Published in: Greek Newspaper ‘Eleftherotypia’ (www.enet.gr), Sunday magazine ‘E’, 22/08/2010
LOWRIDE BIKES FOR A LIFETIME – Build it yourself, Ride it with a group of friends…
Text – Photography: SPYROS CHATZIGIANNIS
CAN A BIKE CROSS A CONTINENT AND AN OCEAN? IF IT BOARDS ON MTV, YES, IT CAN! THAT’S WHAT HAPPENED WITH THE DIY LOWRIDE BICYCLES, WHICH CAME FROM LOS ANGELES TO FIND THEMSELVES ROAMING THE AVENUES OF BERLIN WITH A COOL STYLE AND WITH MANY SHINING ORNAMENTS.
In 1895 a German immigrant in the United States, Ignaz Scwinn, founded in Chicago the most legendary American bike company with the name ‘Scwinn Bicycle Company’, that revolutionized the world of cycling. The economic recession of the 1930s in the US and the decline in the sales of bikes, gave to Scwinn the inspiration to create a new, reliable, economical and with an impressive look model for the youth of the time, that basically looked like a motorbike without an engine, the Scwinn B-10E. A few years later Scwinn created the ‘Scwinn Sting Ray’, that had as its trademarks a banana-shaped comfortable seat, a shiny chrome – frame and a long Harley-Davidson – like steering wheel.
This model became extremely popular and in 1964 the mechanic George Barris modified, at a TV show, such a ‘sting ray’, by changing its fork, its chain and its seat making it a DIY armchair-limo that was sailing on the asphalt of the streets of the US on two wheels. Immediately afterwards the youth of east LA started to recreate with their passion and their imagination the Sting Ray and, thus, to satisfy their passion for the creation of the much coveted teenage identity. The ‘Lowride’ bicycles became extremely popular among the poor Mexican and Latin American teenagers of the American cities who didn’t have enough cash to buy the car of their dreams, but, who had plenty of creative workmanship to build their own dream-like means of transport. The philosophy of these ghetto kids was summarized by the Spanish phrase ‘Bajito y Suavecito’, meaning that you should ride your bike in a low and slow style.
Many gangs of young Americans cyclists were organizing ( and still do) marches with their riotous bicycles. The American sociologist (with Mexican roots) Emilia Gonzalez Clements has written that ‘lowride bikes represent the history and the pride of the poor immigrants in America. Many white Americans, though, link these bikes with gangs and drugs’.
In 1993 MTV would present these bicycles in Europe. And right now in Germany the Lowride madness is stronger than ever. Last July we visited the biggest annual gathering of the fans of this eco-minded subculture at Friedrichschain in Berlin, where 220 brave and imaginative Lowriders of the Lowride team ‘Radsport Gruppe Berlin’ celebrated their march with the title ‘Cruise Capital Berlin’ with a grand carousal, that included and some mini-races between the particularly modified and particularly low two wheeled, eco – ‘Harley-Davidsons’. The leader of the group Paul Freeman, who has the nickname ‘Fonky’, explained to us: ‘The Lowride culture began with the authentic passion of some German freaks, many of whom were mechanics, or, engineering students who wanted to create their original identity in a city like Berlin, by fertilizing it with imagination, humour and a positive work ethic. ‘.
Recycling is at the core of the style of each lowride rider. ‘Everyone’, says Fonky, ‘tries to present the cool side of himself/herself through these bicycles.’. Despite the cool profile of the lowriders with the innumerable tattoos, though, the work that is needed to create these bicycle-remixes, is often debilitating and mind-boggling: ‘Some people buy a bicycle and they only keep its frame, adding various accessories afterwards. Accessories like small sculptures, strange bicycle forks, even mirrors that are being used in Harley Davidson motorbikes! Other people create their lowride bike by any sort of materials that they find. Myself, for instance, I’ve got on my bicycle many components from a 1930s motorbike. A friend of mine put some 400 hours of work in order to bend and change the shape of the frame of his bicycle.’. For the fanatic lowriders, this subculture is interwoven in their daily life: ‘I use my lowride bicycle on a daily basis to go back and forth to my job. I cover a distance of six kilometres in 25 minutes. And I can reach a speed of up to 50 km an hour!’, adds Fonky. I’m asking him what is the future of these DIY bicycles in Europe: ‘The current crisis is the perfect opportunity for some low and smooth lowride rides, especially in the summertime. We keep the spirit of the ghetto kids in America alive, in the midst of the difficulties that we experience in our cities nowadays.’.