Eddie Gonzalez didn’t set out to change the cycling culture of Santa Barbara, but with an empathetic ear and a compassionate heart, he came to play a pivotal role in laying the city’s cycling foundation. The California Bicycle Coalition has recognized his achievements with the 2016 Dreamer Award.
Gonzalez was in junior high when he started mountain biking. “We were really doing it to be rebellious,” he said, laughing. But, cycling became a means for the oldest of eight children to contribute financially. “As a teenager I rode my bike across town to work. I learned to be responsible, to ride safely, to take care of my bike.”
While he loved riding, there was a problem. When his bike needed repairs Gonzalez often lacked the tools and knowledge necessary to fix it himself. “I had to wait and save up money to take it to a shop.”
As an adult, Gonzalez recognized an opportunity to help others in this position. The Youth Director has had a long career at La Casa de la Raza, the community center offering a broad range of services to local residents. In 2007 his job was managing contracts and facilities. “There was always this influx of people with all of these great ideas and possibilities and my job was to pick out what was genuine, important, and fit with our mission statement.”
When several people came to him with independent, passionate ideas about cycling, Gonzalez saw the chance to bring them together. Though he didn’t know it at the time, the connections he made that year would lead to the creation of cycling resources that continue to benefit thousands of residents today.
“The original idea was that we would provide a day where people could repair their bikes for free. We literally just set it up on the patio of La Casa de la Raza.” When the day came and the line of people waiting to make repairs wrapped around the building, Gonzalez realized there was a deep need in the community. That initial project eventually grew into the DIY bike shop and thrift store, Bici Centro.
Among the small, early crew of cycling advocates was current SBBike Executive Director Ed France. Says France, “Eddie has always placed people first. He wants to help people. Bikes just happen to be another way for him to do that.”
Learning by doing has been a central philosophy of Bici Cento. Equipment, expertise, and inexpensive parts are made available so that cyclists can learn to make necessary repairs themselves.
“Six months after we kicked it off,” says Gonzalez, “gas went up almost a dollar. People came in telling us that if it wasn’t for Bici Centro they wouldn’t have transportation to work.”
With the needs of the community as the backbone for everything going forward, and with volunteers pouring in talent and energy, Bici Centro continued to grow, eventually joining forces with the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition. As a result, Santa Barbara has cycling education, policy advocacy, and expanded access to the the DIY shop that started it all.
Gonzalez is quick to share the credit for the success of the programs. “I represent hundreds of people that are pursuing these efforts to make our communities stronger and more sustainable.”
The Bicycle Dreamer Award celebrates a person who contributes to the mission of more Californians biking safely, but Gonzalez’s work goes beyond just encouraging biking. “It’s been a beautiful experience to see people of all backgrounds, ages, ethnicity, and economic class come together to help each other,” says Gonzalez, “Bici Centro has created this culture around giving, friendship, and love. It’s something we need more of in our world.”
Upcoming Event: Inaugural Santa Barbara Mural Ride
On October 29, Michael Montenegro will lead cyclists along a route covering 9.5 miles and stopping at six murals to hear local artists speak about our community’s rich history. For more information: sbbike.org/sb_mural_bikeride.