Good-bye [and hello again] to a friend

In the year 2000, the test editor for Mountain Bike Magazine wrote a letter to Chris Chance lamenting the imminent loss of Fat City. In a subsequent edition of MB’s column ‘the Gear Queer’, the same author summarized the situation in an emotional tribute to all that FCC had accomplished. The title was ‘Good-bye to a friend’. The author starts with “We’ve lost a dear friend…Fat City Cycles of Stowe, Vermont will discontinue frame building operations as of September 1, 2000…We’re losing Fat Chance”.

 Stowe, Vt

the Fat City barn in Stowe, Vt

I read further. The author had used his powers as MB test editor to name the #1 best product as a Wild Cherry Yo Eddy!. He continued: “Fat Chance is more than a bike to me. It represent[s] passion and commitment, friendship, good times and trying to be your best.” By now, I was really interested. This resonated with me. Next the author continued by quoting a founding member of indy Fab: “I hope Chris doesn’t lay down his torch. He’s a very gifted frame builder and he has passion. The industry is short of people like Chris Chance”. As the piece wraps up, the author foreshadows “if I had to guess, I’d say Chris Chance is going to take a little break, do some thinking, maybe try something new for a bit, then come back and give it another go. He’s too talented a designer and he loves the bikes too much to stay away forever. ”

I finish the article and realize the author is Matt Phillips, the test editor for MountainBike magazine at the time…The same Matt Phillips, current test editor for Bicycling Magazine, that lives across town from me?! I send him the article. “Geez, wow. Yeah that was all me. 15 years ago.” I know Matt from our local club rides. As the test editor for a major cycling publication, he also donates a lot of gear to the high school mountain bike team that I’m involved with. If you want to see kids act like a pack of wild hyenas, tell them you have a bag full of cycling swag to hand out at your next mountain bike camp out. I ask Matt if I can ask him a few questions to follow up with what he wrote back then and see if we can make a full circle trip to the present.

Matt Phillips (@ilikesushi) - Instagram photos and videos.clipular

Matt courtesy of his own Instagram.

Matt was in the bike industry back then and is still on the inside today so I knew I’d be getting some insightful commentary. I was surprised that most of what we talked about was less about bike statistics and industry jargon and more about the enthusiasm and passion that Fat represented for us both. In his original article Matt references that you could buy a full suspension Giant for $1800 with disc brakes and a bunch of bells and whistles, how could FCC compete with that? Seemingly not much has changed so I start there.

A trip to a bike shop carrying any big-box brand will quickly illustrate how much technology is available on an $1800 bike:  You can still get that full suspension Giant with all the bells and whistles. “So what’s different about the market now than in the year 2000?” I ask Matt. We talk about how many small frame builders have popped up in the last few years. Matt explains “there’s more appreciation for the craft builder. In 2000, steel hard-tails were going out of fashion, which is not the case now. You can see that with the demand for hand built products. You have websites like Etsy that really show that.” Matt’s response makes sense to me. Bikes being built with artistry and small details are very much in style right now. Uniqueness and a builder’s creativity have value again! But this leads us to our next topic. With so many small builders pouring so much creativity into high quality products, is the frame building market saturated? What will stand out about Fat Chance in the current bike industry? Again Matt’s insightfulness comes to the rescue:  “There’s only one Chris Chance. The things that FCC did are still relevant even now. Back then, the bikes had crazy paint and the team kits were bright and wild. The bike models had crazy names. Everything was over the top and it was sometimes weird and cheesy other times but that’s what made it fun. Everything about it was fun and that’s timeless. If the Fat Chance comeback has some part of that, (the weird, wild, and fun elements), then that will be enough.”

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There’s only one Chris Chance.

That’s significant and says a lot coming from an editor of Bicycling Magazine. I can’t help but wonder if a lot of the younger boutique frame builders would even be in business today if not for Chris Chance’s influence.  Matt continues though, and acknowledges that his reaction to the Fat Chance comeback consisted of mixed emotions. “On one hand I was worried for Chris. What he went through was traumatic. It was heart wrenching to see him go. I’m happy he’s back though. I totally want a new Yo Eddy!” We both agree that we totally want a new Yo Eddy! and I bring up that Matt even named the Yo Eddy! as his #1 product. Not only that but Matt elaborated on that with some heavy-duty language saying that this was more than a bike. It was passion and enthusiasm and that this bike was the reason he became a mountain biker. I could really relate to that! I ask if Matt has ever felt or witnessed that passion and enthusiasm since the Yo Eddy! Or maybe he’s seen something that came close in other forms or from other companies. He answers very simply with one word: “No”. Uncharacteristically, he doesn’t elaborate this time.

Our conversation turned as we talked about carbon, full suspension and Asian manufacturers. A beautiful Colnago C-59 sitting in the room illustrates that bikes made over seas can be pretty incredible. We talk about how builders like Richard Sachs and Paul Sadoff have stuck to doing one thing well and have staying power because of that. We wrap up our chat and before I leave, we both agree that we want a new Yo Eddy! Matt tells me “The least I could do is buy one of Chris’ bikes. I would buy one even if only to support and say thanks to Chris because he was such a big part of my evolution as a cyclist.  I would hate for us to lose him again.”

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What things looked like at Fat City in 1999!

Author: Brendan Shafer
You can keep up with what Matt has to say on TwitterInstagram or the next issue of Bicycling Magazine.