Five years ago, as a psychology major at Cal State Northridge, Ken Dahmen told his friends, “After graduation, I’d like to teach people to ride bikes, but I don’t think that’s a job.” Now it’s not just a job but also a crucial support system for the growing cycling culture in Santa Maria. As the manager of Santa Maria’s Bici Centro, Dahmen spends his days promoting safer cycling. He organizes educational classes, teaches bike maintenance, and helps improve biking access for North County residents.
The shop, which opened its doors in May 2017, operates under the same do-it-yourself model as the main Bici Centro in downtown Santa Barbara. Both locations are run by the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition. When Dahmen approached the coalition about the idea of creating a shop in North County, he said they immediately loved the idea. “We don’t have a ton of infrastructure here,” he said, “but we have so many people in this area who would benefit from biking.”
For a low fee, cyclists can bring their bike in during shop open hours and utilize all of the tools, as well as the expertise of the bilingual staff and volunteers. A key component of the mission is to promote access to all. “We want everyone to have an opportunity to learn to work on their bike. If you don’t have any money, you can volunteer your time instead.”
“There are a lot of low-income individuals using bikes as their main form of transportation,” said Dahmen. “Because the shop is so affordable, it allows them to keep more of the money they have earned for themselves, instead of using it on higher-cost forms of transportation.”
By accepting donated bikes and parts, they are able to offer many components for a fraction of the cost of buying new. In addition to making the parts available for sale, they also sell low-cost refurbished bikes and use donated children’s bikes to run educational programs at several local schools.
Open hours have been so popular and bicycle donations so frequent that the coalition has had to rent out additional space. “We started with three stands and workspaces, now we have five, and we are looking to go to eight,” said Dahmen. “The last two weekends, I’ve had people lined up waiting to use the shop.”
“As North County continues to grow, we should plan to accommodate all types of transportation for all types of people. I’m really glad that I get to be a part of that.”