Street Smart Chicago

Ride On: Tour de Fat comes to Palmer Square

Bicycling, City Life, Events, Green, Humboldt Park Add comments

tourdefatWigs, hats and antennae; wings, fake mustaches and long socks; pirates, cheerleaders and ringmasters—it’s all part of the spectacle Saturday at the Tour de Fat in Palmer Square.

The event, part of an eleven-city tour, highlights biking, beer, creativity and sustainability. New Belgium Brewing Company, based in Fort Collins, Colorado, started the annual tour ten years ago to increase awareness and participation in bike transportation. The day seems all about being as creative and green as possible—on a bike.

The day begins with a costumed bike parade with more than 300 participants. Some costume their bikes as well, including one “cattle” bike complete with horns, spots and milk pails.

“This day is really about talking to people about getting out of their cars and on their bikes,” says the event’s director, Meredith Giske, dressed in a tire hoop skirt, wig and big sunglasses. “Bikes are fun. And they’re good for us—our pocketbooks, our health and the environment.”

Back at Palmer Square, solar-powered stages are set up for bands, including Chicago’s Mucca Pazza. Various tents offer craft-making, dress-up  merchandise, a rubber arm for high-fives and “Compost Offices.” Guests drink New Belgium beer. Around the park are a giant Connect Four board, circus mirror and enclosure with available bikes—including circus tricycles, tandems, tiny wheels, unicycles, one with gym shoes around the wheels and one with wheels up by the rider’s head.

The festivities kick off with a song about renewable energy and composting—“Shine on in that hour, ride on, on our own power”—followed by a Miss Tour de Fat pageant. Three males dress in recycled costumes, including a bubble-wrap skirt and bra. Later, a husband-and-wife acrobatic duo perform a variety of skits, dances and stunts. Svetlana, the wife, nicknames herself “Svetty” and wears a hairpiece that mixes Ben Stiller with Rod Blagojevich.

New Belgium was founded by Jeff Lebesch, an avid mountain biker and home brewer. On a biking trip to Belgium, he was inspired to start his own brewery. “We say New Belgium was sort of born on a bike seat,” Giske says. New Belgium’s signature beer, Fat Tire Ale, gets it name from the English translation of the Belgian word for mountain bike.

James Ogle bikes for fun and has spent the day with a group of friends. Wearing a cape and crown, he jokingly dubs himself the “king of the street,” but really dresses up because “I would feel weird if I showed up without a costume.”

Diana Gisi and Karen Morrell, friends from Fort Collins, had attended the Tour out west, where they say crowds pushed 5,000. Gisi recently moved to Indianapolis, so the two made a trip to “get our Colorado experience in Chicago” and deck themselves in pink and purple wigs, plastic sunglasses, floral leis and gaudy earrings.

“We just threw stuff together yesterday. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get crazy and fun,” Morrell says. “You can be goofy because everyone is,” Gisi adds. “In town, people know New Belgium and the things they do. We’d like to bring the Fort Collins experience to Chicago and wherever they go.” (Amy Brachmann)

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