Photos By Jason Dixson, Blinkofaneye, Words By Marcus Dowling
When thousands of people unified by biking usually simultaneously occupy the same space, it’s called the Tour de France. When thousands of people unified by biking are in the same place and consume beer by the thousands of pints and cans of New Belgium beer, it’s called the Tour de Fat. When the Tour de Fat hit Washington, DC on a steamy afternoon this past Saturday at Southwest’s Yards Park, attendees certainly had an afternoon of “beer, bikes and bemusement,” but there was a larger point being made about the shifting nature of urban commuter culture.
Biking is a major aspect of New Belgium Beer’s origin story. Started in 1991, the company’s founder Jeff Lebesch was a home-brewer who toured Belgian beer factories by bike, hence the name of the company’s best-selling Fat Tire amber ale. Tour de Fat thus isn’t just another hipster party, but it has a deeper embed into the operating fabric of New Belgium as a company. The company even employs carnival carnies who are tasked with the successful execution of the event – and given how smoothly run Saturday’s event was, they certainly earn their keep.
Tour de Fat it’s not so much a festival fueled by hops as it is a classic travelling freak show buoyed by great music with a sustainability piece added in that proceeds from the event benefit local biking organizations. Occurring in ten cities overall this summer, DC was the kickoff. The headlining act was former BYT Bentzen Ball act comedian/musician Reggie Watts, who was joined by a strange blend of acts split between two stages like heavy-metal air guitarist Nigel Blackstorm, puppeteers, a yo-yo act and a strange plethora of others.
If New Belgium’s Tour de Fat presents biking as being part and parcel of a wild hipster-style cult, then this was that movement’s Woodstock. Thus, concepts like the massive bike parade that kicked off the event at 11 AM allowed revelers freak flags to fly in bizarre costumes, and the concept of people trading their cars for bikes drove home the environmental and health benefits of cycling in urban communities with tremendous gravitas.
But aside from being serious about biking, in all seriousness, people were there for the beer. They may have been there for carny zaniness, too, but, no, this was definitely all about the beer. However, if you cycle as much as one could only presume that someone who would trade their car for a bike would, then maybe a beer or two to relax really isn’t all that bad after all.