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Riding E-Bikes from Santa Barbara to Ventura

Doing the Electric Glide with Bryan Hope of Energized Bikes

By Matt Kettmann | June 8, 2023

Chiseled between crumbly cliffs and shifting sands, that seaside stretch of Highway 101 from Rincon Point to the Ventura River never fails to stoke reverence for the sea and sky — even when traffic crawls to a soul-sucking halt. But unless you’re a surfer who regularly rips the points or an RV camper who parks along the boulders, you’ve probably never spent much time outside of your vehicle exploring that coastline, which is way more of a drive than destination for millions.

I changed that for myself recently by riding an e-bike from Santa Barbara to Ventura, a journey conveniently timed to take the Amtrak back home. Starting at the State Street train station, I pedaled — with varying levels of solar-charged assistance — along the waterfront and past Butterfly Beach, up into the hills of Summerland, down through the flats of Carpinteria, and onto that stark shoreline, where I got much closer to the sea spray and those oceanside environs than I’d ever been before.

I can’t take credit for the plan, though. That goes to Bryan Hope of Energized Bikes, who started leading e-bike excursions last fall, and recently introduced this “Trail to Rail” tour.

licensed e-bike mechanic
Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

  “E-bikes are a really cool way to see a place,” said Hope, who previously founded and operated Sustainable Vine Wine Tours from 2007 until selling it in 2019. Those tours, by necessity, relied on automobiles traveling quickly to wine country, but bikes are different. “In a van, you’re really closed off from your environment in a lot of ways, whereas on a bike, you’re really just out in the open,” he said. “You’re going slow enough that you can smell things, you can see things; you’re picking up more sensory experiences on a bike.”

As a lifelong mountain bike rider — mostly for exercise, but occasionally for transportation — I’ve watched the e-bike explosion with reluctance. It looks like cheating and appears quite dangerous, both to have them zip by you on bike paths without warning and, especially as a parent, to see kids riding like idiots. But then I rode my mom’s through the steep hills of Aptos a year or so ago, covering a crazy amount of terrain in the time it usually takes to go up and down a few hills, and I immediately understood the draw. (My fears about kids haven’t really wavered.)

Hope grew up on BMX in rural Sacramento, then became an avid mountain biker, but he didn’t take his first e-bike ride until about two years ago. “It totally opened up my eyes to the possibility of using a bike as an alternate mode of transportation,” said Hope, who now rides way more than ever before. “That’s why I wanted to do this tour, to help introduce people to it.” As for my “cheating” notion, he’s read recent studies that suggest e-bike owners manage to get as much and even more exercise than normal bike riders.

His primary route is the 90-minute “City Tour” through Santa Barbara, which, depending on skill level and client desires, can be a short jaunt from Shoreline Park to Butterfly and back, or it can include the whole scene: harbor, waterfront, Montecito, mission, courthouse (with tower visit), State Street, and so on.

DŌST bikes
Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“They get a pretty good snapshot,” he explained. “I always like to point out different vantage points to show where we came from. It’s always shocking to people how far we’ve gone and how easy it has been for them in terms of the physical demand.”

Hope is also a licensed e-bike mechanic, tuning up people’s older bikes and assembling new ones in the convenience of clients’ homes. He’s come to believe that 50 percent of the e-bikes on the road are in a condition that “the industry would deem unsafe.” That’s concerning, especially as a parent himself. “A lot of people don’t even realize how dangerous their kids’ e-bikes are,” he said.

He spent last summer rigging up a solar panel–topped trailer that he uses to charge and schlep his fleet of dual-battery DŌST bikes, which can supposedly go 120 miles. “I always take the bikes to the riders so they don’t have to relocate,” said Hope. “It’s a truly mobile service.”

Our ride ended around the Ventura Pier, where we tried to slurp at the Jolly Oyster (not open) and then boarded the train north. Altogether, the tour involved about two hours of active riding, and the whole excursion was about four hours, which can include a quick coffee or picnic stop. I was happy to have seen this entire epic stretch of coast up close, and it only made me want to do it again.

“The thing I like about working in tourism is that I get to see Santa Barbara through fresh eyes all the time,” said Hope of what drew him back to the game just three years after selling the wine tour company. “It’s a constant reminder of how lucky and fortunate we are to be able to live here.”

The 90-minute “City Tours” are $120/person and the four-hour “Trail to Rail” is $195.

Independent Riding E Bikes from Santa Barbara to Ventura
Credit: Ingrid Bostrom