It’s dusk on a Thursday evening, but the Bici Centro workshop on East Montecito Street is alive with activity as volunteers and cyclists work together to repair bicycles before the shop closes.
It’s probably the only location of its kind on the South Coast, as volunteers show cyclists how to repair their bikes, many used for commuting to and from jobs, and then pay only for any parts needing to be replaced — although the shop accepts donations. It’s a workshop lined with gears of all sizes, wheels, chains and just about any kind of part a cyclist might need to make a repair.
Since it opened in 2007, many tires already have been patched, brakes repaired and chains oiled for the greater good of Santa Barbara’s bicycle commuters.
The group still operates its open workshops for the community, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Thursday and from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays.
But it’s also expanding to include new classes, such as a youth-only workshop from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays. A Spanish-only workshop also is under way, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Wednesday, because nearly half of the cyclists who come to open shops during the week are Spanish-speaking.
At the helm of all the new programming is the organization’s director, Ed France, who is trying to come up with system to train volunteers on the different projects.
Volunteers are at the core of Bici Centro’s mission. As a joint project with the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition, the nonprofit organization depends largely on the efforts of volunteers who help others maintain their bikes and keep a low-cost form of transportation available.
France said the group gets many volunteers through the eight-week course, which teaches participants how to repair and maintain their bikes. “Most everyone who starts as a volunteer is not an experienced mechanic,” he said.
The $80 course happens once a season, and the next one will begin in January. Participants also can pay $15 for each class if they want to attend only one of two classes.
The group has more than 80 volunteers. France said many of them are retirees or 20-somethings who are taking classes or holding their first jobs. A core volunteer will put in an average of six to 10 hours a week, he said.
“It ebbs and flows every month,” France said of the number, adding that the group always welcomes new volunteers. Would-be volunteers are encouraged to attend a volunteer night from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every Tuesday to get acquainted. “It’s volunteers only, so it’s a more relaxed atmosphere,” he said.
The expanded classes aren’t the only new projects the group has under way.
Bici Centro organized a bike valet in conjunction with concerts at the Santa Barbara Bowl this summer. It helped alleviate downtown traffic, and tips earned from the valet went back into operating costs for the organization.
“Every show we got more people than the last,” France said. “We actually earned a lot of money.”
The group is planning to work with the venue again, and a host of other outreach events are planned, including popping up in a few local schools next year.
The shop even sells the bikes that are donated, and usually at a stellar price. France said the group is always in need of tools and nice bikes that could be used as commuter cycles and for parts.