Hundreds of cyclists gathered Sunday at the base of Stearns Wharf for a ride through downtown Santa Barbara to Isla Vista and back in what many say is an annual Fiesta tradition. But others are firing back, saying the event defies traffic laws and centers on alcohol.

The Fiesta Cruiser Ride has been an annual tradition for what some has been nearly 30 years. There’s no way to tell for sure, however, because the event is unofficial — and unpermitted. Cyclists meet annually near the Dolphin Fountain at Cabrillo Boulevard and State Street on the first Sunday after Fiesta. From there, they ride up State Street and end in Isla Vista.

Videos from previous years are plentiful on YouTube. In each, hundreds of cyclists can be seen pedaling down State Street, with car horns honking in the background. This video, taken during last year’s ride, shows traffic at a standstill on State Street as hundreds of cyclists pass by going north.

YouTube video

This video, taken in Isla Vista at 2009’s ride, depicts California Highway Patrol cars intervening.

“Don’t wreck this for everybody. Just get out of the road,” an officer says over the loudspeaker in his patrol car. Cyclists complain that the patrol cars are in the bike lane, and bystanders chant “Go away!” at the officers.

Cyclist Derren Ohanian participated in Sunday’s ride, and estimates that about 800 people rode the route. He said the ride could be a great tradition, but he called for more organization.

“I can understand the city being concerned about traffic and safety, but they know when this event is happening,” he said, adding that law enforcement should provide a police escort.

Ohanian said alcohol should not be involved in the event, and that eliminating that aspect would allow the ride to become more family friendly.

“I wouldn’t let a few bad apples ruin the fun for everybody else,” he said. “Should the event be more organized? Yes, but should they try to stop the event from happening? No way!”

Another cyclist spoke with Noozhawk about what he witnessed this year. He’s a longtime Goleta resident who asked that his name not be used, and said he was not riding with the group when he ran into the cyclists on their way back downtown Sunday.

The cyclist said he was riding on the bike path between Turnpike Road and Goleta Beach Park when about 200 riders passed him going the opposite direction, in a scene he described as “pretty chaotic.” He said he almost wrecked twice, and that alcohol seemed to be fueling the event.

“Most appeared young, few had helmets, many ignored what lane they were supposed to be in,” he told Noozhawk. “Seems to me the authorities — city and county — need to get a handle on this event, the same way they have with Floatopia. This is really the same thing, just on bikes.”

Ellen Parton was at the intersection of State Street and Las Positas Road as the riders went by her car Sunday.

“In a constant stream, they rode through this major intersection while ignoring all red traffic lights and raising their fists while screaming at drivers who tried to cross,” she wrote in a letter to the editor to Noozhawk. She said she called Santa Barbara police but was told they were aware of the situation and could do nothing about it.

An avid cyclist, Parton said she’s seen how orderly large, coordinated rides can be.

“The Fiesta Bike Ride isn’t that sort of event,” she said. “These riders give cyclists a bad reputation and only make it less safe for those of us who do try to share the road when we ride.”

According to a message board about the event on, the event is organized by word of mouth only.

“This ride is not organized at all, there are no formalities. It’s the outlaw group ride,” one user wrote. “It’s a long ride and a lot of alcohol is consumed on the way, as is the custom.”

Another user plots out the route of last year’s ride in this map, complete with stops at two liquor stores.

A Facebook group was organized for the event by a user who goes by the name Jimmy J. Noozhawk did not receive a reply to requests for comment.

Santa Barbara police Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte said calls to dispatch were plentiful during the time the riders were making their way through downtown Santa Barbara. From 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sunday, dispatch received 49 calls to the 9-1-1 system and 42 calls to the nonemergency lines.

“The majority of the calls were bike ride-related,” Duarte said, but added, “We can’t be sure of the exact numbers unless our dispatchers listened to every call.”

Duarte checked with the sergeant working patrol Sunday who said he wasn’t aware of any injuries.

Duarte said such an event does need a permit, but that no one has ever come forward to request one, most likely because he or she would be responsible for the actions of the riders. He said the Police Department has tried to identify organizers in the past, but no one claims responsibility.

“We have noticed that the bike ride has increased in size throughout the years,” Duarte said. “We are currently reassessing on how to better deploy resources for next year in order to address the concerns that have been raised.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Lara Cooper, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @laraanncooper

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.