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Biking and beer: Tour de Fat rolling into Palmer Square

July 16, 2012|By Steven Chaitman | For RedEye

When you grab a bottle (or nowadays even a can) of New Belgium Brewing's flagship beer Fat Tire, you're likely more concerned with the stuff inside than the stuff on the label. But the cycling motif of the brewery that was "born on a bicycle" goes well beyond the branding, and that's the mission of Tour de Fat.

For the fifth straight year, the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewer brings Tour de Fat to Chicago's Palmer Square from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The festival has toured the country for 13 seasons celebrating bikes and beer while also promoting the message that bicycling is not only a healthy recreational activity, but also a socially and environmentally responsible life choice.

"I don't think 20 years ago that we realized putting a bicycle on our flagship brand would become a symbol of sustainability 20 years later," said Michael Craft, Tour de Fat's nonprofit liaison.

Craft describes Tour de Fat as "a traveling philanthropic bicycle carnival." Kicking off with a family friendly bike parade at 10 a.m., biking enthusiasts of all shapes and ages show up in costume to ride, enjoy the music and New Belgium beer and partake in various sideshow games and attractions, including a tent with various unorthodox art bikes that guests can ride.

All funds benefit Chicago's own West Town Bikes, a nonprofit community bicycle learning center that offers workshops, youth programs and other bicycle advocacy projects that foster Chicago's biking community throughout the city.

Tour de Fat has worked with West Town Bikes since it first came to Chicago, helping to raise more than $20,000 in unrestricted funds each year that help cover the nonprofit's vital operating expenses.

"The fact that we are actually putting people on bicycles is something that struck a chord with New Belgium," said West Town Bikes executive director Alex Wilson.

In fact, the Tour de Fat culminates in putting one lucky person on a new bike--in exchange for their car.

Known as "the trade," a charitable organization tows and sells the trader's car with a portion going to West Town, and the brave new rider not only gets new wheels, but this year he or she can select any Chicago bike shop to build them a customized bike. That person then commits to biking for the year and blogs about the experience on New Belgium's website.

"(New Belgium) really wants to see people make a lifestyle change, that riding a bicycle for transportation is a transformative thing," Wilson said.

Tour de Fat is free, though parade riders are asked for a $5 suggested donation. Parade registration begins at 9 a.m.

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