The community we want to live in is centered on people instead of cars. In fact, walkable, bikable communities are part of CEC’s vision to wean our region off of fossil fuels in one generation. CEC Assistant Director Sigrid Wright, who is the Sustainability Editor for Seasons Magazine, recently wrote about Bike Moves, an eclectic community of bike enthusiasts in Santa Barbara. These monthly bike rides offer a fun and free way to enjoy biking in town with friends and fellow cyclists.
A 30-something man rides his bike down State Street dressed as Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Decked in a short-sleeved dress shirt with his hair slicked back, he pulls a tag-along, from which a makeshift stereo blasts music. His wheels spin with neon green lights as he joins hundreds of other bicyclists dressed in similarly outrageous gear.
This is Bike Moves.
Coinciding with downtown Santa Barbara’s 1st Thursday celebration, Bike Moves is a monthly almost-leaderless gathering of bicyclists: everyday commuters, hardcore cyclists, casual riders, parents, kids.
The idea, says one rider, is to “shift the culture by taking something that people might think of as threatening—like hundreds of bicyclists—and creating something whimsical and fun.
Each month, Bike Moves centers around a theme, often tied to a holiday (Night of the Riding Dead for Halloween), a movie (Lord of the Chain Rings) or a cultural motif (Bill Nye, the Science Ride). The month when Empire Bikes Back was the theme, Darth Vaders and storm troopers took over the streets, and those who had light sabers stopped to duel.
“The best themes can be loosely interpreted, with costumes pulled together from a thrift store,” says Kent Epperson, coordinator of CycleMAYnia, a month-long celebration of bicycling. “One of my favorites was Shotgun Wedding. The idea of a bunch of people dressed in wedding outfits on bicycles was just so over the top.”
Unlike in other communities that host regular Critical Mass rides to advocate for bicycle rights—such as San Francisco and Portland—the confrontational reputation of Critical Mass doesn’t fit with Santa Barbara’s style, says co-founder John Hygelund. “From the beginning, our goal has been to be part of the community, having a good time but following the rules of the road. We don’t want to create a situation where we’re riding through red lights and aggravating motorists.” Instead, Bike Moves focuses on creating a bike culture in Santa Barbara and being “fun and welcoming to new people,” says Hygelund.
While some riders are athletic, “Bike Moves itself isn’t an athletic event. You ride a mile or so, have fun, cruise around. For people who don’t bike much, this might get them going. Maybe they’ll start biking to a friend’s house or to work once a week.”
Riders start at a downtown location every 1st Thursday at 7:30 p.m., head up Santa Barbara Street to Arlington Theatre, loop back down State Street and end up at the pier. Here everyone circles up for Bicycle Sumo, a light-hearted agility contest in which pairs of volunteers ride in tight circles around each other.
While it is free to participate in the ride, many of the events end in some prearranged occasion, such as a fashion show or fundraiser at a restaurant or bar. Over the last couple of years, Bike Moves has raised about $7,500 for projects like purchasing new tools to maintain mountain bike trails, reaching out to Spanish-speaking riders and helping offset a bicycle coach’s medical fees when he was hit by a car.
“Bike Moves is one of my favorite parts of the month, and something I do to feel connected with the community,” says Epperson. “While we live in a relatively bicycle-friendly city, the reality is that bicyclists tend to feel a little exposed and on their own sometimes…..with Bike Moves, you feel like you belong. Everyone belongs. Also, cycling tends to be destination oriented—you have to get to work or to school, or you’re training for a race. With Bike Moves, there’s no agenda, no destination, no rules other than the rules of the road and being courteous.”
Hygelund, a mechanical engineer, agrees with the community-building aspect of the event. He introduced the concept to Santa Barbara after experiencing something similar in San Luis Obispo, as a student at Cal Poly, and sets the themes each month. “Because of Bike Moves, I’ve become a lot more involved. I joined the board of Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition and volunteer to help maintain mountain bike trails. I feel more connected.”
Part of what helps create that spirit is that all cross-segments of Santa Barbara participate. While Bike Moves is particularly popular with the 25 to 35 age group—in part because the event is largely advertised through Facebook and other social media—participants range from children under 10 years old to riders in their 60s and 70s. “I’ve brought my mom a few times,” says Hygelund. “I don’t think it’s intimidating. One month the theme was Twins, and she dressed as a double helix.”
He continues, “I’m always amazed during the ride how many fun and new people I meet. Everyone’s got a smile on their face and is genuinely enjoying something totally free. Our only common thread is our bikes.”
For more information about Bike Moves, visit www.sbbikemoves.com.