Join the California Bicycle Coalition (CalBike) in honoring one of our own. On October 5, from 6–9 p.m. at Bici Centro, 434 Olive Street, youth and cycling advocate Eddie Gonzalez of Casa de la Raza will receive CalBike’s 2016 Bicycle Dreamer Award. Dinner and drinks will be provided by CalBike, which will take donations to support its work of improving cycling for communities across the state. Click here to find out more about the event and RSVP.
The award: The annual Bicycle Dreamer Award honors extraordinary achievement in advancing CalBike’s dream—“that one day soon, millions of Californians will ride bicycles every day,” a goal CalBike believes will ensure communities thrive and streets are safe.
The ride: The Dreamer Award is part of a 280-mile bicycle ride, from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles. A group of 50–75 riders will raise funds for CalBike’s Bikeways to Everywhere Initiative—a three-pronged effort that includes changing state laws and policies (think the recently passed three-feet law), educating planners on building bikeways, and pushing for a “huge increase in funding” for community projects (think the SB Bicycle Master Plan projects in need of funding). The ride will stop on the way to honor Gonzalez and celebrate with SBBIKE/Bici Centro
The dreamer: Eddie Gonzalez, Youth Center Director at Casa de La Raza, César E. Chavez Center, helped launch Bici Centro, now SBBIKE’s DIY shop, nearly a decade ago. We interviewed Eddie on a recent beautiful day in Santa Barbara:
SBBIKE: It has been said that, without you, there’d be no Bici Centro. Back in 2007, you helped unite a bunch of people with the same goal—to get more people in Santa Barbara on bikes. Why was that important to you?
Gonzalez: It was important because one of the missions that I have and that Casa has it to provide the services the community is asking for and needs. The first thing that comes to mind is that the squeaky wheel gets the oil. When enough people ask, that launches me to action. Four different groups of people came to me in the course of about two weeks, and after the third time, that’s when I knew, this is something that needs attention. Ed France [SBBIKE executive director] was one of them, and we gelled on the idea that people needed a place to repair their own bicycles
SBBIKE: At Casa, you see lots of young people who would like a bike but can’t afford one. In fact, this helped inspire SBBIKE’s youth Earn-a-Bike program, now in eight middle schools. Why does it serve those kids and everyone as a community to get young people on two wheels?
Gonzalez: The first thing a bike does is it gives a young person a broader view of their environment. It gives them freedom, accessibility, and a strong sense of independence. It also gives a young person a sense of ownership, of responsibility. They’re taking care of something of value, a tool. In a community where possessions are very limited, in places that are poverty-stricken, ownership of something of value is huge for a kid. You’ve built it. You’ve earned it. This is yours. I remember owning my first bike and feeling like, man, I own this tool. I don’t know what it is about ownership, but it’s important.
SBBIKE: You helped Bici finds its first home, right here at Casa de la Raza. Now the organization has a new home, with improved facilities. Do you have any favorite memories from the “old days”?
Gonzalez: There’re so many great memories. I would definitely say the Friday night volunteer socials. Watching a Bicycle culture grow out of this—I never saw that coming. What I mean by bicycle culture is inclusivity—being inclusive of everybody who enjoys biking and repairing bikes and wants to teach and share what they know. I remember walking into the shop and seeing this complete diversity, of age, of ethnicity, of everything. That was really cool to see.
SBBIKE: You became an LCI in 2011 and are committed to being a role model of safe cycling to youth. What does that mean to you?
Gonzalez: It means applying what I’ve learned, teaching. It’s important to be a good role model because I’m aware that I’m a well-recognized person in the community. People will come up to me and say, “Hey, I saw you riding on the street the other day.” I’ve taken special care about how people see me, how I treat people. This all dates back to me being the oldest of eight. My mother always told me I needed to be a good example because the other seven were watching. Throughout my life, I’ve heard my mom in my ear, asking, “Mijo, is this the right thing?” So being an LCI is important because I know that I have to be a good example for all of the people who are watching.
SBBIKE: The city of Santa Barbara recently adopted a new Bicycle Master Plan that will hopefully see new infrastructure for cyclists across the city. Why is that important for a community like ours?
Gonzalez: Because traffic sucks (laughing). This goes back to our mission to use alternative transportation and to continue to provide the tools that people need. You can’t just say, “Let’s make an impact.” You actually have to go do it. The city of Santa Barbara can be a great platform. We have the right setting. We have the perfect weather for year-round cycling. People see what we are doing, and they want to model it. We could be a role model.
SBBIKE: If you had a magic wand and could use it to help cycling in our community match your dream for Santa Barbara, what would you do?
Gonzalez: One good idea that I think would be awesome is, for one day a week, we could shut down all the roads for everything but bicycling and alternative transportation. I saw that in Guadalajara [Mexico]. They shut down the main arteries so that people could walk, bike, skate. That was really something to see.
Gonzalez, his partner, and their six children (three his and three hers) are a cycling family. They have a bike pegboard out back in their yard, complete with all the tools they need to repair their own bikes. The kids were younger back in the early days of Bici Centro, and they often rode together as a family. His children, along with the youth from Casa, were, in some ways, the beginnings of Bici’s youth programs.