Tour de Fat delivers a lot of cycling and a fair share of brew

Jun. 21, 2014 @ 06:55 PM

On a usual day, mixing beer and bicycles could end badly, but for those at the Tour de Fat, it’s just another Saturday.

Well, not just another Saturday.

Matt Kowal, the Tour de Fat impresario and New Belgium creative and sustainability specialist said the brewery’s flagship beer, Fat Tire, was born on a bike ride through Belgium.

“There is a bicycle riding culture in places like Belgium … it’s multigenerational,” Kowal said. “It allows people to have a lifestyle that’s healthy despite the fact that they drink a lot of beer all the time.”

That idea of drinking beer and riding bikes is the basis of what New Belgium is bringing to people.

“It’s a potluck,” he said. “We want them to dress up and bring their own freakiness to this party. So it’s not just a one-way communication.”

New Belgium consciously works to ensure that Tour de Fat is sustainable — from composting the cups to using waste-oil to power stages.

“It’s a family friendly event, it’s about figuring out a good balance.” Kowal said. “And we think that adding the bicycle to this festival is the heart and soul of it.”

The money raised during Tour de Fat stays in the community, to benefit organizations that focus on bicycling. This year there were three organizations working with New Belgium during the Tour de Fat — Triangle Spokes Group, BikeWalk NC and the Durham Bike Co-Op.

For Jenn Nowalk of Triangle Spokes Group, Tour de Fat is a time for her organization to get mid-year recognition and fundraising.

Triangle Spokes Group is an area non-profit that raises money to provide bicycles and helmets to children in the Triangle during the holiday season. She said $70 covers the cost of a bike and a helmet.

This is the fourth year Triangle Spokes has partnered with Tour de Fat to raise money and organize the bike parade — a whimsical, leisurely tour of downtown Durham all while riding bikes.

“(New Belgium) found us online,” Nowalk said. “They loved that we are focused on children … And so we were a good fit to lead the bike parade.”

This year they had about 750 participants in the bike parade.

“It’s really just getting out (and exploring),” she said. “The costumes add an element of fun.”

She said since getting involved with New Belgium they’ve been able to buy about 200 bikes with proceeds from Tour de Fat. That’s about $14,000.

“It’s great, especially since they have the same belief in that bikes are powerful and fun at any age,” Nowalk said.

It also gives Triangle Spokes a gauge of how many bicycles they’ll be able to donate once Christmas comes around.

Kowal said choosing Durham came out of the culture of open-mindedness and a “developed” palette for consuming beer.

“Durham has got a bike culture and a beer culture, and a population ready for this,” he said.

A percentage of every beer New Belgium sells goes back to charity. Kowal said the company has a triple bottom line — people, profits and the planet.

“Our philanthropy of our company is deep and wide,” he said. “We’re going to be doing more stuff that is community minded. We’re not just looking to maximize shareholder value.”

Kowal said between 2,500 and 4,000 people attended Tour de Fat in Durham this year.

As far as beer consumption goes, Kowal said that “the right amount” would be provided to festival goers.

“We’re about quality, not quantity,” he said. “I don’t want to do this job to get people loaded and send them out on bicycles. I want people to get inspired about riding their bike more in day-to-day life, and to be more adventurous in what they’re trying and add depth to their lives.”