“Guys, I’m a little bit nervous,” my niece called out as her small, 16” wheeled bike weaved around much bigger cycles. A relative newcomer to life without training wheels and riding in the Tour de Fat festival in Fort Collins, Colorado with hundreds of other cyclists, I can see how it would be a bit overwhelming.
“You’re doing great! Just stay close to us,” I called back to her.
The Force was definitely on our side that day, and Luke, Leia, Rey, Erso, the Speed Racer and the rogue Storm Trooper were victorious in their quest along the streets of downtown Fort Collins.
Tour de Fat is an annual philanthropic festival hosted by the New Belgium Brewery geared toward raising money for local non-profit bike programs. The best way to describe it is Halloween and Mardi Gras tossed into a blender. Instead of a parade of floats, it is a parade of bicycles – hundreds – all cruising through the streets of downtown. All are welcomed with open arms – moms, dads, kids, friends, out-of-towners, and the collegiate from nearby Colorado State University. The website says it best: “Shift gears. Get Weird.”
Although this bike-riding extravaganza has events all over the US, I heard through the grapevine that the one in Fort Collins is the largest. My sister, a long-time resident, invited me months ago. How could we pass up this awesome event?
We packed up the car and drove the 1200+ miles to the gorgeous Centennial State. We were lucky to nab a great AirBnB basement apartment just one short mile from downtown. Even bigger bonus: the owner let us use bikes for the festival.
So, my nephew is perhaps the biggest Star Wars fan I know (my husband comes in at a close second), and he made the brilliant decision that we should all dress up as Star Wars characters for Tour de Fat. My sister, being the crafty woman she is, pulled a roll of white cotton fabric from her attic, cut two rectangular pieces with holes in the top and voilá the hubs and I had costumes. She braided and twisted my hair into buns and suddenly I became one of my most beloved characters: Princess Leia.
We set out on our bikes (I rolled on a BMX) and headed to Mountain Avenue where we mingled with a sea of costume-wearing riders pedaling through the streets. Music from makeshift DJ stations and live bands wafted through the air along with laughter and occasional ring from bicycle bell.
The costumes were epic with some folks no doubt putting hours upon hours of work into them. There were swarms of sharks, llama heads, basketball hoops and Dr. Who phone booths on the back of bikes… every direction I looked, there was someone/something even more fantastic than the last.
Like my niece earlier, I had a teensy bit of anxiety as we set out on our bikes that morning, mostly because I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Was my costume up to snuff? Did my hair truly resemble the iconic Princess Leia buns? Would I even make it across town on the BMX bike I was riding? After our first stop, I was standing on the sidewalk getting some video and snapping a few pictures. A gentleman cruising buy on his mountain bike raised his cup in my direction and yelled, “Yeah, Princess Leia!” All was right in the universe.
While Erso, Rey, and the Speed Racer held down the fort at a friend’s house, Luke, Leia and the storm trooper continued their journey to the New Belgium Brewery. With rotating list of musicians and performers on two stages on the grounds and plastic cups of the brewery’s finest, we settled at a table to watch the flow of people pass us by.
This was the grown-up version of what we had seen earlier in the day, with the costumes even more vibrant and bold. We sipped our beer and chatted with English royalty, drag queens, Han Solo and R2D2. Even the cast from the Jersey Shore made an appearance. The people watching alone is worth the price of a ticket, but the Tour de Fat crowd was also treated to two stages with comedy and music performances in a back-to-back schedule.
The hours ticked by all too quickly, and Momma storm trooper needed to get home to refuel Rey and Erso. We pedaled into the sunset along Mountain Avenue, we gave our thanks to the galaxy for one epic day.
Until next year, Fort Collins!