A bicycle with 14 seats and 10 pedals now offers locals and visitors alike a new way to experience downtown San Luis Obispo.
Big SLO Bike hit the streets five weeks ago and has completed almost 20 tours in downtown San Luis Obispo. Tours begin off of Higuera Street at the Creamery and complete a loop through the downtown area, stopping wherever the passengers request along the way. Each tour costs $315 total.
“When you book this bike with a group of friends, it is your bike for two-and-a-half hours,” Chief Operation Officer and Co-Founder Johnny May said.
Big SLO Bike offers a “Microbreweries Tour,” “Wine + Dine Tour” and “Just Cruisin’ Tour” to offer something for every member of the community. Of the 14 seats on the vehicle, 10 are pedaling and four are non-pedaling. Passengers may also request as much or as little electronic assistance as they want, meaning the difficulty level can be adjusted to fit the physical needs of passengers.
“If you’re older or a little tired, I go, ‘I got you,’ and I hit the electronic assist and I’m like, ‘You’re welcome,’” May said. “Otherwise, we get some tough groups that are like, ‘Make it hard for us, don’t give us the assist,’ and I’m like, ‘Alright tough guy, go for it.’”
These large bicycles have grown in popularity across the country in recent years, however, Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of Big SLO Bike Jay Winter said they are oftentimes associated with drinking and partying. He said he wants Big SLO Bike to be different.
“We’re here to join the community, not fight the community,” Winter said. “We’re three local guys who actually really love our community. We want to enrich it as much as we can.”
Co-Founder and Chief Financial Officer Wes Zimmerman was inspired to bring the large group bike to San Luis Obispo when he was sitting in a local coffee shop with a group of fellow Cal Poly alumni. He saw a pedicab pass by and was reminded of a ride he once took on a group bicycle like Big SLO Bike.
“We had done one of these things in Sacramento and it just clicked. Why hasn’t anyone done this in [San Luis Obispo]?” Zimmerman said.
Soon after, Zimmerman started researching the feasibility of bringing a group bicycle to San Luis Obispo. What he found was Senate Bill 530, a law classifying these unique vehicles as pedicabs. Pedicabs are street-legal in many California cities. Zimmerman got his team together, worked with the city, and acquired all the permits necessary to get Big SLO Bike approved.
“We’ve worked a lot with the city planners because this is a new thing for everybody here,” Zimmerman said. “Essentially, everybody came together and said, ‘How do we make this work and how do we make it work in San Luis Obispo?’”
All that was left was ordering the bike and planning the launch. The team got on the manufacturer’s eight-month-long wait list and set out to Bend, Oregon in the meantime to shadow a similar business.
As the the launch approached, Winter said the team’s biggest challenges were unexpected costs and educating the community about their business’ purpose.
“With anything new comes a handful of problems, in a good way,” Winter said. ” We have been kind of writing the book on the precedence of this and bringing it to San Luis Obispo.”
Big SLO Bike officially launched just in time for Cal Poly’s annual Week of Welcome (WOW). Nine groups of incoming freshmen and their leaders experienced downtown San Luis Obispo like never before.
WOW leader and industrial engineering sophomore Lane Pledger said this experience was a more fun and effective way to introduce new students to downtown rather than walking.
“[My WOWies] definitely loved it,” Pledger said. “They were laughing, high-fiving people on the sidewalk, cheering and stuff. It was a fun time.”
Zimmerman said he is excited to have a platform to talk to Cal Poly students. When he attended the university as an industrial technologies student, he knew a lot of people who wanted to stay in San Luis Obispo after graduation, but did not think there were enough jobs.
“If you really do want to stay here and make something work and you have an idea, it’s totally possible here in San Luis Obispo,” Zimmerman said. “If you really dig and try to make it happen, then you can.”
Looking ahead, the team hopes to further integrate into the community. Winter said, however, that expanding Big SLO Bike from one downtown tour to a fleet of tours across the county is a long-term goal.
“Success for us is to build local business and build community,” Winter said.
A discount to Cal Poly students is available with the code CPBIGSLOBIKE.