Tour de Fat promotes bikes, safety, recycling in Durham

tgrubb@newsobserver.comJune 15, 2013 

  • Catch the Tour

    New Belgium Brewing Co.’s Tour de Fat will travel next to Nashville, Tenn., where it will host a June 22 event. You can learn more and follow the 12-city adventure on Facebook at

— Bicyclists bounced, tumbled, wobbled and rolled Saturday across the grassy hills of the Diamond View Park for the Tour de Fat at the American Tobacco Campus.

Sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Co., the 13th annual Tour de Fat pulled into Durham for the third stop of its 12-city national tour to promote bicycling, safety, recycling and reuse. The event is set up to make the least impact possible on the environment. Last year, more than 90 percent of the trash generated at the event was recycled. The stage is solar-powered, and organizers spent months decorating it with recycled materials. For fuel, the event relies on biofuel from recycled cooking oils.

Josh Finken grabbed a faded pink and gray bike with a hinged frame. Many had tried to ride the bike before him but failed. He did, too, dragging the bike to the top of the hill twice to get a running start before being thrown across the ground.

But then he got the hang of it. It’s like a fishtailing car, said Finken, a Utah resident who was in Durham for a wedding with his wife, Lauren, and 3-year-old daughter, Claire.

“The steering wheel is going one way – you want it in line – but if the thing pivots on you, then you have steer back that way,” he said. “The back end is going one direction, so you want to follow the front.”

While the fun was free, organizers accepted donations and were selling the beer and merchandise to raise money for three local nonprofits: Triangle Spokes Group, the N.C. Active Transportation Alliance and the Durham Bike Co-op.

All three groups actively promote accessible, safe bicycling. The Triangle Spokes Group donates bikes and helmets to needy adults and children. The Alliance and Durham Bike Co-Op focus on education for bike riders and drivers who share the road. The co-op also collects old bikes, buys new ones and repairs broken ones to give to needy people.

Bike Co-Op board member Rob Walpole said having a bike can be empowering for someone who doesn’t have a lot of money or is homeless. It gives them a way to get to work, to get to school or to the store. It makes them feel like they belong, he said.

“If you can’t afford a bike or if you can’t afford a car, we can get you a bicycle,” he said.

Roughly 2,200 people attended last year’s Tour de Fat, which raised more than $16,000. Organizers were unsure Saturday how many would show up this year.

At every stop, the company is swapping a $2,250 stipend for the keys to one lucky winner’s car. Last year’s bike swapper Ashley Chaifetz has kept a yearlong blog about her life on two wheels at

Despite the current climate against bike and pedestrian project funding in the N.C. Legislature, communities are realizing cycling is important to residents, businesses and thriving cities, said New Belgium Impresario Matt Kowal.

“Cycling is something that more and more drives people to where they want to live. It’s not just bicycles, but active modes of transportation are a really big priority when choosing where they want to settle down and make a family,” he said.

The Tour de Fat is a way to raise awareness, build enthusiasm and “vibe on together,” he said.

The vibe was several degrees cooler than the weather Saturday. Hundreds of cyclists, young and old, kicked off the event with a costumed bike parade. There were superhero capes, Victorian top hats and glittery sequins and lacey tutus. Even Jesus made an appearance.

Through the afternoon, people hula-hooped, danced to bands, watched aerial artists and played – Connect Four on a giant game board, peering through periscopes and a kaleidoscope, and tossing old bike tires into the air at a 20-foot tall target.

And, of course, they drank beer.

“New Belgium is the best company ever!” said Chapel Hill resident Susan Reynolds, who enjoyed a beer while playing in the park with her family and friends. This was her seventh event.

Her friend, Raleigh resident Rosa Hall, looked over at her and smiled.

“They moved here from Colorado last year, so they had to make sure there was a Tour de Fat stop before they moved here,” she said.

Reynolds said New Belgium is financially invested in the community and in promoting bike culture. The company sponsored her women’s riding group in Colorado, she said.

“They bring whimsy to the event. It’s nice,” she said. “New Belgium really does push you to ride your bike, and I think there’s something to be said, even if you can have one less trip in your car.”

New Belgium, based in Ft. Collins, Colo., is steeped in cycling culture. The company’s founder, Jeff Lebesch, got the idea for his Belgian-inspired beers while cycling through Europe on a bike with fat tires. The company’s flagship brew is aptly named Fat Tire Amber Ale.

New Belgium Brewing also is a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Business, as ranked by the League of American Bicyclists.

Grubb: 919-932-8746

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