Looking for a new way to see SLO? Jump on a giant bike with 13 friends

This giant bike gives people another way to tour downtown SLO

Big SLO Bike, a a new "social bike" modeled after pedal pubs in other cities, takes groups of 14 people on tours around downtown San Luis Obispo.
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Big SLO Bike, a a new "social bike" modeled after pedal pubs in other cities, takes groups of 14 people on tours around downtown San Luis Obispo.

Drive around downtown San Luis Obispo and you might just see it: a giant bike making its way down the street, pedaled by a boisterous, happy group of people as music blasts.

You may have seen these in other cities, where they’re known as pedal pubs. But Big SLO Bike, which just opened for business a few weeks ago, is a little different — it markets itself as a “social bike,” doesn’t serve alcohol, and booze is not the focus of the ride.

“We want to build the local community, build community in general and build local business in the process,” said Johnny May, chief operating officer for Big SLO Bike. “People are going to have a really, really great time and make great memories on this thing.”

The Big SLO Bike, captained by Johnny May, cruises down Monterey Street. Photography by Jay C Winter Courtesy photo

How it works

Big SLO Bike, which seats 14, accepts four tours per day, with each one running about two and a half hours. During that time, the driver of the bike, also called a “captain,” steers the party around downtown, and the group makes two to three stops at different locations.

Those locations are up to the group and are customizable; after the party books their reservation, one of the owners — most likely May or Wes Zimmerman, who handles finances and operations — will reach out to talk about what the experience will look like, rules for riding the bike and other instructions.

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And, once on the bike, you don’t have to pedal if you don’t want to: There are 10 pedaling seats and four lounging seats.

The bike has a sound system that can hook up to your music via Bluetooth, lots of LED lights and overhead space to store belongings. There’s also an ice chest, if customers want to bring non-alcoholic drinks or food on board, according to Jay Winter, who handles marketing for the company.

May, Winter and Zimmerman co-own the business.

The bike leaves from the Creamery and finishes up at Old San Luis Barbecue, which has a partnership deal with the bike company — Big SLO Bike customers get 15 percent off at the restaurant.

The company is in the process of finalizing other partnerships with downtown businesses as well, but Winter declined to go into detail as the arrangements are not yet official.

However, May and Winter hinted at potential themed bike tours in the future, like for wine or coffee.

“There’s 101 different ways we can do this,” Winter said. “But on there, you get a group together, we’ve got music blasting and we can customize the tours or give suggestions.”

Johnny May, left, Wes Zimmerman and Jay Winter of Big SLO Bike pose with their giant bike outside the Creamery in San Luis Obispo. Joe Johnston

No alcohol allowed

While alcohol isn’t allowed onboard, Big SLO Bike will stop at pubs and breweries downtown if that’s what riders want to do.

“This is something new, and we want all the excitement to be positive excitement. And there’s a lot of gray area with these things, so we’re here to join the community, not fight it, and join the city, not fight it,” Winter said. “We want to keep everyone excited about it, so right now it’s not really about the alcohol experience.”

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The bike primarily stays within what Winter, May and Zimmerman call the “downtown loop” — Marsh, Higuera, Monterey, Chorro and Broad streets.

“We’re really trying to make it evident that we are avoiding residential areas,” Winter said, adding that if the bike does have to go into a neighborhood for whatever reason, they turn down the music and keep their time there brief.

Tours run from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., meaning the last tour ends at about 10:30 p.m. Tours can be booked at Prices are $315 Monday to Thursday and $340 Friday to Sunday.

The Big SLO Bike has room for 14 riders, including 10 pedaling seats. Photography by Jay C Winter Courtesy photo

How Big SLO Bike started

The bike was originally Zimmerman’s brainchild.

Zimmerman, who works full-time at SunRun, a solar energy equipment supplier, was in Sacramento for work when he saw a pedal pub for the first time.

Zimmerman approached May, one of his closest friends, about creating a similar business in San Luis Obispo, and May agreed — as long as they could bring their friend Winter on board, too. (When they’re not running Big SLO Bike, May is the area director for YoungLife, a faith-based nonprofit, and Winter runs his own photography business.)

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The men found their business model in a pedal pub company based out of Bend, Oregon, which is also where they found the manufacturer who made the bike. All told, the men invested about $40,000 to $50,000 in the bike, as well as startup costs, according to Winter.

“It is quite a spectacle when you see the thing come down the road,” May said, adding that he once heard someone exclaim, “Oh my gosh! San Luis Obispo’s finally legit!” during a tour.

Right now, May and Zimmerman captain the bike on tours and they’ve hired an additional person to captain it as well, with plans to ultimately have a “small team” of captains — and maybe expand throughout the county.

“Our No. 1 priority right now is to figure out how to do this really, really well,” Zimmerman said. May added that SLO is the company’s “litmus test” to see if they can expand.

And were clear that they don’t want to see downtown SLO “flooded with these things,” May said. “We want two operating, max, at a time,” he said.

“All of us are like-minded and really for the community and want to build a better world for our families and for San Luis Obispo,” May said. “We’re going to be a safe, fun option for people downtown.”

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Gabby Ferreira: 805-781-7858, @Its_GabbyF

The Creamery is almost finished in downtown San Luis Obispo. The retail center now has an outdoor patio and courtyard, new siding, new tenant improvements — including to Spike's Pub — and new commercial space.