Glance at a map of New Belgium Brewery’s distribution across the country and it looks like an advancing army, steadily conquering every state from coast to coast. New Belgium is currently in 37 states, and plans to become a national brand by 2020. The brewery will also host two touring events starting that month, stretching through October, and they’ll also break ground on a new brewery this spring in Asheville, North Carolina, slated to open in 2015 with a projected annual output of 500,000 barrels. Yet this almost steroid-induced expansion is triggering one potentially tragic side effect: bicycle neglect.
I’ve already seen it in my hometown of Washington, DC. Five or so years ago, locating a six pack of New Belgium in my…transitional ‘hood was a miracle, a cause for celebration and the subject of feverish posts on fledging beer-spotter online community boards. But now the beer is damn near ubiquitous—even though that transition is still taking place. And with that Fat Tire ubiquity has come a deluge of New Belgium bikes that now adorn the windows of liquor stores where the term “craft beer” didn’t even exist a few years back.
I don’t lament the expanded distribution, or the availability of more high-quality beverages in places that once specialized in beverages intended for brown bag consumption on the nearest street corner. But as a life-long cyclist, it kind of breaks my heart to see all those beautiful New Belgium cruiser bikes sitting in the windows, typically with a big basket filled with a 12-pack of Fat Tire Amber, knowing that the bike will likely never be ridden.
This lamentable fate carries a particularly poignant hint of irony when you consider that the name of New Belgium’s signature beer—the afore-mentioned Fat Tire Amber Ale—traces back to when master brewer Jeff Lebesch rode his mountain bike throughout Europe in 1989, where such bicycles were seldom seen (hence the fat in “fat tire”).
Indeed, the brewery’s affection for bikes extends far beyond mere marketing. Every employee at New Belgium receives a new bike on their one-year anniversary; visit the Fort Collins brewery and you’ll see various models lined up like sentries on the main patio. It speaks to New Belgium’s larger, holistic philosophy, which includes everything from using solar panels to diverting 99.9 percent of their waste to reducing their overall carbon footprint.
Bryan Simpson, New Belgium’s PR Director, says that sometimes the bikes you see in the windows are part of a giveaway program, awarded to the fortunate via auction or raffles, often to benefit local nonprofit organizations. But, he also admits that, sometimes, the bike is on display like signage, and will “hopefully be ridden”—laws vary by state on whether or not that’s even feasible.
Here’s hoping for some quick grassroots legislation to let all “signage” bikes legally hit the pavement after the display period ends. Because those orphan bicycles sitting in the dusty windows of your local beer or liquor store practically beg to be liberated from their sad, stagnant reality. Bikes are meant to be ridden, after all. Just as beer is meant to be consumed.
We’re not encouraging vandalism or theft, mind you. But if you’re looking for a new town cruiser, maybe you can offer the proprietor a deal he can’t refuse.