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A bike, a kid, and a welding gun

on May 28, 2009

Ismael Plasencia is one of those lucky people who considers his job, “a dream come true.”  Among his other responsibilities at West Oakland’s The Crucible, Plasencia manages the incredibly popular bike program.  The bike program offers eight bike fix-a-thons a year, where anyone can bring their bike to get fixed, as well as youth classes in bike mechanics, Earn-a-Bike, and frame alteration, Hyphy Bikes.

The Crucible, an industrial arts school and community outreach program in West Oakland, was looking for ways to bring local youth into their classes.  They couldn’t help but notice the “hyphy” movement that had taken over the Oakland youth bike scene.

The movement stems from the larger “hyphy” music craze commonly credited to Bay Area rapper Keak Da Sneak.  The idea is to be flashy and goofy all at once.  “Hyphy” bikes, like “skraper” bikes are characterized by bright colors, wheel ornaments, and funky frames.

The teachers at the Crucible saw this fad as a great opportunity to teach kids about some old fashioned values like hard work, mechanical skills, and seeing a project through from start to finish.

Before they can get to bike alteration, the kids must go through the Earn-a-Bike mechanics class.  The Earn-a-Bike program is a two-hour, after school class that runs for a quarter.  Students fix two donated used bikes during the class.  The first one goes to The Crucible, which sells it to support the program, and the second one goes to the student along with a helmet, a U-Lock, and a set of lights for riding at night.

In addition to general life skills, the kids also learn a lot about math and physics.  Plasencia explains, “everything you do around here, you’re gonna have to take some measurements, things need to be precise to a certain degree, so all of that stuff is going to require some math.”  The program employs real life math and physics teachers in its shop as well as professional welders and other industrial artists who help drill home the real life value of numbers.

“We just want to make connections,” says Plasencia, “to ‘Hey, here’s something you probably did last year in school and now you’re you’re actually applying it to…something that’s real.’”

The Crucible’s bike program brings Oakland street culture into a safe and productive space; allowing local youth the chance to develop concrete skills in bike mechanics and then build on those skills and add new ones by taking on a bike design project of their own.  Perhaps more importantly to the kids that take the class, it results in some incredible, unique, and usable art.

To learn more about donating your bike or signing up for a class at The Crucible, visit their website at

If you like this story, check out the photo gallery here:

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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