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Support West Town Bikes at Chicago’s Ninth Annual Tour de Fat Festival

2015 TDF Parade Ride
The bike parade at last year's Chicago Tour de Fat. Photo: West Town Bikes
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New Belgium Brewing Company’s Tour de Fat, an annual celebration of bike culture and the most important fundraiser for West Town Bikes, will mark its ninth year in Chicago next month. The festival takes place on Saturday, July 9 in Palmer Square Park, 2200 North Kedzie, in the east side of the park instead of its usual spot on the west side of the green space. “It looks like it will be bigger and better than ever,” says Alex Wilson, director of the Humboldt Park-based bicycle education center.

The fest includes live music, theatrical performances and sideshows on many stages, a corral where you can test-ride freak bikes, and plenty of New Belgium’s craft beer, and all of the proceeds go to West Town, as well as CHIRP Radio, a local community radio station. “Last year was our biggest year ever, netting over $50,000 for West Town,” Wilson says. “This year we’re expecting to top that.”

Wilson noted that money from the Tour de Fat has been crucial for funding West Town-run after-school programs at six public schools along the Bloomingdale Trail, aka The 606. “The program started in spring 2015, but the Tour made it possible to continue it into fall 2015 and spring 2016,” he says.

These after-school bike clubs mostly included kids from grades 3-8. The students learned safe cycling, basic bike maintenance and repair, health and wellness, social and environmental responsibility. “Our goal was to encourage the students and their families to use The 606,” Wilson says. The car-free space was ideal for teaching the youth bike-handling skills.

“Ever since West Town opened in 2004, a major goal of ours has been to educate Humboldt Park residents about The 606,” Wilson says. “Now that the trail has come to fruition, there are concerns about whether those who advocated for the trail will be able to stay here and enjoy it, but that’s a conversation for another day.”

In addition to funding programming, fundraisers like the Tour are essential for bankrolling day-to-day operations at West Town. “It helps pay my salary and that of our administrative staff, as well as pay rent and utilities – things that keep the lights on,” Wilson says. “Most grants won’t cover these things, so events like Tour de Fat are really important to the livelihood of West Town Bikes.”

Bike Pit
Try out a wacky bicycle in the freak bike corral. Photo: Josh Koonce

The Tour starts at 10 a.m. with registration for a bike parade around Logan Square and Humboldt Park, rolling out at 11 and returning to Palmer Square by noon. The festivities will run until 5 p.m.

Wilson is optimistic that the turnout for this year’s fest will be bigger than ever, since the the popular Philly-based rock band Dr. Dog will be headlining. “To have an act like them for free in a public space is really a good deal for Chicagoans,” he says. And, of course, longtime Tour de Fat performers Mucca Pazza, the local “circus-punk marching band,” will be appearing as well.

The highlight of the fest is always the moment when an attendee volunteers to trade his or her car for a bike and accessories provided by New Belgium. The car is auctioned off, and this year the money from the sale will go to CHIRP. West Town will get the remainder of the proceeds from beer and merchandise sales.

“We encourage one and all to come to this family-friendly event for bikes and bemusement, which will help support one of Chicago’s great bike organizations,” Wilson says.

This post is made possible by a grant from the Illinois Bicycle Lawyers at Keating Law Offices, P.C., a Chicago, Illinois law firm committed to representing pedestrians and cyclists. The content is Streetsblog Chicago's own, and Keating Law Offices neither endorses the content nor exercises any editorial control.

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