Oct. 10, 2004 – Fort Collins, CO
New Belgium Brewery gets its name, indirectly, from bicycling. The fledgling company’s young CEO Jeff Lebesch, an avid bike rider, took a cruiser ride through Belgium a few years ago, and drank lots of delicious beer brewed by monks and such.
He came back with an idea to start a brewing company of his own, and called it “New Belgium” in homage to the suds he drank on his trip.
Lebesch and his wife Kim Jordan started making beers at home, commissioned a neighbor to design the labels, and distributed to stores from the back of the family station wagon.
Jeff named one of the company’s first brew-strains “Fat Tire” — as a tribute to the bicycle in general, and the cruiser in particular.
(“More beers, less gears” is a phrase we often hear when socializing with the Fat Tire crew. We’re not pedantic enough to correct them to “fewer” tho.)
Rather than go the mainstream-advertising route by clogging the air around us with commercials and print ads, New Belgium decided to establish their beers’ reputation strictly by grassroots-ing and word-of-mouthing it.
Jeff and Kim’s company quickly grew from a basement operation into a full-blown Fort Collins powerhouse of a company. See? sometimes the good guys win.
So far, New Belgium have stayed true to their mom-and-pop PR style: sending employees to make friends with local bartenders, hanging neon signs in select establishments, and organizing a traveling bicycle-and-beer festival each summer called the “Tour de Fat,” at which they sell their brands for $3 a pint and give all the proceeds to local bike charities. This is where Cyclecide comes in.
New Belgium Brewery writes Cyclecide’s paychecks, at least for the first leg of this tour.
For the past two years, the Bike Rodeo has had the pleasure of showcasing its pedal-powered carnival rides, junk-made freak-bikes, and rodeo klowns of dubious moral character at this otherwise wholesome cycling event. Think enviro-bike booths, vintage bike displays, healthy food stands, beer tents, raffles, win-a-bike contests, and hippie bands.
We Cycleciders huck pies at spandex-coated people with unblemished livers, and we make their kids throw up on the carnival rides. We stick out like sore (junky, loud, ragtag, frequently unwashed) thumbs, and we get in trouble for stuff.
Although the Fat Tire employees we’ve met have assured us that this is mostly fine with them, sometimes we wonder.
Oh, who are we kidding. We usually think we’re on the verge of being fired.
Take for example the “Fort Collins Incident of 2003.” Last year was our first trip to “the Mothership,” and the New Belgium folks welcomed us with open arms.
They invited us to stay in the parking lot of their (beautiful, wind-powered, environmentally-dreamy) headquarters; they let us abuse their employee showers and high-tech coffee machine; they gave us a private tour of the brewery and a beer tasting; they invited us to their Thursday Night Cruiser Ride and bought us drinks afterwards.
Our New Belgium liaison, David Kemp (or D.K.), listened to all our zany stories, facilitated every culture-clash situation we encountered, chided us gently when we needed a good nose-swatting, and otherwise watched over us like an attentive date on prom night.
But after the Fort Collins Tour de Fat gig last year, at the end of a long post-show drinking episode, this one clown (who, it must be emphasized, is no longer a member of the Bike Rodeo) thought it’d be nice to CLIMB THE NEW BELGIUM BREWERY TOWER in the middle of the night “to look at the stars.”
Security called the cops, and the rest is probably better left un-written. The remaining rodeo klowns were mortified, Jarico was furious, and we all spent the next day in court. Miraculously, New Belgium invited us back to tour this year.
Needless to say, we wanted to be on our best behavior, to show our respect and appreciation for our gracious hosts.
It’s hard to be a rodeo klown in Fort Collins anyway. The cops tend to harass us at every turn, and some of them can be hostile.
It’s little wonder Fort Collins’ Finest can be jumpy and a tad bit mean at times — last year when we were pulling into town, driving down the main street, we saw FOUR fistfights within two blocks. It’s a college town, after all.
The Cyclecide crew got pulled over the next night for driving our weirdo bikes on the street, too — and then after this lady-cop hollered at us for 10 minutes about how she “had better things to do,” she gave us tickets for having our bikes on the sidewalk. No fair. But police brutality or no, we weren’t going to let another arrest tarnish our New Belgium report cards.
Well, the night before we got to Fort Collins, while some folks (me included) stayed behind in Denver at Mary’s mountain mansion, others went down the road to Boulder to go on a bike ride that Fat Tire helped organize, as well as an after-party with awards, drinks, a band, and a pinata.
And someone — we’re not saying they were in our company, but we’re not saying we don’t know who it is — stole the pinata before the party even started. The woman who was hosting the affair got pissed, and the culprits feigned innocence.
In our world, pranks like this are the norm — but something tells us the party host wasn’t the type o’ person to know to retaliate by, say, pretending to fire us and then say she’s kidding, or stealing our jousting sticks to put them on display at the New Belgium Brewery front desk.
Later, when the culprits stashed the pinata on the bus — a tiki head, which made it spooky — the others in our crew smelled the bad karma all over it. We cursed our more mischevious (irresponsible?) friends for sabotaging us once again, and waited for the hammer to fall.
Maybe they won’t think it’s funny, not one bit. Maybe we’ll really get fired this time. But hey, we’re Cyclecide. Right? Ya gotta expect such things. After all, they don’t pay us to give massages and pass out ice cream.
This year’s Fort Collins experience, we’re dubiously happy to report, included no arrests and many high spirits. Our sponsors mothered us and praised us comfortingly, and we behaved ourselves. Sort of.
The day of the show, it seemed all the New Belgium employees were cutting loose and celebrating their company’s version of New Year’s Day — and we drank along with them. We weren’t ready to go until the last minute, but the show, though sloppy, was a success.
Koit’s whole family came, other clowns’ friends showed up, the Handsome Little Devils helped us with our performance after they rocked their own, and we all had a wonderful time. Then —
During our last skit, the Moshpit of Recklessness — again, we’re not saying who, but — someone in our crew brought out the dreaded tiki pinata from underneath the bus and dragged it to the middle of the Pit.
Someone else lit the Chupacabra, our fire-breathing bicycle, and rode straight into the pinata, torching the whole thing. Unbeknownst to both the crowd and most of Cyclecide, the tiki head had been stuffed with a massive string of Chinese firecrackers.
When the Chupacabra breathed on the tiki head, the fireworks didn’t go pop-pop-pop in rapid succession for a long time like they were supposed to — they pretty much detonated all at once.
WHOOSH! With a flash as bright as a welder’s torch and a noise like a 20-ton truck dropped on a mountain of bubble-wrap paper, Cyclecide once again found itself in trouble with Mom and Dad.
Since D.K. went off to college, our new New Belgium liaison, Chris Wynn, has proven himself on this tour to be just as much of an incredibly nice and patient man with a good heart, a strong constitution, a cheerful disposition, and an infinite propensity for polite diplomacy.
Bless his heart, that day he found himself once again on the Cyclecide bus with his hands in the air.
Apparently, surprise surprise, others in the company were not only mad that we were the ones who ended up with the tiki pinata, they also thought the fireworks weren’t all that cool — especially considering that it was kinda written into our contract after the 2003 tour that Cyclecide wasn’t allowed to use pyrotechnics in the show at all.
We shrugged and looked sorry, and Jarico apologized like the dickens, and then Linda cracked a joke.
“This is nothing, Chris,” she said. “You don’t even know how easy you have it. You should’ve seen what D.K. had to deal with last year, before we didn’t even know what we weren’t supposed to do.”
We were sure we were history with these people. But then all these other New Belgium employees kept coming up to gush about how they loved us and wanted to run away with us.
Jody loved us, Mike loved us, Katie loved us. They said stuff about how “edgy” we were, and how great it was for the company that we were their “Team Vicarious” — that we did all these things they weren’t allowed to do; that we were the bike geeks out there living the way they wanted to while they were stuck working.
And other stuff about pushing boundaries and all that. We felt pretty punk rock, and at least halfway job-secure again. We guess every community needs some “bad kids” around – and for the people who write half our paychecks, we’re them. (Yahoo! Go Team Vicarious!)
No more climbing on the building, though. We swear. Fireworks though? Can’t promise anything.
Later that night, the Bike Rodeo packed up and headed to the Surfside, our favorite Fort Collins bar, to meet some of the New Belgium folks who didn’t want to smack us in the greasepaint with a cruiser tire.
On the bike ride there, Linda and Koit and this writer got pulled over by a cop who followed us for 10 blocks. But she was nice. “I already talked to Jarico,” she said when she rolled up. “Just make sure you wear a front and back light, walk your bikes on the sidewalk, and stay out of traffic.”
Whew. We didn’t have lights (of course), so we walked.
We strolled up the street in the direction of the Surfside, where a constellation of blue-and-red lights flashed right outside the bar’s front door. “Uh-oh,” we thought. Some other Cycleciders had already gone ahead to the bar.
Thankfully, the melee in question was across the street at another club: in the middle of a three- or four-car cop conglomeration, at least 10 police officers, guns drawn, surrounded two guys hogtied on the pavement.
Seemed like overkill, but who knows what happened before we rolled up. We did a panicky head-count inside the bar, and all klowns were present and accounted for. So we gawked.
Devil Dan, one half of the Handsome Little Devils, was to meet us at the bar. He approached us on the sidewalk hesitantly, rubbernecking at the too-violent scene across the way. Dan’s the type of guy who’s always smiling, but his face now registered dread.
“That’s not one of you guys, is it?,” he said.
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