Some time ago, we took a look at the "scraper bike" sensation -- customized, 'tricked-out' wheels which seem to be somewhere in between a flashy low-rider and a Burning Man-esque art bike -- but with an important ecological and social mission in mind. What began as a local car-free trend in an inner-city neighbourhood of Oakland, California has now spread to far-flung locales like Germany and Denmark thanks to a viral YouTube video, and has also grown at home into a full-fledged, award-winning community project that keeps vulnerable kids in school and out of trouble."Scraper bikes saved my life"
Started by 21-year-old Tyrone Stevenson (aka Baby Champ and Scraper Bike King), the Scraper Bike Project now boasts 250 youths from age 7 on who build, repair and decorate their own bikes using reclaimed frames and objects like tinfoil, candy wrappers and soda cans. But there's a catch: in order to stay in the crew, members must maintain a 3.0 GPA (Grade Point Average) and adhere to certain common-sense safety rules like riding in single file. Stevenson and the "captains" of the Scraper Bike crew maintain strict standards of quality and Stevenson himself checks their grades weekly.
On NPR, Stevenson explains the scraper bike concept: "The idea from the scraper bikes, it basically 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."
But scraper bikes as a movement means more than just dressed-up bikes: for many of the kids who come to Stevenson's house every Saturday to work on their bikes, it means a way of channelling energy into something positive and creative -- a much-needed refuge and alternative expression to the drugs and violence of East Oakland's streets.
It speaks to its appeal as a youth movement and symbol of hope that the scraper bike phenomenon has really taken off. Recently, Stevenson has spoken at universities about the project, in addition to holding Critical Mass-style bike rallies against gun violence. Last year, the project was shortlisted for NAU's Grant for Change, was named East Bay Express' "Best Green Transport Innovator" in 2010 and was featured on Pepsi's Refresh blog as an innovative socially-responsible project with a critical "cool" factor. The city of Oakland also designated next week as Scraper Bike Week -- complete with a summer camp.
But Stevenson is setting his sights even higher. He hopes to raise funds to build a community center and bike shop that would serve more kids in the future. "Each Saturday, the group grows," he says. "I'm running out of space in my backyard.
No small feat to tackle social ills, empower young people and your community and raise eco-awareness at the same time - no doubt, we need more ideas like this and people like Stevenson. Here's a short and sweet Rocketboom video-doc of Stevenson talking about scraper bikes: