A Black Sheep bike awaits its new owner at a past Tour de Fat stop.

Tour de Fat: Will dance for beer!

New Belgium Brewing‘s past is inextricably linked with biking: Then-homebrewer Jeff Lebesch found his beer muse while cycling through the Belgian countryside nearly 20 years ago, and that trip is forever memorialized by the brewery’s signature amber ale, Fat Tire, named in honor of Lebesch’s trusty, big-treaded mountain bike. Today, the Fort Collins, Colorado, brewery’s lean, green, eco-friendly mandate inspires such events as the 11-city Tour de Fat, a traveling-road-show slash bike-gospel-tent-revival slash suds-fest that rolls into Palmer Square this Saturday, the 21st (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; free; intersection of Palmer Street and Kedzie Avenue; proceeds benefit West Town Bikes). The event centers on one person in each city—in Chicago, it’s Joe Mariano—who agrees to give up his or her car in return for a brand new hand-tooled bike, but festivities also include a costumed bike parade, live music by local bands Paperbird and Mucca Pazza, plenty of general revelry, and, yes, lots of beer. I talked to New Belgium’s “event evangelist” Chris Winn for a few more details.

This is Tour de Fat’s first stop in Chicago, correct?
This is the inaugural Chicago stop. We started in 2000 with a six-city tour. That’s ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned. Four years ago we tried 16 cities, and that made everybody’s eyes bleed. We have a grassroots following, but we need to plant some grass.

I know a little about the brewery’s history, but can you tell me a little more about what beer and bikes have to do with each other?
Our entire brewery was founded, or at least inspired, by bikes. A lot of the founder’s friends are cyclists; a lot of the employees are cyclists; everyone at the brewery’s love for bikes culminated in us wanting to have a gathering of bikes, as opposed to a race or a real tour, in order to make this a gathering for all walks of cycling. Cyclists tend to segregate according to the type of bike they ride, but this is one event where it doesn’t matter what type of pedal you’re pushing.

It looks like you’ve found a Chicagoan to trade in his car.
Yeah, he’s an everyday average Joe, a semi driver for UPS who puts in 10,000 miles a month in his truck, and he’s gotten to the point where the last thing he wants to do is put in more hours behind the wheel. He’ll get a real nice bike, handmade in Fort Collins, by James Bleakley of Black Sheep Bikes. It’s a steel bike with some really beautiful, swoopy tubing that looks a little like an old Schwinn, which is perfect since we’re in Chicago.

I understand this is a bike festival that just happens to have beer, but the beer is important. What will you have?
It’ll be a mixed bag. We’ll have some Fat Tire, some of our organic wheat Mothership Wit, some 1554, and a couple of surprises. Can’t tell you those yet. But even if you don’t like bicycles or don’t like beer, you can still show up and get a free show.

If these people exist, I don’t want to know them.


Photography: Jennifer Wehunt