Story and Photos by Chuck Graham
The Bici Centro bicycle compound on East Haley is what you would expect for bicycle junkies: wall-to-wall bikes, spokes and treads, frames and handlebars, a meeting place for those who love biking, which is — for many —their primary mode of travel in Santa Barbara County. Bici Centro is a wing of the rapidly expanding Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition (SB Bike). It’s where bicyclists from all walks of life gather to build and repair bikes and discuss everything bicycling.
It’s also where I met Michael Chiacos, whose day job is energy and transportation manager for the nonprofit Community Environmental Council (CEC), but he moonlights as one of the board members of the coalition and has been its president for more than a year.
“We’re pro bike,” says Chiacos, whose passion is bicycling. “We want Santa Barbara to be a better place for bicycles with better educated and safer bicyclists out there.”
Santa Barbara County is one of the best places in California for all types of bicycling. Whether it’s simply cruising down to the beach, putting in the mileage on a road bike or eating dust while grinding a mountain bike up and down one of our scenic front-country trails, Santa Barbara possesses diverse opportunities for biking.
The coalition itself has been around since 1991, and its current focus is broad. The coalition targets junior high students and creates afterschool programs geared toward bicycling. It also improves upon and expands bicycle infrastructure wherever new roads are built, adds bike lanes to current streets and develops bike paths away from roads. Better infrastructure is the lifeblood of the coalition and is crucial for those that might deem riding a bike on the roads as risky.
“It encourages people to leave their cars at home,” says Chiacos, “and instead ride their bikes.”
Chiacos says spreading the message begins in schools, specifically with junior high students. The coalition has developed demos through its Pedal Power program, an afterschool program in which lead certified instructors go through a whole course teaching students bike safety. They also learn how to work on bikes and bicycling through streets safely. “We want the kids to be empowered through bicycles,” says Chiacos, who is a Santa Barbara native. “We’re finding that kids are really getting into it. It turns into their passion.” Some accidents involving cyclists are caused by their lack of knowledge on how to ride safely in traffic so this hopes to put an end to this. However, some accidents are caused by drivers being reckless and hitting the cyclist due to this. If you have experienced this and have been injured then you might want to look for a san diego lawyer who can help you get compensation. The aim of the course teaching bike safety is for cyclists to recognise irresponsible driving and avoid any situation where they may be able to get into an accident.
Chiacos attended college at Lewis & Clark in Portland, OR. The northwestern city has been dubbed “the best bicycling city in America.” However, Chiacos envisions Santa Barbara to be more like Copenhagen, one of Europe’s best bicycling cities.
“It’s interesting because since the 1970s, Copenhagen has had a sustained emphasis on creating safe biking infrastructure,” he says. “People from there say it’s safe, fun and you don’t have to pay to park.”
But Chiacos says over the last ten years, there’s been a strong bike movement in Santa Barbara, where the number of bicyclists has doubled.
“We want to capitalize on that,” he continues. “There are problems with limited land, traffic, fossil fuels, climate change and health problems. Bicycling can help solve a lot of this. We would never say ‘don’t drive a car,’ but if people biked more often, I think the world would be a better place.”
Bici Centro opened its doors five years ago and, according to Chiacos, is an important cog as the coalition moves forward. Open to anyone to learn how to fix their bikes on-site, the shop is armed with volunteers, tools and stands for repairing bikes. Chiacos says it’s also the best place in Santa Barbara to pick up a low-cost bike, one that’s been recycled and refurbished.
“It’s a way to help people with low-cost bike repairs,” explains Chiacos. “We serve a lot of people for whom a bike is their only form of transportation, and also people who just love bikes.”
To learn more about the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, go to sbbike.org. To find out more about Bici Centro, go to bicicentro.org.
Originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Santa Barbara SEASONS Magazine.