While riding back from Goleta Beach toward Santa Barbara in the Fiesta Cruiser Bike Ride of 2012, I was shocked at the estimated 1,200 people participating that day. I hadn’t seen the YouTube videos and remain a bit naive as to how it grew so large. But as I pedaled along, I realized that most of these people probably had no clue about the humble beginnings of this tradition, so I decided to write this story.
It began on a foggy August day in 1979 at Charlie Muraoka’s house on Santa Barbara’s Westside, which had always been a gathering place. Ground zero was his room in the basement, which still sports the word “DEN” on the exterior door due to past Cub Scout meetings. Our group of guys shared a love for motocross, and most weekends revolved around racing motorcycles somewhere. I didn’t have a death wish, so my title was team photographer, and I stuck to the mini-bikes we called “pitters.” I’d ride them to shoot races from different vantage points, but we’d also tear through Santa Barbara together on them, usually starting at Charlie’s house.
Around the same time, the Schwinn beach cruiser exploded in popularity. These red or blue bikes with white sidewall tires had been around for years, but they were suddenly cool. Lightweight and more colorful aluminum parts took the formerly heavy bike frame to a whole new level, and we jumped on the chance to own personalized, tricked-out cruisers. They were usually purchased from Mac’s on upper State Street or Hazard’s downtown, but I found my black and gold beauty at Murdoch’s in Goleta. I’d ride from my home on the Mesa to work in Goleta and, on the weekends, to Butterfly Beach or down Rattlesnake Trail from Gibraltar Road, as our cruisers were off-road-ready, too.
We also got into what we called “Shacklers,” a name some kid in Montecito coined for those old cruiser bikes found rusted, full of cobwebs, and forgotten, leaning against a garage, shed, or shack. But unlike the lightweight Schwinns, the Schacklers had a rear hub that allowed us to do amazing wheelies, just one of the tricks we liked to pull when we rode around town. To this day, I look down at the rear hub of someone’s cruiser to see if they have one.
When Fiesta 1979 came, we realized that our bikes let us get everywhere easily. That Sunday, the last day of Fiesta, we gathered at the “Den” and then headed downtown, where everyone was in wind-down and clean-up mode. We waited for friends at the base of Stearns Wharf, hit the end of the pier, and then rode up State Street. We stopped at Miratti’s Liquor store (now Talevi’s) near Modoc and Hollister, so I could call some friends and tell them to meet us at Goleta Beach. I don’t think we even bought any beer, since we weren’t big drinkers.
The nearby bike path was brand-new at the time, so we decided to check it out. After a quick stop at the beach park, we hit the trails around the UCSB lagoon and ended at Devereux Point. There were only nine of us, plus the two we met up with in Goleta — Charlie Muraoka, Rich Sandoval, Rich Studley, the late Skeeter Lyerla, Rod Hunter, the late “Wild” Bill Carson, Kit Carson, Jessie Gomez, George Begin, Chip, and me — but that, my friends, is how this ridiculously crazy ride started.
The next year, we had a few more riders, and my friend John Chard made T-shirts that featured a peace-sign-waving character busting a wheelie along the seawall with Stearns Wharf and the Channel Islands in the background and the words “Team Shackler” above. I ordered 12. Our first female rider, Diane, came along in 1981, and it’s grown ever since.
I don’t know what the future holds for this annual gathering, but the 2016 ride is this Sunday, August 7. I hope to see you there.