In a space that used to house Santa Barbara High School’s auto shop, a group of teens joke, laugh, and gently tease each other under the shade of a large metal awning. With the exception of a rusting car off to the side, the space has been transformed. It is now an open air bike shop, home to the campus club that meets each Thursday after school. Members of SBici work together adjusting brake cables, greasing chains, repairing flat tires, and creating a community.
Laura Almengor says it was the friendly atmosphere that motivated her to become a member. The senior grew up riding bikes, but she walked into the club three years ago with very little mechanical knowledge. “Everyone was funny, patient, caring, and very open minded.” Her experiences inspired a growing love of cycling. Today she is president of SBici.
Teacher advisor, Rita Czegledi says the club offers students a way to earn the 60 hours of community service necessary to graduate, but it goes beyond that by providing “a place that kids can feel safe, give back to their community, and practice mentorship.”
The shop is a collaboration with SBHS’s Dons Net Café, and operates in partnership with BiciCentro, which provides used bikes for the teens to work on, then collects the repaired bikes to be given as donations. Students may also earn a bike for themselves by working 20 hours. The batch they are currently repairing will be donated to local children for Christmas.
Almengor says the staff at BiciCentro feel like an extended family. “Everyone there is amazing. They invite us to participate in all of their events: open streets, earth day, the Christmas bike drive.”
That extended family has rallied behind Almengor, giving her the chance to participate in this year’s Youth Bike Summit in Minnesota by providing a chaperone and assisting with the costs of attendance. “That experience really changed my perspective. It made me think of how many resources we have here and how much more we could do to help the biking community.”
Sergio Garcia, president of the bike club 2013-2014, also got the chance to travel to a Youth Bike Summit, that one held in New York City. Now a student at Santa Barbara City College, and working as a bike mechanic, he continues to come back to help guide SBici as a mentor. “Being a part of the club allowed me to make connections with so many people here in our community and youth around the country who are involved with biking.”
The confidence and knowledge students gain through club participation encourages advocacy and a sense of responsibility. Earlier this year Almengor addressed the mayor and other city representatives at meetings that determined Santa Barbara’s bike master plan. She expressed the need for improved biking infrastructure, especially for her peers. “Students need a safe way to get to school, we need more bikes lanes.”
She was thrilled to get a job at BiciCentro, contributing to cycling access for residents. “I called my parents right after the interview. I wanted to cry tears of joy knowing that I got a job doing something I love.”
As the students make final adjustments to the bikes, they chat about the holidays and begin planning a hot chocolate ride for winter break. A teen wanders up, half reading a book. Garcia and Almengor invite him to stay, always hoping to welcome new members into the community that has given them so much.