I’m movin’ on my scraper bike
I’m cruisin’ on my scraper bike
My scraper bike go hard
I don’t need no car.
— Trunk Boiz, “Scraper Bike,” 2007
Whether in Oakland, Calif., or halfway around the world in Nairobi, Kenya, hip-hop culture and bikes seem to go pretty well together.
I wrote on March 3 about a group of slum kids in Nairobi’s Mathare Valley who won an international film contest with their short hip-hop video “Me and My Bike.” That prompted my son Ben, who lives in Taiwan, to ask if I had ever heard of the “scraper bike” movement in Oakland.
I’m an un-hip old guy, so, no, I hadn’t. A little Internet research provided me with the basics.
The scraper bike phenomenon, I learned, emerged several years ago among African-American kids living in Oakland and was popularized on YouTube by a group of teen rappers in the Bay Area known as the “Trunk Boiz.” The video went viral and has been viewed more than 3 million times.
The apostle of the movement is Tyrone “Baby Champ” Stevenson Jr., founder of a nonprofit teen organization called Scraper Bikes. The bikes are do-it-yourself projects. The spokes are typically wrapped in tinfoil or foil wrappers from such snacks as Skittles and Oreo cookies to create colorful pinwheels. The frames are spray-painted to complement the wheel colors.
Stevenson advocates the scraper bike as a way for kids to express their creativity and to keep them away from the crime and drugs that infest their neighborhoods.
“Actually, scraper bikes saved my life,” Stevenson told National Public Radio in a story aired on Sept. 13, 2008. “Because I was at a young age, getting into a lot of serious trouble, selling drugs and on the verge of going to jail. So my mom told me this is a way to channel anger and frustration, just focusing on something that’s creative, something that’s me, and the bikes is me.”
The name for the bikes, Stevenson told NPR, “came from the cars that ride in Oakland — we call them scrapers. Basically, it’s an old-model car, such as a Buick, that’s painted a custom color to match the rims. I wanted to take that and put a bike onto it.”
To join the Original Scraper Bike Team, a kid must live in Oakland, be at least 7 years old, maintain a 3.0 grade-point average and create an “amazing” scraper bike. The team began with just a handful of teens and now totals almost 40, mostly 13- to 16-year-olds.
“Kids work on scraper bikes because it’s something they want to do and they think it’s cool,” Stevenson says. “The frames are donated or found around the neighborhood. Kids show up at my house every day of the week to work on their bikes.”
What started as a project by a few kids in Oakland has now become a global phenomenon, Stevensen said in the NPR report. “On the Internet, it is worldwide,” he said. “There’s people from literally across the world making these bikes, from Portland, Oregon, to Japan to Australia to Jamaica.”