Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian, left, and Jason Blessinger are the co-founders of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours in downtown Sacramento.
There are a lot of new things to see if you head to Sacramento’s downtown these days, from the Golden 1 Center to the Downtown Commons. But Sacramento State alum Todd Sebastian’s contribution may be the most unique – and the one that does the most to tie it all together.
Sebastian ’00 (Recreation) is the co-founder of Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours, which provides tours of downtown on a 15-passenger bus that is powered, via pedal, by riders. Equipped with lights, a sound system, and, yes, a cooler and on-board tap system, the vehicle allows visitors to experience Sacramento’s growing downtown in a slightly offbeat way.
The company’s core mission, according to Sebastian, is “fun” – his official title is “Foreman of Festivities” and his co-founder, Jason Blessinger, is the “Godfather of Good Times.” They rent out the bike for everything from food and beer tastings to corporate trainings to kids’ birthday parties. By offering the tours, and by partnering with dozens of downtown restaurants, bars and other venues, Off the Chain is introducing people to Sacramento’s reborn downtown district.
“I can’t tell you how many people come down here and they go, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t been down here in five years, I can’t believe all the changes,’” Sebastian says. “We hear that every single ride.”
A native of Elk Grove, Sebastian transferred to Sacramento State from Cosumnes River College in part because it was local and affordable, but also because he knew attending would allow him to network and make contacts that would be helpful when he set down roots in the region.
“(Sac State) made me focus, it made me quickly recognize what I loved,” he says. “It gave me a sense of pride with the campus and the community. I still hold Sac State very fondly in my heart.” He doesn’t have to look very far to be reminded of his time as a Hornet: Three of Off the Chain’s five employees are fellow alums.
After graduation, Sebastian worked for the Fair Oaks Parks and Recreation District, and even returned briefly to Sacramento State to work at The WELL and teach some recreation courses. Then, Blessinger approached him with one of his trademark crazy ideas that Sebastian was used to writing off. This time, however, he instantly fell in love with the concept.
The pair were able to pitch their idea as part of the Calling All Dreamers program, an entrepreneurship competition put on by the Sacramento Downtown Partnership, where they finished second. That didn’t net them prize money, but it did give them credibility around town – including with the Small Business Association and the City of Sacramento – and helped them secure a loan.
Even with start-up money and the support of local movers and shakers secured, however, a major obstacle remained: The bike wasn’t technically legal. Sebastian met with lawmakers and over the course of a year secured a change in state law that classified the bikes as “pedi-cabs” and allowed open alcohol containers so long as the vehicle remained under a certain speed and was staffed by both a dedicated driver and a “chauffer” with a bartending certification. Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill while riding the bike with his staff.
“That was hands-down the coolest thing I have accomplished in my career,” Sebastian says.
Although bike buses sometimes come with a reputation of being “booze cruises,” Sebastian says they have worked hard to make sure that the bike, not alcohol, is the primary experience. While on the tour, riders can partake in activities such as on-board trivia or karaoke, or participate in Survivor– and Amazing Race-like challenges, which are popular with corporate team-building events.
The two also have worked hard to ensure their presence downtown is positive. The bikes have electric assist technology to make pedaling more enjoyable for passengers, but also to make sure the bikes can be moved quickly in the event of an emergency or the street needs to be cleared. They plot routes that are minimally disruptive to traffic. And they partner with 45 downtown venues, often reaching out proactively to make sure their riders won’t disrupt a restaurant or bar’s normal business. Sebastian often hears back from partners who say bike bus riders liked the venue so much that they came back.
“For us, it might be a long day, we have four tours, and we’re sweating, but at the end of the day, we went to 12 different venues, they all made money, but most importantly you have 65, 70 people leaving with great memories and laughing the whole time,” he says. “That’s the cool thing at the end of the day, when you know you gave those people a good time.”