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The CHIRP Blog

Falyn writesTour de Fat: New Belgium and West Town Bikes Give Back to Chicago

By Falyn Freyman

When music, bicycles, and beer come together, it's summertime bliss. When you add philanthropy into the mix, it' even better.

Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing is known for its delicious craft beers and generally rad approach to sustainability, community-building, and giving back. Their annual Tour de Fat returns to Chicago this year for another free, daylong festival featuring a costumed bike parade, live bands and performers, contests, and of course, beer, with all proceeds and donations directly benefiting Humboldt Park non-profit West Town Bikes.

West Town Bikes aims to promote bicycling in the city while educating Chicago's under-served youth populations. Their programs give kids a chance to learn new skills like bike-building and mechanics in their free time after school. The youth are also mentored on everything from bike safety and active lifestyle choices to environmental awareness, personal responsibility, and citizenship. At the end of the Earn a Bike program, the middle school-aged participants are rewarded with bikes of their own.

Besides the fact that both of these organizations aspire to contribute to their communities in positive ways, how exactly did a craft beer company in Colorado join forces with a bike-focused non-profit in Chicago? After all, as West Town Bikes founder Alex Wilson points out, "We are a youth development organization, and they sell beer." Once they got to talking back in 2008, though, it became clear how New Belgium could be a great asset for West Town Bikes in furthering their mission and helping them to broaden their reach beyond Humboldt Park and the West Side.

Now in its fifteenth year, the Tour de Fat festival has evolved into an eclectic summer festival for all ages. The event kicks off with a bike parade that winds through the city streets and culminates with a fashion show of the best Tour de Fat costumes. Throughout the day, kids and adults alike are invited to test-ride funky bikes in the bike corral, eat a selection of delicious street fare, relax in the grass, and participate in activities like the Thousand Person Dance Contest, the winner of which will receive a 2014 New Belgium Cruiser Bike.

"You can expect some pretty big surprises," says Garth Katner, West Town's Resource Development Manager, as they gear up for this year’s festival. "We've been working with New Belgium on bold, wacky ideas for new acts, exciting activities, and a wider variety of beverages being served in freaky and creative ways."

That's all on top of an impressive musical lineup which includes headliners the Handsome Little Devils and Los Amigos Invisibles, and local mainstay Mucca Pazza, among others.

In preparation for the festival, which takes place this Saturday, July 12 in Palmer Square, the folks at WTB have been focused on "lots and lots and lots of marketing and volunteer recruiting," Katner says. "It takes nearly 300 volunteers to make Tour de Fat the overwhelming success it is in Chicago."

And the children in WTB's youth programs get involved in the fest, too. This year, the Girls Bike Club and Bike Club programs will again produce and sell WTB merchandise. At last year’s Tour de Fat, they raised over $1200. The Bike Club will also staff a bike valet so that attendees can park their bikes safely and securely.

"These funds help sustain our youth programming," says Katner. By engaging students during after-school hours and over the summer months in a constructive, educational environment, WTB seeks to discourage destructive or dangerous behaviors that might otherwise arise. "Providing our youth and young people with skills not only increases their employment opportunities, but it enhances their personal confidence and access to an emotionally and physically healthy lifestyle.”

According to Wilson, funds raised from valet contributions as well as from merchandise sales will go toward travel expenses for a summer camping trip, trips to out-of-town bike parks, and the next Youth Bike Summit, which takes place in Seattle. Additional funds raised from the festival will also be used to support West Town Bike's Junior Racing Program. That's all in addition to the exposure and awareness the Tour de Fat helps bring to this and other worthy non-profits in our own neighborhoods each year.

"The skills learned [at WTB] reach far beyond learning to handle a wrench or safely ride a bike,” Katner reminds us. “The experiences gained transform individuals into leaders and neighborhoods into ecologically sound, socially just, and healthy communities."

This Saturday, parade on your bike donning your flyest steeze, enjoy live music and cold New Belgium brews among friends and neighbors knowing that you're helping to grow and sustain a brighter future for our community.

CHIRP is a proud media sponsor of New Belgium’s 2014 Tour de Fat. For more information, visit  the Tour de Fat Web site.

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Categorized: Community

Topics: tour de fat

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