty damned good beers. Their Tour de Fat is like a big, fat conglomerate of circus acts, live music and a costumed bike parade followed by a refreshing cold beer.

Acts this year promise to be full of skull-popping entertainment from the vaudeville-meets-burlesque circus act tour de force The Yard Dogs (a mix of circus, cabaret, burlesque and poetry), who will entertain with dancing girls, a sword swallower, fire eaters and a gypsy band, to music group Drums and Tuba (a three-piece band featuring drums, electronica, tuba, trumpet and guitar). Also performing is circus act Peter Sweet, who combines comedy with crazy jazz singing while dancing, juggling and riding a unicycle high above the audience's heads.

Pay attention because this here is the paragraph you'll want to cut out and put on your fridge as a reminder. Tour de Fat is Saturday, August 26. The costumed bike parade descends upon downtown at 11 a.m. from Julia Davis Park. Kegs are tapped at noon and the games begin. The Slow Ride competition starts at 1 p.m., bike limbo is at 3 p.m. and the dance contest is at 4:45 p.m. Between the games, contests and the Fat Tire cruiser bike giveaway, plenty of prizes will be up for the taking. But bring lots of cash, because all proceeds from beer ($4 for a big cold one) and souvenir sales go to benefit SWIMBA. The bike parade has a suggested $5 donation request that benefits TVCA. Warning: If you don't arrive dressed in costume for the bike parade, they will dress you up when you get there, and Winn says the costumes they provide are more of a penance than a gift. Last call is at 6:45 p.m. and the festival ends at 7 p.m. sharp. See you there ... I'll either be on my pink Kozmo Dyno-cruiser or standing in the beer lines.

For more information on the Tour de Fat, SWIMBA or TVCA visit www.newbelgium.com, www.swimba.org or www.biketreasurevalley.org.

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