Cycling and Recycling at the Tour de Fat
By Jim Hornsby
This year’s Tour De Fat made its first stop of the summer in Nashville’s Centennial Park. Billed as the nation’s most colorful bike festival and filled to the brim with bike-themed fun, it is a sight to behold. Its circus-like midway has three colorful stages, activity tents, concession stands and unique bicycle art installations throughout the grounds. The event is sponsored by the New Belgium Brewing Company (maker of Fat Tire® beer) and dedicated to raising money for local cycling and environmental groups. With the proceeds from this year’s 15 city tour, they expect donations to surpass the two million dollar mark.
Event manager Meredith Giske is a veteran of the first tour 13 years ago, and she recalls how a small group of people with a pick-up truck and pop-up tents set out on their first quest to encourage more people to ride bicycles. Today, the tour hauls its equipment in three tractor/trailer rigs, and it takes the better part of two days to set things up, but their goals remain the same. “We want to promote environmental conservation,” says Meredith, “and we practice what we preach. Our trucks run on second-generation bio-fuels, and 95% of the waste from our events will be recycled.”
The weekend began with several hundred riders assembled for a bicycle parade through the city; big bikes, little bikes, sleek bikes, odd bikes, homemade and factory made, there was clearly pride and determination in their presence, and they were well received. After the parade, they returned to Centennial Park where the festivities began in earnest. Three bands played on various stages; jugglers, magicians and “yoyo-ers” entertained; art installations buzzed and whirled, and people of all ages, from training wheels on up, enjoyed the extravaganza.
The tour employs two full-time artists/welders who build the art exhibits and unique bicycles, and their creations really have to be seen — and ridden — to be believed. One artist, called “Devil Dan” for his daring rides, worked the “Bike Pit,” precariously operating the custom cycles and encouraging others to give them a try. Quite a few volunteers climbed on the unwieldy wheels, and while most were probably glad they were wearing their safety helmets, everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.
Another highlight of the tour is the challenge for someone to trade his/her car for a bicycle. “We came up with the idea about six years ago,” says Meredith, “and it has been working well. It’s a major investment for someone to make a ‘car-free’ pledge, and we know most people can’t commit to that kind of lifestyle change, but we hope that if a few people dedicate themselves to using bicycles as their primary transportation, it will inspire others to at least use a bicycle for those occasional trips to the grocery store.” (Editor’s note: for a first-hand look at a car-for-bicycle trade, read Chris Sweeney’s article “Pace Yourself”.)
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Photos by Jim Hornsby
From Nashville, the tour goes on to Durham, D.C., Atlanta, San Francisco, Austin and beyond, visiting twelve states in all, entertaining the masses and spreading the good word about cycling and recycling. Whether you cycle or not, it is well worth seeing, and it might be just the inspiration you need to join the fun.