By Anthony J. Nocella II, Ph.D. — How does one start building a lowrider bicycle? First and foremost, do not rush out and buy a lowrider bicycle that has been manufactured in a mass-produced fashion. Get to know the lowrider culture and its historical and socio-political place in Chicanx/Latinx/Cholx society.
The lowrider culture started in the 1960s during the Civil Rights, United Farm Workers, and Brown Power movements, inspired by earlier resistance movements by people of Mexican descent against structural racism and assimilationism. It is clear, direct, and easy to argue that the lowrider culture has always been and is grounded in activism and social justice.
Lowrider culture started with cars, clothing, stroll, swag, and religious and family values. Lowrider culture is about la familia, and the interweaving of religion and family. It is here that the culture promotes youth advocacy, art, dance, music, food, peace, unity, justice, and festivals.
Lowrider culture is also therapy, and can be a healthy alternative breaking the cycle of violence, gangs, drugs, and prison.
Lowrider bicycle design emerged in California from the “King of the Kustomizers” George Barris, the legendary car designer, who created The Munster’s Munster Koach and built the Batmobile for the original 1960s TV series.
In the 1960s, Barris brought his car art to the bicycle world by customizing Schwinn Sting-Rays, but never strived to be part of the lowrider culture. Later, the Stelber Cycle Corp in New York partnered with Barris to create bicycles under the brand name Iverson, which were not lowrider bicycles, but did have a bit more style than the classic Schwinn Sting-Ray.
Ultimately, Manny Silva, owner of Manny’s Bike Shop in Compton, California, would become the key person that introduced Barris’s style by to the barrio and lowrider .
My first lowrider bicycle was handed down to me by my Uncle Ron in Philadelphia, via my big sister Kim. It was an original Iverson 1968 Charger, that I later turned into a lowrider bicycle.
The key in designing a lowrider bicycle to take an original bicycle from the 1960s or early 1970s that has a “wheelie bike” or chopper design similar to the Schwinn String-Ray, and slow it down with smooth flowing bright glittering clean paint with white-wall tires, chrome and/or gold parts, mirrors, velvet banana saddle, and as much flare as possible.
Most lowriders are shiny and have candy paint on them. Many also have pinstripes and names of those that have died as a remembrance art piece, similar to tattooing the name on one’s arm. They are typically also named and have a theme, be it Star Wars, Raiders, Hellraiser, Candy Canes, Tupac, fire, music notes, Nike, Jordan, or Dominos.
Steps to Building a Lowrider
First, go check out lowrider shows in person and check out pictures of lowriders on the internet for ideas and inspiration. Originality is important, but it’s okay to get ideas for design elements from other bikes.
Second, find an old Schwinn Sting-Ray, take as many pictures of it as you can, and then strip it down.
Third, contact a local lowrider club to ask where to get your bike painted and if you want the tank and/or chain stay area filled in with Bondo. Be aware that depending on the extent of the paint and body work, this might cost upwards of $1000.00. Make sure when you get it painted you have your theme in mind for the bicycle.
Fourth, buy or build other design elements, such as new wheels (100-spoke 20-inch wheels?), a twisted long spring fork, reflectors, chrome chain, velvet saddle, twisted sissy bar, twisted pedals, chrome metal grips, crank, twisted chainring, bottom bracket, headset, white wall tires, and tubes.
Then, once you have all the parts, build the bike! If you are having trouble assembling your bicycle take it to a local bicycle shop, preferably one which appreciates all types of bicycles including lowriders.
The best place to get lowrider parts online is Street Lowrider (streetlowriders.com), but be aware that the price for lowrider parts can add up fairly quickly as well.
Finally, build a chromed mirrored velvet display stand for the bike, as it is an art piece. Now put on your Dickies, Converse sneakers, and black t-shirt and go to a lowrider show to show off your bicycle. For those who want to join a club, it is like getting married, the love and right fit have to be there, but once you have you are now part of la familia.