The Tour de Fat is rolling across the Western United States, bringing bikes, beer, and carnivalesque frivolity to more than a dozen cities. Sponsored by Colorado craft brewer New Belgium, the event raises thousands of dollars for local bike groups in each location through brew and merchandise sales, all the while allowing local bikers to get their inner freak on.
The riders who show up for the kickoff event, the Tour de Fat bicycle parade, are a wildly eclectic bunch: Geeky vintage bike collectors pedal alongside BMX tricksters and attention-getting body-mod and tattoo fetishists. Tinkerers show off their tall bikes and crazy modifications; single-speeders flaunt their stripped-down rigs; and cargo bikers—such as me, riding the Utne Reader’s new Surly Big Dummy—flex their load-bearing capacity.
I made the rounds at the Minneapolis Tour de Fat before the parade started, asking bikers with notable rides to tell me a bit about them, while Utne Reader art director Stephanie Glaros took photos. (Look for more of her shots soon on Utne’s Tumblr blog.) Here are the fascinating folks we met:
Mark Lukens, Minneapolis
Double-decker BMX bike
BMX biking is literally imprinted on Mark Lukens: Google “BMX tattoos” and an image of the handlebars stretching across his chest will turn up at the top of your results. A welder, he made two bikes into one:
“This is a mid-’90s Wilkerson Airline on the bottom, with a late ’90s Powerlite freestyle frame on the top. I saw other people with tall bikes, and what I do is BMX, so I went with it. Stunts allowed are wheelies, and wheelies only. I Frankensteined together the front steer tube, so there’s no bar spins anymore.”
Bill Eggert, St. Paul
Eggert calls his contraption the Evolutionary Transport, or ET for short—and he’s got a patent pending, so don’t even think of ripping off this idea:
“It’s kind of like an elliptical trainer that moves or a cross-country ski machine that moves. I’m a former long-distance runner with some injuries and was looking for a low-impact way to exercise outside that was still weight-bearing and used arms and legs. I can get a really good workout in a shorter period of time, plus, it’s green. You can run errands on this. I have a big basket on it, and I can take it to the grocery store. A whole bunch of people in health clubs ride elliptical trainers, but they always complain about being stuck inside. I’ve got a patent pending on this, and am getting closer. This is just one of several prototypes: different wheelbases, different wheel sizes. I have a winter version with a Pugsley tire on the rear end. I’m finalizing design issues, and I may be flying to Taiwan early this fall to find a manufacturer.”
Brad Wilcox and Juliann Wilcox, Lindstrom, Minnesota
The Wilcoxes have their own fleet of vintage bicycles—more than a half-dozen at last count, and growing all the time:
Brad: “This is a Swedish-built Monarch, and it’s a delivery bike. It’s very common. We live up in a Swedish community, and we have a lot of Swede tourists. A guy stopped by last summer, and he said, ‘I rode one of these delivering for a local hardware store in Sweden.’ I found this one locally, in an antique store in Minneapolis. I believe someone left it as a garden bike for a while. I cleaned it up as good as I could, but it’s an excellent, very well-built bike. It rides very well. Hopefully the tires won’t blow out, because they’re still the original tires. My wife found it, and I have a bunch of Monarchs, the U.S. built ones, so I thought it fit with the collection. Mainly I ride it around the little town we live in, and people look at me like I’m from outer space. ‘There’s the guy with the rack on the front.’ I paid enough for it, I’m sure. It was one of those deals where I had to have it at the time.”
Juliann: “This is a Columbia with a laser horn. (She pushes a button on the side of the futuristic top bar, emitting a sharp electric skronk.) That’s what I call it. I laser people out when I’m biking by. I wanted a red bike today since it went with my outfit.”
Brad: “The [Columbia] bike was my brother’s pride and joy, but he moved to Florida and it wouldn’t fit in the U-Haul. He said, ‘Would you take it?’ I said, ‘Oh, I think I’ll take it.”
Juliann: “I bought a bike yesterday saw another one, but I couldn’t fit it in the car. We could only get one in.”
Brad: “Bikes are cheaper than drugs, and they last longer. I think they’re cheaper, anyway.”
Elyce Gibson and Brad Ash, Minneapolis
Schwinn Jenny and unidentifiable black mountain bike
Gibson and Ash recently relocated from Washington, D.C., to Minneapolis—lucky for them, since it allowed them to ride in the Tour de Fat and show off Elyce’s brand-new but classic-looking Schwinn Jenny:
Elyce: “I just got this bike, and I’ve been riding it every day since. I like the color, the shape, and that it’s a seven-speed but looks vintage. I looked all over in shops for a bike but then found this on the Schwinn website and had it special ordered by a bike shop.”
Brad: “This has a beautifully speckled rust paint job. I’ve even gotten compliments on it, but it’s not intentional. It doesn’t have any original parts—this is a Frankenstein bike. It has personality, and it works well. Well, maybe not all of the time. About three months ago part of the handlebar broke off while I was riding.”
All images by Stephanie Glaros.