Article and Photos By Peter Szabo
Heat radiated off of the street as the 2016 Chicago Tour de Fat jammed into gear. Lavish ‘80s hair-band hair flips timed with the beat of a seemingly made-up-on-the-spot cheeky rock ballad kept riders at bay. After ten minutes of mild amusement, the ride proceeded and, I imagine, the three rock stars retreated to a trailer that was equal parts Def Leppard and Professor Marvel (from the Wizard of Oz). Or they changed into high-visibility vests and hopped onto bikes to serve as ride marshals.
While some riders were in costume, most showed up in “norm-core” garb, arguably making the occasional costumed rider more of a spectacle for the idle motorists helplessly watching us ride by. Less-than-patient drivers were met with waves, smiles, and a cheerful clamor of bike bells. The ride offered some participants an opportunity to bike where they otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable biking and the slow pace encouraged people to chat and look around at buildings and storefronts we hadn’t seen before. But, the underlying truth bestowed by rides like these is that bikes are traffic, too, and you can either be sitting in a car or you can be part of the smiling, waving, and ringing fun.
Getting back to Palmer Square meant walking into a shaded festival of repurposed oddities. Games and contraptions made of bike parts which otherwise would have certainly been packed into a landfill somewhere were set up between info tents, beer stands, food trucks, and stages. The occasional penny-farthing, three-wheeler, custom cruiser, or “too nice for the bike racks” bike would slowly pass through lines and crowds of people enjoying and/or waiting for any of the available and delicious foods and beers. The music, attractions, and fun atmosphere make the festival worth coming back for year after year.
If you were at this year’s Chicago Tour de Fat, post pictures or stories in the comments section!
Visit http://www.newbelgium.com/Events/tour-de-fat/Chicago for more information on Tour de Fat and other events hosted by New Belgium Brewing Company.
Visit http://westtownbikes.org/ to learn more about their youth programs, classes, and how to donate to this great Chicago organization.
About the Author:
Peter Szabo is a transportation and recreation cyclist who got his start repairing and building bikes for the Iowa City Bike Library. He now works in a Chicago-area bike shop and volunteers for his local Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Commission to improve active transportation opportunities in his community. He is a newly-appointed Chainlink Ambassador and will contribute articles in the form of product reviews, event coverage, bike-based travel writing, and more. Follow him on Instagram: @bike_there