To say that Fat Chance and Fat City Cycles have a rich history is a huge understatement which is why over time we plan to tell it in as much detail as possible! But that’s an ongoing future project as we explore the archive, personalities and tales that made Fat City Cycles / Fat Chance one of the iconic bike brands of the 80’s and 90’s. To kick things off with, the post below by cycling blogger 18 Miles per Hour gives his take on the history of Fat Chance and what made our bikes so special.
To say that high-level cycling wasn’t big in the U.S. back in 1977 is a vast understatement. It was almost non-existent. Sure there were BMXers (me, for example), kids on Stingrays, college kids on Schwinn Varsity “10-speeds” and maybe the oddball, freaky bike tourer here or there.
So the few folks who actually properly raced bikes back then were very, very serious about it. Finding the right equipment was quite difficult so the culture was accordingly straight-laced and straight-faced.
This is the world that Chris Chance entered into when he started building custom bikes.
Five years he builds them, independently. Everything from touring bikes to crit bikes to time trailers – you name it. This variety and open-mindedness gives him an amazing education in frame-buiding. He learned to really listen to people and make a bike that was exactly right for them.
Understand that back then being a bike builder was decidedly not cool like it is today. There was no hip Portland bike building scene where you had an obscenely-long waiting list for your obscenely-priced frame. It was a true labor of love.
Then, in 1982, he gets hot for mountain biking. His mountain bike frames prove to be very popular so that’s exactly the area on which he focuses when he formally launches Chris Chance Cycles. One frame, any color, custom-made and nimble as hell. And he quickly forms a very loyal following.
He trains some apprentices – many of which went on to great success in the custom bike world themselves, by the way. Business grows.
And so does their sense of humor.
In the still-stuffy, everyone-out-for-themselves world of cycling (even in mountain biking – “I’m the father of mountain biking!” “No, I am!” Good Lord, who cares?!), these guys stood out. They didn’t take themselves seriously, but took making your bike very seriously.
They were loveable. They were the ragtag, motley, muttley group of guys in a beaten-up but charming space who made kick ass bikes. They were Bill Murray’s platoon in “Stripes.”
This leads me to the big reason why I love Fat Chance. See, back then custom bikes meant guys like Ben Serotta and that’s it. Serottas are great bikes, but they were built for skinny, sponsored pros who drank protein shakes, kept training logs and lived and trained like hell in Colorado. Serotta built his bikes and his company aimed at racing. Still does. He, like all the other popular brands out there, want to sell you bikes that’d be best in a fully-supported race situation with the hopes that the technology and everything else will trickle down.
But Fat Chance made kick ass, custom bikes for nutty, irreverent regular folks. Even their ads were loose, had a sense of humor and featured normal people. And the bikes happened to be so good that actual racers took notice – including World Champion Don Myrah. The quality trickled UP. It was right up my alley.
One day I ran into an insanely-fit guy in a state-champion’s jersey on his Fat and asked him how it rode. I got one word: “Telepathic.”
Years later when I saved and sacrificed enough to get my own I discovered that his description was…perfect. There it is, in green, up there in the photo collage.
Then suddenly…it was over.
Fat City Cycles very quickly folded and Chris Chance pretty much vanished. Gone. Out of the cycling world that he helped make fun.
Years of popping into cycling and Fat City message boards yielded no sign of him. Just a lot of German and Japanese guys hoarding all the Fat Chance bikes that remained in the world and bragging about it. Surprise, surprise.
Then I found him. Turns out he left the bike building world to become a holistic healer and massage therapist in San Francisco.
It’s a pretty deep, serious world he’s in now. One that’s in need of some lightening up. One that could use a little fun. He just may be the perfect guy for it.