Touring On Tour: Tuned In and Turnt Out at Northwest Tune Up Fest
Touring On Tour follows our friend James Joiner as he travels around the world having bike-centric adventures. In this installment, James heads to the Northwest Tune Up Fest for a weekend of bikes, music, and good times. Read all about it here…
A weekend of beer, bikes, and music situated in the midst of mountain bike paradise?
Uh, yes please.
Northwest Tune Up Fest is an idea so obvious I’m shocked somebody hadn’t done it yet. The sort of fantasy had during post-ride drinks with the homies while the threat of work looms.
If you enjoy pedaling past pavement’s end – if you’re reading this, I assume you do – you’ve heard of Bellingham, Washington. Nestled an hour and change north of Seattle, it dominates a college-mountain-town bingo board. Breweries with quirky names in reformed industrial spaces, hipster restaurants, grocery co-ops, rapid expansion alongside a lack of affordable housing, burgeoning localism, street art, coffee shops, DIY skatepark. What sets it apart from the rest, along with that sweet mountain air, is miles and miles and miles of bananas-good singletrack and gravel riding. So much, so the bike industry has taken up residence, with brands like Kona, Transition, and Evil, and countless outdoor-centric accessory and apparel brands call it home too.
Tune Up Fest’s inaugural voyage took place July 8-10, 2022, on a waterfront framed by overpasses, giant steel silos, and abandoned post-industrial buildings destined for destruction and potential rebirth as quaint condos or something like that. The stage faced an open lawn, dirt jump and pump tracks, beer gardens, vendors, and tent city of bike-focused companies plying their wares. Demo bikes were available on site and a few miles away at Galbraith Mountain, which, I’m told, saw the bulk of the activity. It was a weekend riddled with rides, alley cat races, instructional clinics, and, naturally, parties.
Oh, did I mention there was music? Yep. Every evening, the bike events packed up and stage lights kicked on, featuring acts like Wolf Parade, Cut Chemist, the Allah-Lahs, PJ Morton, the Dip, Chastity Belt, and loads more. We skipped a lot of the tunes, but I can personally vouch for the vibe-y radness of the Allah-Las.
I’ll spare you the meandering play-by-play and just serve up my favorite hits from the weekend, in no particular order:
The Kona Alley Cat Race
Who doesn’t love dubiously sanctioned, hijinks-riddled bike races ripping through a small town? Add in mandatory costumes you’ve got yourself a winner.
Every mountain town is a good dog town, but Bellingham goes hard. The number of times I nearly rammed a parked car excitedly yelling ‘FLOOF!’ and pointing would make my health insurer shudder.
If you don’t already know, Cosmic Dirt is your new favorite clothing brand. Why? Under owner Ashley Duffus-Jambor’s expert guidance, CD is blossoming into a full-fledged movement bent on making sure every person feels comfortable – in every way – getting out and expressing themselves on bikes. I, for one, am here for it. Check ‘em out, buy a hat or shirt, and tell Ashley I sent you.
Riding off-road is even better in great dirt, and Bellingham has it. Whether you love shredding the gnar, vintage steel gravel jamming, fat tire cruising, or something in between, this is literally the location dancing in your wistful perfect condition daydreams.
Big gatherings go south fast if the people suck, but Tune Up Fest brought in the bestest. Friendly locals, gracious guests, and a general high-stoke vibe kept a grin going all weekend even for the most cynical of attendees (me).
One of the weekend highlights was a mural tour by unofficial Bellingham art ambassador Gretchen Leggit. Who knew someplace so remote could have such deep street art roots?
Okay, we didn’t see one, at least not in the flesh. But the spirit, and likeness of Bigfoot are alive and well in this town, adorning everything from window dressings and signs to stickers and graffiti. There’s lots of places claiming Bigfoot as a mascot, but for Bellingham, it’s more a patron saint, and I’m a believer.
Nestled among exhibitors showcasing the latest and greatest in soon-to-be-obsolete bike tech, Seattle’s Swift Industries chilled among their now-legendary canvas bags and other sustainable, fairly-made bikepacking/commuter products. They also had, hands down, the raddest bike-centric cartoon I’ve ever seen, in the form of an old-school inner tube patch passing gas.
Or lack of them. Like every subculture, ours can be rife with over-the-top quasi-celebrities curating their existence through social media like the stars of their own private teen dramedies, flocking to any gathering to garner content and make the scene. Not that there’s anything wrong with this – I admittedly just described myself sans ad-generating follower count – but it was refreshing that Tune Up Fest managed to avoid this bizarre social circuit. The relative lack of influencers in the wild kept things light and in the moment for the rest of us to have real fun.
I meant it when I called this place a bike paradise: off-road and adventure cycling’s spirit is flourishing in Bellingham. It’s a town where people have pump tracks in their front yards in the middle of a neighborhood. Everything is bike accessible, and over the course of three days of constant riding, only one redneck tried to run me over in his smoke-belching flag-flying alt-right hate machine, and I’m willing to concede that in this instance, I may have deserved it.
Yes, there was beer. Yes, we drank it. Yes, it was delicious. How much beer? Well, there were dozens of breweries in attendance, more in town, and let’s just say I’m very happy my camera has autofocus. Yes, this is one of the reasons writing this wrap up took over a week. And yes, my head does still hurt a little, but in a good way. Like the song says, “regrets, Tourettes, I guess it’s the same.”
Overall, Tune Up Fest felt like a success for attendees and the region, though an occasional notably sparse attendance throughout the weekend makes me wonder if there’ll be a second iteration. I can say that if they do, I’ll be there, and you should be, too.
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