Paul Wellman

The Fiesta Cruiser Run

An Abridged History of a 34-Year-Old Tradition

Thursday, August 1, 2013
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The second after I volunteered to write this story, I felt a pang of regret, worried that I was perpetrating a crime equivalent to exposing a treasured surf break or a secret backcountry hiking trail. Such sins are doubly perfidious in a town that can seem like it’s overrun by students, tourists, and Silicon Valley executives who decided they’d like to die somewhere with a nicer view. I didn’t quite get that when I first arrived in Santa Barbara seven years ago. It felt like a place that was insular and wary of outsiders, but I have come to realize that sometimes residents just want to have a little slice of their city to themselves. Who am I to dishonor that sentiment?

<b>MAN AND HIS BIKE:</b>  The author poses on a Van Nuys–made Genuine Bicycle Products BMX cruiser courtesy of Cranky’s Bikes.
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

MAN AND HIS BIKE: The author poses on a Van Nuys–made Genuine Bicycle Products BMX cruiser courtesy of Cranky’s Bikes.

The truth of this matter, however, is that the cat is out of the bag. Ever since the Fiesta Cruiser Run made its way onto Facebook five years ago, attendance has exploded. Last year, the police counted 1,200-1,400 riders at the starting line ​— ​the dolphin fountain ​— ​but Rex Stephens, who takes a tally with a clicker at Goleta Beach, puts the number closer to 3,000. Only about 400, he estimates (somehow), live in Santa Barbara County. What started out as a quaint tradition 34 years ago has now been annexed by visitors like everything else.

Even so, there’s something beatific about the unsanctioned event, where bicyclists flood State Street for blocks on end, reclaiming it from automobiles that get stuck waiting at cross-streets for upward of 10 minutes. As a bicycle commuter and recreational cyclist who is used to getting yelled at from behind SUV windows (as if their drivers are the vulnerable ones), I can’t help but enjoy the one day when bicycles dominate.

To some, I suppose, the Cruiser Run can look like chaos. A few days after Fiesta last year, Police Chief Cam Sanchez told the City Council that the riders “really have no reason but to cause a mess.” His conclusion struck me as particularly off, not only because I had been one of those riders. I could think of several reasons people were pedaling their single-speed steeds that day: catching up with friends, showing off pimped-out cruisers, enjoying another day of fine-ass Santa Barbara weather outdoors.

And yet, there was a kernel of truth in the police chief’s description of the event. Part of the thrill of the ride is a lawless, carnival atmosphere where riders can ignore the strictures of their everyday lives and blow off steam, where social divisions collapse and earthly pleasures trump the intellectual. In short, it’s a party on wheels.

By Courtesy Photo

GLORY RIDE: The early days of the Fiesta Cruiser Ride had about 30 participants; now the event boasts thousands.

Like many a brilliant idea, the Fiesta Cruiser Run was fueled by alcohol and THC. “I was 18 years old when the ride started,” said Richard Sandoval, one of the event’s originators. “I was with four buddies on the Westside in the basement of my buddy’s house doing bong loads and drinking beers, just chilling on a cloudy day.” The five of them cruised down to the beach where they saw four of their friends from Goleta and decided to head up that way.

That first casual ride would soon become a test of hangover endurance. Each year, the same slowly growing group of friends, after five days of Fiesta revelry, would see if they could make it to Isla Vista and back. Ironically, as the cruiser run has burgeoned, it has become more tame ​— ​stymied by the cops and the logistics of its size. No longer does anyone crash the swimming pool at the Francisco Torres towers. No more acrobatics on the BMX jumps at the Ellwood bluffs. And no more jumping off Stearns Wharf upon return. In fact, the ride now tends to deteriorate in Isla Vista, while once upon a time, the riders would take a collection and load up on booze at SOS Liquor.

By Courtesy Photo

Revelry Loves Company: The Cruiser Run began to grow steadily in the early 90s.

Despite this history, most people will tell you that the ride is “good, clean fun,” as does 30-year veteran Sergio Alvarez, who works at Hazard’s Cycles. The atmosphere isn’t exactly the Magic Kingdom, and there is no dearth of beer-filled bellies, but there were no arrests or accidents last year. “We’re not looking for trouble,” said Alvarez, who is friendly with police because Hazard’s services the department’s bicycles.

Some of the ride’s stalwarts are even venting complaints similar to those of the police. City officials have asked in vain to speak with the event’s leaders, and while no such mythical figures exist ​— ​the ride is, after all, a tradition ​— ​Rex Stephens is trying to take on that role. The owner of Santa Barbara Cruisers who hosts the King of the Cruisers show at his Haley Street shop before the ride every year, Stephens is trying to go legit. Realizing that the Cruiser Run “is spiraling out of control,” he has made himself a liaison to the police and envisions turning the ride into a “zero-tolerance,” family-friendly, permitted nonprofit fundraiser.

“It’s not about dressing up in sombreros and getting drunk,” said Stephens. “It’s about community, involvement, and generations,” referring to the children of the original cruisers, like Sandoval’s three kids, who now go on the ride. In America, cycling itself is a symbol of childhood, something you are supposed to outgrow like comic books or Frosted Flakes. The Cruiser Run, despite a few ignored red lights, is really a mass return to innocence. “Every year,” said Sandoval, “I turn 18 again on Fiesta Sunday.”


The Fiesta Cruiser Ride takes place Sunday, August 4, at noon at Stearns Wharf.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

And this is how the Santa Barbara that was cool has become the Santa Barbara the NIMBYs want.

Num1UofAn (anonymous profile)
August 1, 2013 at 10:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)

They want to shut it down to make money off of it because they can't commodify it otherwise.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
August 3, 2013 at 1:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I am appalled at the reaction by the city and the police to this event.

This is America and sadly SB today people. Where the police act as revenue generation agents while ignoring the real crimes and the people who cause us the most harm. Where happy, harmless citizens are harassed by insipid, morons with a badge and a gun. Where the weak, meek minded police use their positions of power to make up for their weak minds and anger fueled power trips. No wonder so many people HATE the police.

Very few actions symbolize the oppressive police state we now live in better than the SBPD giving tickets to innocent citizens having a fun cruise.

Nothing is more indicative of the asinine management of this city, than the reaction they have towards thousands of people having fun. Outside of their ability to collect fees and control you.

Nothing could be more symbolic of the lack of leadership and the underlying greed and power hunger that plagues our cities leadership and the police itself than their reaction to this event. Nothing.

While they were "enforcing" meaningless laws, dozens of felonies were being committed around town, hundreds of people were illegally selling goods, hundreds of people were being taken advantage of... and yet the SBPD finds a way to write enough tickets to pay for their new cruisers and their hugely over inflated salaries.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 11:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Iamsomeguy - is running a red light a "meaningless law"? Really?

sacjon (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 11:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

i actually believe we are moving towards the fiesta bike run being more of an organized affair....which ultimately ( and hopefully) ease the differences between both sides.

If the bike ride can be streamlined with no stopping as the various intersections are closed then reopened immediately following the riders...and if people know beforehand....there is no reason 2 thoughtful minds couldn't come together.

after all, this is not rocket science.

lawdy (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 12:11 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sacjon, in this case yes. it is very much a meaningless law.

The police are there to keep peace. Not to act as revenue generation agents for the city, county, state and feds.

That is the core problem here. The police no longer act in favor of keeping peace, instead, the fancy themselves as warriors fighting a war. Where you and every other citizen is assumed guilty and are denied due process or any real avenue for restitution or forgiveness.

The change is both in nomenclature from Peace Officers to Law Enforcement as well as in action and its at the heart of the divide and the problem. Its endemic, its wrong and it reeks of an over zealous police force.

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 1:03 p.m. (Suggest removal)

So, should we just remove all stop lights and let traffic go however it wants? Or, maybe just allow cyclists to ignore all traffic laws?

Parking tickets are revenue. Tickets for blowing a stop light are for the deterrence of actions that will get you and others KILLED.

Huge difference pal.

sacjon (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 1:44 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If you cannot understand the difference between a special event and everyday traffic, nothing I or anyone says will make a dent in that dense skull of yours.

Stick to the simple arguments. Like what color is the sea. Or is that a horse or a cow... Your lack of intellect is telling, just try not to make it so damn obvious...

iamsomeguyinsb (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 5:16 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I agree.

It's time for it to become an official parade. It has more fiesta spirit than the other two official parades. And it would be much safer to stop the cars for a half hour than to stop the bikes. But bikers would need to ride responsibly after leaving DT.

native2sb (anonymous profile)
August 6, 2013 at 10:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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