Bikes and Beer: Tour de Fat brings costumes, brews and sustainability to Tempe

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Tour de Fat is returning to Tempe Town Lake October 1, melding creativity, sustainability and philanthropy.

“It feels like Christmas morning,” says New Belgium’s Arizona Sales Manager Billy Apel, who has helped make the Tempe leg of the traveling Tour de Fat festival a success for five years.

“So many people come out in costume to bike together and drink beer together. There’s no one else that has an event like we do and we give all the money we raise to nonprofit organizations.”

The proceeds from the food, drinks, merchandise and tickets will returned to Arizona residents through the Tempe Bicycle Action Group, a nonprofit organization pushing to make cycling a salient form of transportation around the Valley.

Staffed completely by volunteers and supported mainly by New Belgium Brewing Company, the Tour de Fat has spanned nine cities across the Unites States for the last 15 years encouraging attendees to join in their eclectic competitions and be a part of its movement toward a more sustainable Earth.

“We do a really cool event called the Slow-Ride competition,” says Apel. “It’s a 10- to 15-yard race, but the last one to finish wins. Seven or eight people try to ride as slow as they can while balancing and finishing last. A lot of people look forward to that and even practice for it.”

New Belgium, a brewery with a 99% diversion rate and that produces less than 1% of waste, stocks Tempe Town Lake with largely “green” vendors, compost and recycle stations, and stations and trucks running on biofuel from recycled waste oils. As if this effort wasn’t refreshing enough, New Belgium finds one volunteer each year to make a crucial sacrifice to lessen the environmental imprint.

“Every year someone trades in their car for a bike,” says Apel. “We sit down with whomever volunteers and make a custom commuter bike for them. We’ve made some pretty cool bikes. We usually find someone who trades in a second car they have that they might have on the side of their driveway and don’t drive often. It’s a lot of fun to watch the ceremony at Tour, and it makes a bigger environmental difference than you think.”

Complementing the charitable achievement of Tour de Fat is the hilarity of the day’s entertainment. With the Slow-Ride competition, a dance competition, a game show to win a bike, a fashion showdown and a large list of musical acts, this day of cycling feels like Christmas morning but resembles an early Halloween party.

“It’s always encouraged to ‘let your freak flag fly’ at Tour de Fat,” says Apel. “It’s all about celebrating beer, bikes and a great time. There’s about 15 employees from our brewery called ‘carnies’ and they dress up all kind of crazy.

“We start planning what we’re going to wear to Tour de Fat months in advance. It’s never just waking up and deciding to wear this wig and this tutu. A lot of people work on both their costumes and their bikes way in advance. I’ll have random people come up to me at the park and tell me all the things they’ve fixed up on their bike just to ride it at Tour de Fat. The craziness all stemmed from that.”

While pumping air into your tires or searching for the perfectly kooky ensemble, be sure to listen to the psychedelic music of Dr. Dog, the festival’s headlining act who previously sold out the Marquee. Growing from years past, the 2016 Tour de Fat will feature seven bands and a second stage showing off local Arizona musicians.

Tour de Fat is for the avid cycler or the newbie.

“With our core values and beliefs, we want to be a force for good with not only world class beers but also as a responsible, sustainable company,” says Apel. “The Tour de Fat can get crazy but we raised $109,000 for our sweet nonprofits last year. I’m confident that success will continue this year.”
Tour de Fat, Tempe Town Lake, http://bit.ly/2bnce5w, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, October 1, $10.

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