Bici Centro, a sustaining force in Santa Barbara’s reemerging bipedal culture, is moving from its digs in La Casa de la Raza on East Montecito Street — out of which it’s operated the past five years — and into a storefront next to the Muddy Waters coffee shop on Haley Street.
The move will give Bici Centro more space, though a considerably higher rent. More than that, explained Bici Centro director Ed France, the new location provides an actual storefront from which he hopes to attract more users and volunteers. “We’re hoping the new location provides easier access, which means more people, more volunteers, more hours of operation, and more classes,” he said. For the past five years, Bici Centro has offered Santa Barbara cyclists a venue for free DIY bike repairs — tools provided — supervised at all times by three volunteer mechanics and one paid staff member. Parts, new and used, were sold only for cyclists fixing up their bikes.
Bici Centro is now open three days a week for a total of 12 hours. Part of the problem, said France, is that Bici Centro’s 1,000 square feet of space at La Casa — a cross between a warehouse, a fortress, and a cultural center established for the city’s Latino community in the 1970s — has logistical shortcomings. The $1,000 rent, however, was more than hospitable for a fledgling organization attempting to get established. The new Haley Street location, France said, would be three times as expensive, but nearly three times as big. Likewise, he said, there would be access to 5,000 square feet of outside-patio and parking-lot space.
In the past five years, France said Bici Centro has been visited a total of 6,700 times by 3,000 separate visitors. The vast majority of those were people looking to repair their bikes. Along the way, he said, Bici Centro wound up “recycling” 800 bikes, though that was never the organization’s mission. But in the new quarters, that could become incorporated as part of its goals. When the group started, it pledged to reach out beyond the traditional core constituency of the cycling scene — younger white males — to the city’s Eastside residents, many of whom are low income and Latino. In that aim, France said the organization still has a way to go, though, he added, it compares well when stacked up against similar organizations — known as “bike kitchens” — throughout the state. When Bici Centro started, he said, one quarter of its users were Spanish speaking; now, he said, it’s closer to 60 percent.
France has emerged as one of the leading players in a new wave of bicycle enthusiasts now sweeping the South Coast, less a planning wonk than a cultural evangelist promoting the joys — as well as the practicality and environmental virtues — of commuter cycling. Safety being a major issue preventing many from cycling to work or to school, France and Bici Centro have provided street skills classes now to 300 young riders. They’ve also opened up a bike repair instruction garage on the campus of Santa Barbara High School and gave away 800 LED bike lights at the end of Daylight Saving Time. In addition, Bici Centro has operated the bicycle valet parking operation during County Bowl concerts, parking about 6,000 bikes.
Currently, France said Bici Centro generates about 60 percent of the revenues to keep afloat. But because the rent is tripling, he said, Bici Centro is embarking on a fundraising campaign to raise one-year’s rent, or about $40,000. Bici Centro is already 43 percent there. France said he notified Casa de la Raza five months ago that Bici Centro was looking to move; he gave actual notice one day ago and hopes to move into the new storefront within the month.