Fat Tire Fest rides strong
The Fat Tire Festival, which staked claim on most of downtown last weekend with its exhibitor booths, live music and thousands of mountain bike enthusiasts, showed a popularity that continues to grow like wild fire.
In 1995, the year the festival was founded; approximately 300 people were in attendance. Now 17 years later, the crowds have more than quadrupled to more than 1,300 participants from all over America and even hailing from several foreign countries.
“The first year set the tone — fun, laid-back,” said festival founder Troy Rarick. And now? “Just a party of a thousand of your closest friends.” Rarick said he doesn’t even factor the regulars into that festival crowd equation, “because people who live around here just go out and ride all the time.’’
He does count a good contingent from Colorado. Mountain town residents flock to Fruita for the festival
every year because “where they live, it’s too late to ski and too early to bike.’’
Rarick started the festival when he owned what was then a little bike shop called Over the Edge on Aspen Avenue. Mountain biking was toddling out of its infancy and “Fruita was just getting out of the bag.”
Friends helped him develop the Over the Edge bike shop he started in Fruita into the Over The Edge Sports World Group. It’s a partnership of four mountain-bike destination towns: Fruita, Sedona, Ariz., Hurricane, Utah, and Melrose, South Australia.
He said he never stopped believing in Fruita as a prime destination area for mountain biking with access to huge tracts of public land and “awesome scenery. Just awesome.”
He sold the store in Fruita to George Gatseos and Ross Schnell, although Rarick retains a percentage of sales and continues to manage the Over the Edge brand.
Last week, the 2012 Fat Tire Festival started out like the three little pigs story. The local wind huffed and it puffed until all the canopies and tents were blown down.
“It was crazy,” Gatseos said in the aftermath of the storm as tents went back up Friday morning. “It was tentagedon.”
Fortunately this happened Thursday during setup and the weather was much more accommodating Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The attendees filled the Civic Center lawn and parking lot all three days. The crowds spilled over onto Aspen Avenue and all the local merchants seemed to enjoy the throngs of people shopping and eating.
This year’s festival featured vendors, games for the kids, a beer garden, lots of food, some really good bands and of course bike rides for all ages. Young and old alike took in the sights and sounds. Some folks spread out on the lawn while enjoying the sun and the entertainment. Other people wandered among the vendors and were able to salivate over all the shiny new mountain bikes that were for sale. Most of the vendors even allowed test rides. If you needed a repair on your equipment, no problem as several of the mountain bike companies set up shops and did repairs and upgrades while you waited.
The traffic on the bike trails brought hungry and thirsty riders back into town to refuel. Downtown restaurants, including Camilla’s, The End Zone, Hot Tomato and Suds Brothers were packed with enthusiastic riders and festival goers looking for a good place to eat and relax.
Allie Unrast from Camilla’s said they were swamped for breakfast and featured guitarist/singer Ernie McHugh on their patio for the afternoon patrons. The parking lot of The End Zone was filled with overflow parking on the street. Hot Tomato had a line out the door and standing room only inside. They also had live music by the Lowlands from Grand Junction in the garden area behind the restaurant which was standing room only as well. Jennifer Helfenbein, Suds Brothers Manager said their business was much greater than normal and that their bar was three deep every night. Those mountain bike riders can really work up a thirst.
The restaurants weren’t the only businesses in town to reap the rewards of a temporary population boost. Fossil Tattoo on Aspen had both chairs filled while others waited their turn.
One of Fruita’s finest, Sergeant John Coughran of the Fruita Police Dept., stated “the Fat Tire Festival has always been very peaceful through the years and has never really created any problems.”
The Fat Tire Festival kicks off the fest season for Fruita and if the success of this event is an indicator of upcoming venues, Fruita and its merchants will celebrate in the joy of their endeavors.
Ellen Miller contributed to this story.