The art of biking

Custom lowriders inspire youths around Pico Rivera

Published October 16, 2007 by  Whittier Daily News
By Airan Scruby

Custom lowriders inspire youths around Pico Rivera

The Pico Rivera Centre for the Arts is hosting an exhibit called "Lowrider Bicycles: Trikes, Choppers, Spokes, and Chrome," which highlights the work of craftsmen in the Los Angeles area.

About a dozen works are on display at the center, 9200 Mines Ave., including lowrider bicycles, one tricycle and two wagons.

The free event is open from 1 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays through Nov. 30.

"What's really so special is that it's an amazing amount of craftsmanship that goes into creating these bikes," coordinator Juliean Martinez said. "And really the lowrider scene is a big part of the Hispanic culture."

Lowrider bicycles usually feature banana seats and tall, sweeping handlebars, sometimes called "apehangers." The bikes have long, low profiles, similar to custom chopper motorcycles.

The bikes first appeared in the 1960s, and experienced a revival among Latinos in the 1970s. Now, the art of creating custom bicycles is experiencing another renaissance.

New builders include those who remember the early waves of lowriders from their youth.

Ruben Calzada, 41, said he started making the bikes in the 1990s as an offshoot of his work with cars.

He said the popularity of the art has only grown.

"At first it was really hard to do, to find the original parts, but everybody makes parts now," Calzada said. "It's a good movement, because it keeps kids out of the street."

Calzada said he believes the bikes should be functional, not just artistic.

"Some bikes are harder to ride," Calzada said. "For me, I would like to fix something up that you can ride."

Calzada has his personal bicycle, which has an Oakland Raiders theme, on display at the center, as well as two lowrider wagons he made for his young granddaughters.

For him, the customized items are a hobby and a way to spend time with his family. For others, the bikes are a way to bond with friends and a first step on the road to creating custom lowrider cars.

David Hernandez lives near Crenshaw Avenue in Los Angeles. Hernandez grew up in Santa Monica and got involved with custom lowriders early.

"I've been in the game with bikes ever since I was 13, and now I'm 24," Hernandez said. "I've always liked the bikes and the way they look, and how much you could to do them, how much you could trick them out."

Hernandez said he has made about five bikes on his own. Three of them are on display in Pico Rivera.

Hernandez, who founded a bike enthusiast group called the Westside Classics Bike Club, said he and his friends hope to eventually get involved with lowrider cars, and the bicycles are just the beginning for them.

"To me, lowrider bikes, I think it's a culture," Hernandez said. "You can imagine and say, `I want to do this, I want to do that."'

Hernandez said the most positive part of this culture is the way it keeps youths away from gangs. He said his club is racially mixed, and is more about art and expression than the climate of violence in which many of its members grew up.

"It has nothing do do with gangs," Hernandez said. "We may be riding down the street and we may look like gang members, but we're not."

Another member of the Westside Classics Bike Club said he got started with bikes as a teen.

Montell Chism, 22, said he has worked on two bikes. He said the art is about passion for him.

"We're just doing it because that's what we like to do," Chism said. "It's our lifestyle."

Hernandez said that although lowriders are a trend now, he plans to keep working on them, whether they are in style or out.

"I'm always going to have a bike," Hernandez said. "Even if I get old and I can't pedal anymore."

airan.scruby@sgvn.com

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