A Fiesta on wheels: The 35th annual Cruiser Run inches closer to an official event

A throng of cyclists surrounds a car during the 35th annual Fiesta Cruiser Run on Sunday.
A throng of cyclists surrounds a car during the 35th annual Fiesta Cruiser Run on Sunday.

The streets were soggy with mulched-up confetti on Sunday, the aftermath of four days of Fiesta madness. Barring the rodeo and the Courthouse Sunken Garden final symphony concert, Old Spanish Days was pretty much over. But there was one more – unofficial – event: the increasingly popular Fiesta Cruiser Run, now in its 35th year.

Thousands of cyclists, young and old, gathered at the dolphin fountain at the base of Stearns Wharf, waiting for a chance to ride en masse up State Street with their final destination being Goleta Beach.

The big change this year was a heightened police presence to make sure everybody obeyed traffic laws. Motorcycle cops rode up and down, checking for infringements. Police stood at several strategic street corners, particularly ones with four-way-stops. And just one block down from the starting area, a large sign reminded cyclists that the penalty for running a red light – the most common offense – would be a whopping $490. That’s a lot of bike parts.

But that’s all part of the growing pains of this free-wheeling, popular and leaderless event. Started 35 years ago by college buddies including Richard Sandoval, the ride was originally just a bunch of guys recovering from partying for four days straight and seeing if they could make it to Goleta Beach and beyond, through Isla Vista and as far as Coal Oil Point. That’s where some of the untamed wetlands held secret bike jumps.

And after they had reached their destination, they’d bike back, all the way to the end of the wharf, where they’d dive into the ocean. Those days are gone.

Just as the Solstice Parade grew from an almost private event to a major tourist draw, the Cruiser Run is in that acceptance phase, trying to keep popular without losing its soul, making nice with the city and county so as not to get banned.

The closest thing to a Cruiser Run honcho is Rex Stephens, owner of Santa Barbara Cruisers on Haley – the area of town they like to call SoCo (south of Cota). He calls himself the liaison for the Cruiser Run.

“If I was to step away from this right now, we’d still have everybody showing up down there,” he said.

He’s also the number cruncher.

He can tell you that in 1989 it was 300 people to last year’s figures at Goleta Beach at 2,618. Mr. Stephens holds a clicker at a particular bottleneck near the venues. And that’s at Goleta Beach. He puts the number at the wharf at between 3,000 and 4,000 and that number didn’t change too much this year.

Despite its sozzled history and its numerous stops at liquor stores to “recharge,” Mr. Stephens sees the way forward as making the event family friendly, not a celebration of boozing. The crowd Sunday was a mix of gearheads and families, out-of-towners and locals.

One of them, Jane Masterson, had been on the run for six or seven years – she couldn’t recall which – but this was the year she was bringing her 15-year-old daughter Ray, decked out in blue hair and multicolor braces. “I just figured she was ready,” said Mrs. Masterson.

“I’ve been waiting to do this for years!” said Ray.

“It’s awesome,” explained Mrs. Masterson. “The masses of people. You can’t see that anywhere else. It’s the cumulative mass of craziness.”

Another part of Mr. Stephens’ outreach is a bike contest at his shop before the ride. About 300-400 people gathered in the drizzle on Sunday to vote for the most creative cruiser out of 25 or so entries. There were super-long cruisers, all-gold cruisers, cruisers decked out in photos and tchotchkes and more. But the winner was the JMB Fat Boy, a monstrous, double-length cruiser with thick, high handlebars and wide tires.

“I realized that if want this ride to go on for my children and my grandchildren,” said Mr. Stephens, “we need to have involvement with the city, with public works, UCSB police, Parks and Recreation, CHP, Santa Barbara PD and Fire Department and so on.”

Last year, the police handed out 93 citations. Most were for running red lights, riding on the sidewalk and not giving the right of way. As of deadline, this year’s figures for any infractions were not available.

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