Jesus ‘Chuy’ Reyes Herrera: 1962-2022

My dad, Jesus “Chuy” Reyes Herrera, was a local legend, a celebrity of sorts, a Santa Barbara icon. His identity was built on his professional bike riding and wheelie tricks that he mastered as an original S.B. cruiser. In fact, there is now a professional category for competition based on the wheelie tricks my dad originated.

Today, kids all over town and in other places throughout the world are replicating the cruiser lifestyle that he and other locals created dating back to the 1980s. But back then, my dad and his cruiser family used single-gear bikes that weighed 50 pounds and had only a foot brake for safety. From that time up to today, my dad’s legendary cruising was admired, despised, and remembered from Butterfly Beach to Ortega Park, East Beach to Leadbetter Beach, and from the Mesa to the Pit. However, he is most remembered for holding a wheelie for multiple blocks on State Street, and he always created a stir during Fiesta and Summer Solstice parades. He is also known as an original of the annual Fiesta Cruiser Run from Stearns Wharf to Goleta Beach. My dad was an outlaw on his bike, and he once paid dearly for it after being severely beaten by law enforcement due to his defiant behavior.

My dad was an Eastside kid who grew to help represent the real Santa Barbara cruiser legends. He became the face for a movement that has now made our city the cruiser capital of the world. The image of my dad’s small but muscular frame on his custom bike, with his white T-shirt folded around his waist, is embedded in my mind. As a little girl, I remember seeing this bronze blur of a handsome man cruising up and down State Street. “There goes my dad,” I would say to myself. As I was growing up, I never understood my dad’s passion for riding and carrying on with his cruiser family. But over the years, I came to understand that his love for cruising was his therapy. It was his escape to tap into his natural talent and ability as the legendary face of Santa Barbara’s cruiser community.

Artwork by Jesus “Chuy” Reyes Herrera | Credit: Courtesy

My father was raised in a large Mexican-American family. He grew up attending local schools and was very popular among his classmates. He was always known for having a sense of humor. He was a prankster but very loyal to others. My dad grew up at a time when Chicano kids dressed with a lot of style. During this time, the lowrider culture had taken hold of Santa Barbara neighborhoods, and there are pictures of my dad and his friends dressed in their khaki pants pressed tightly, a bleached white T shirt, a cool Pendleton, a stretch belt, and wino shoes. It was within this pride and style that my dad was able to break out with his cruiser and emulate the lowrider scene, as he cruised all over town making a name for himself. It was said that when he was holding a wheelie, he looked as if he was behind the wheel of a lowrider.

More importantly, my dad is a symbolic figure that represents the real Santa Barbara. His reign as the King of Wheelies started when there were stoplights on the 101. He was doing his thing before the Western White House, the soap opera Santa Barbara, Paseo Nuevo and now the closure of State Street by a promenade. Through the manifestation of what Santa Barbara has become, my dad, good or bad, never dropped his attitude toward the cruiser culture. How could he? He is truly everything that the cruiser family represents. Let me be honest: There were people with political ties who hated my dad because he was a public fixture that newcomers to Santa Barbara were trying to eliminate. So his legacy is not only fixed within the history of S.B. cruisers but also as a cultural icon of old-school Santa Barbara.

In the end, I cared for my dad, and I was able to see him play with my daughter and find peace. Being the daughter of Chuy Reyes Herrera came with a price. I often wondered why my dad, so dedicated to his craft, chose the cruiser lifestyle versus being a stay-at-home dad. But over the years, I realized that my father had his demons. He struggled inside, and it was beautifully documented in his drawings. The creativity my dad showed through his artwork is that of a genius. Maybe that’s why he took life on the chin.

My dad would often shrug his shoulders when life got hard. Being on his bike was his escape and how he lived to be truly free.

Funeral services for Chuy Reyes Herrera will be on April 28, 7 p.m., at Welch-Ryce-Haider downtown. On April 29 at 10 a.m., a Mass at Our Lady of Sorrows church will be held, with a burial service at the Santa Bárbara Cemetery and potluck reception at the Moose Lodge immediately following.


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