New Belgium Brewery is proof that man has evolved. The Colorado brewery was born on a bike, so it’s no wonder Tour de Fat has become an annual traveling carnival, that gets bigger every year. The cycling circus embraces New Belgium’s principles of the sustainability movement that they embraced early on in the brewery’s creation.
New Belgium Ale’s bike fête encourages participants to trick out their rides and embrace the weird and wacky. It’s, how do you say, very fashion sideways.
Since its inception, the philanthropic eccentric amalgam of bicycles and beer has raised approximately $1.5 million on behalf of non-profit organizations. Not bad.
As New Belgium describes it, Tour de Fat is a rolling revival of philanthropic folly. Yeah, that’s it.
I spoke with Brian Simpson, the Media Maverick at New Belgium Brewery (yes, they are quite cute and whimsical, even with their job titles).
EP: Who is the brains behind the Tour de Fat?
BS: Well, it’s a collective of folks at this point. It really all started back over a picnic in Greg Owsley’s back yard. He and John Shireman, the Sales Director at the time, were talking about ways to give back to the bike community. And they figured, hey let’s do some sort of event, and then we decided to put process into it…it became something more than just a party for sure. And so those two guys were sitting around talking about it, but now there’s about 6 or 8 folks that work on it pretty exclusively.
EP: You have Team Wonderbike, the Urban Assault Ride and Bike-In Cinema. What came first? What is the biggest?
BS: Tour de Fat was first and biggest, but they all do different things, ya know. Team Wonderbike is more of an advocacy piece wherein we try to get people to commit to biking more than driving, so they pledge a number of miles per month. And we have about 20,000 folks lined up, or signed up to take the pledge and about 15 million miles a year, so that’s kind of a nice advocacy piece where we get people talking about bikes…um…it doesn’t have quite all the sizzle and snap of the Tour de Fat, but it’s pretty cool and fun. The Bike-In’s are something that started out locally, here, in town and it was just kind of another way, ya know, we teamed up with a non-profit and giving a little something back to town and it just seemed like a good idea. And then we exported it last year to of Clips of Faith, which is a 14 city, kind of an Indie film show that we collect submissions and took em on the road.
EP: I assume Tour de Fat is named after Fat Tire?
EP: Who came up with the Ten Commandments of the Tour de Fat?
BS: Yeah… I always think of Chris Winn when I read those….He and his collection of carnies, or the guys that do the road show, I think they got together over eggs and beer, something like that, somewhere and wrote ‘em down. His buddy, Matt Kowal, those two did the road show for a lot years.
EP: Does riding a bike often and as one of the means of transportation help potential New Belgium employees get hired?
BS: Well, it doesn’t hurt, for sure. Yeah, you need to like beer…if you can ride a bike, even better. Ya’ know, culturally speaking we definitely have a lot of cyclists internally and that helps sort of drive a lot of these campaigns and give them some authenticity that would lack if they didn’t already have as part of your culture already.
EP: New Belgium embraces the eccentric, especially in the Tour de Fat. Does this come directly from the founder?
BS: <laughs> Is the founder eccentric? Ya’ know, I think it comes from, again, it’s more like a sum of the parts. A lot of different folks work on those things independently and it’s been cool to watch Tour de Fat morph because in the beginning it was myself and another guy and we drove around in a pick up truck and we just did paper boy challenge, really kind of straight forward stuff… and a little bit silly but now it’s just such a grade A show and it does celebrate the whole idea of alter ego. One of the things that Tour de Fat does now, which is less eccentric, but I think really interesting, is it gets one person in every city to give up their car for a bicycle and it’s put a lot more meaning into the day, for me personally.
EP: Yeah, I noticed that, that’s awesome! And people actually do that, huh?
BS: Yeah! We’ve never missed a city.
EP: What environmental charities does the Tour de Fat raise money for? Does it change every year? How much money was raised last year?
BS: Well, with Tour de Fat, it’s city to city. We tend to do bike non-profits predominately. And every now and then…in general, environmental advocacy. We have a whole other philanthropy program that we do a lot of that stuff…
EP: How much money was raised last year? Is it always 13 cities?
BS: No, I think we went from 11 to 13 this year. That was the first time we’ve done that many, in a while. I think we experimented with 16 one year. The running total is about $1.5 mil. Without looking at my notes, I couldn’t tell you specific last year…I feel like $200,000 is definitely a good year. An example would be – the home town show is always the biggest and this year we raised $75,000 for the bike non-profit here in town, which is Overland bike patrol, but that’s a big city. A smaller city can be anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000.
EP: Okay. So, $1.5 mil is the total…
BS: That’s the sum total of all money raised since the year 2000, when it started.
EP: Do you have any idea how much your expecting to raise this year for all the cities?
BS: Yeah, ya know, it would be tough to make a projection, because we have L.A. is a new city in there and so is Milwaukee and those are pretty big markets. So, I don’t want to just throw a number at you. I would think we would do over…I think we would do $200,000 this year…but now I’m just throwing a number at you, and I shouldn’t do that. <laughs>
EP: I noticed you have “does not include Texas” in a couple of the commandments. What’s that about?
BS: Um, I can’t remember what that specific commandment is, but everyone has specific liquor laws and that’s probably specific to something going on….
EP: Looks like most of the rides are held in parks. Are the parks shut down for the event or do people ride around those others hanging around at the park?
BS: Oh yeah, it’s not closed. There’s no admission fees for the park, it just stays open. Whoever comes along, the more the merrier, for sure.
EP: Who chose the cities? I assume it’s the same group of people?
BS: It is, ya know. There’s about 6 people that work on it just about full time, well, they do work on it full time. So, a lot of those folks are on the road half the year and then they’re doing planning and booking and the other half. I think we just look at the dynamic of the cities that you have, what’s the right mix and sometimes a city, the show has been there a long time and you feel like bike culture is established and it’s let’s put those resources into something new. So, we’ve moved on from these cities in the past and that’s always kind of a little bitter sweet or heartbreaking, I suppose, depending on how you look at it. But it is fun to add the new ones for sure.
EP: Explain the bike parade and the funeral procession for the car.
BS: Yeah, it generally starts at 10am. That will go around some city blocks, from wherever the park is, it tends to be maybe 3 – 5 miles. They’re never very intense. But the idea is that it’s we’re after 100% costuming. I think if you show up without a costume I think you stand out worse, for sure. We have a lot of really creative folks coming out. It’s a great way to take to the streets and show traffic that you are part of traffic…but at the same time, when you’re dressed up all silly people tend to get a little agitated as they wait for you to go by.
EP: Do you guys actually have to talk to the city, as far as, this is what we’re going to do, going down these streets..is it pretty organized?
BS: Oh yeah, it’s definitely a lot of permitting and working with local police departments, paying actual salaries for police if it’s overtime…yeah, it’s pretty locked and dialed.
EP: Are their any specific changes or improvements that you’ve seen that came directly from the Tour de Fat proceeds?
BS: Oh, as far as non-profit organizations, um, I know a lot of folks have bought gear. Like there’s a group in town that have bought a lot of trail grooming gear. So, they do maintenance on trails that are used by hikers and equestrians, which benefits the whole community, which is pretty cool. We’ve had people do just a lot of investment in their own infrastructure. There’s one up in Idaho that’s is putting some of the …it’s Southwestern Idaho Mountain Biking Club. Those guys are putting the money toward space. They want to buy the space they’re in and then they’re going to trick it all out with solar and going to make a real dream building out of it. So, those are specifics that come to mind.
EP: What beers will be served this year? Is it always the same?
BS: No, the new stuff this year…Ranger will be pouring, which is the IPA that wasn’t out last year. It’s some of the favs, with a couple new twists. There will be a wheat probably, I think Sunshine Wheat will be there and maybe whatever is seasonal, so Hoptober.
The funky celebration of bikes and beer is nearing a close. The Tour de Fat is coming to Los Angeles on October 23rd and to Austin, Texas on October 30th. The festival is free. Beer tokens are $5.
“Come in your favorite alter ego, because when everybody’s weird, no one is.” – New Belgium Brewery, Tour de Fat Commandment #4