Ed France Wants to Make La Casa de la Raza “BiCi Centro”

Bike Kitchen in the Works

Paul Wellman

Los Angeles has long had a Bike Kitchen. San Francisco has one too, not to mention San Diego and Davis. And if Ed France-a 25-year-old cycling enthusiast two years out of UCSB-has his way, Santa Barbara will soon join the California club of culinary velocipedes.

Typically, bike kitchens offer a collective venue for socially inclined sprocket-heads to meet, greet, share tools, swap gossip, work on bikes, and, in general, foment two-wheeled, petro-free insurrection. For the past three months, France and a crew of volunteer mechanics have operated an embryonic bike kitchen, dubbed “BiCi Centro” (BiCi, pronounced bee*see), out of cavernous offices of La Casa de la Raza on East Montecito Street. (Their next one is slated for June 30.) One day a month, the volunteer grease monkeys at BiCi Centro have been providing free bike repairs, dirt-cheap parts, and, in some cases, whole bikes free of charge.

But really, the Centro’s mission is to teach would-be mechanics how to keep their own bikes road-worthy. Not only is it cheaper to fix your own bike, France said, but it’s empowering, too. That, however, can be easier said than done. “Typically, we see about 50 people a day. We get a fair number of flat tires, and they’re pretty simple,” he said. “But people would also haul in these totally mangled bikes and our skills would definitely be tested.”

France said BiCi Centro now has a crew of five hardcore volunteers, plus about 14 other people willing to help out less regularly. Bike shops like Cafe du Velo-a gourmet enterprise specializing in deliciously retro road bikes-and Hazard’s, Santa Barbara’s oldest bike shop, have helped out with spare parts, experience, mechanical know-how, and patience. Likewise, until BiCi Centro secures more long-term digs, La Casa has opened its doors and offers free storage space for donated bicycles. Already, BiCi Centro has received more bikes than it can store, thanks to the generosity of Santa Barbara’s die-hard bike enthusiasts.

Beyond teaching the nuts and bolts of the bicycle’s bolts and nuts, BiCi Centro is all about preaching the joy of cycling. Especially to high school kids, many of whom regard cycling as an activity for, of, and by geeks. “In terms of what makes people decide to ride or not, the single biggest factor is social acceptance,” France said.

In this regard, BiCi Centro’s spirit derives more from the dare-devil anarchism of urban bike messengers than the earnest environmentalism of middle-aged bike commuters or the Spartan efficiency of road racers. “The whole idea is that cycling is a lot of fun,” he stated. “People take it so seriously.”

For example, France is also part of the Midnight Riders, who gather once a month in large numbers and ride throughout the city for a couple hours on their anointed rounds. Invariably, he said, they get stopped by the police. “But that’s part of the fun,” he said. Or, they gather at the parking lot behind The Mercury Lounge in Goleta, to engage in well-lubricated races on toddlers’ bikes.

In the meantime, France and his cohorts have already crafted a formalized business plan. Now they’re looking to find a permanent spot where they can operate three to four days a week. “We’re not just college kids working on their fixed-gear bikes,” he said. “We’re trying to do something for the community.”

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Become a part of BiCi Centro by heading to La Casa de la Raza on Saturday, June 30, from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.

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