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Scraper bike

East Oakland scraper bike program gives kids a chance to safely cycle

on November 12, 2021

Beside bikes dazzling with brightly colored tape and foil, about a dozen East Oakland elementary school children excitedly, in unison, recited their ABCs: 

 “Air, brakes, chains.” 

The kids learned the drill to check bike parts during a new six-week, after-school bike course this fall for children at Brookfield and Madison Park elementary schools. Mentors from The Scraper Team and the nonprofit Higher Ground launched the program to teach kids about bicycle safety and maintenance in a neighborhood that has very few bike paths. The program was so well-received, another one is planned for January. 

Kids turn regular bicycles into scraper bikes by decorating the spokes and other parts with colored tape, foil, cardboard, paint and whatever other everyday product they can use creatively. Bike mentors from The Scraper Bike Team show them how, but the finished product comes from the children’s own imaginations. Tyrone “Baybe Champ” Stevenson Jr. co-founded The Scraper Bike Team in East Oakland in 2006 and kicked off the scraper bike trend with a music video in 2007.

“It really brings me joy to see these kids, I tear up sometimes,” said Stevenson, who led the class in a bike ride to the Martin Luther King Jr. Shoreline. It’s good to know, he said, that the tradition is reaching “another generation of kids in a different way than it was before, more empowering, more educational and more structured.” 

The after-school program is part of “Better Neighborhoods, Same Neighbors,” an initiative funded through a $28.2 million state grant to the city. Intended to transform East Oakland, it includes the development of affordable housing, a 3-acre plant nursery, the planting of 2,000 trees and a community trail along San Leandro Creek. 

The state grant also funds bicycle repair programs with The Scraper Bike Team at Oakland Public Library branches. High schoolers run one called “The Shed” at the Martin Luther King Jr. branch. Without those programs, kids from the Brookfield and Sobrante Park neighborhoods would have to go to San Leandro, which is more than four miles away, to have their bikes repaired. 

After the six-week program at Brookfield and Madison Park, children can rent the bikes to use around the school and neighborhood. However, Khariyyah Shabazz, manager of the bike enrichment program for Higher Ground, said even if children at Brookfield and Madison Park wanted to bike to school, they wouldn’t be able. A lack of bike paths restricts where they can ride safely. And poor pavement conditions mean they’d have to dodge potholes on their way to school. 

Scraper bike
Oakland Department of Transportation Safe Streets Division Bicycle and Pedestrian Program June 2018.

Juliana Che, a fourth grader from Brookfield said her only chance to ride a bike is in the after-school program.

“I like riding a lot,” said Juliana, who decorated her bike wheels with pink and yellow tape. “I decided I wanted to go because bike riding is one of my favorite habits to do.” 

Oakland has a plan to make the city more bicycle friendly but the focus has been on Downtown Oakland, where many riders commute to work. In 2018, only 7% of the 184 road miles in Central East Oakland had bikeways. By 2020, that percentage had slightly improved, as the city finished construction on bikeways on Edgewater Drive and International Boulevard. But Oakland has a long way to go to meet California Transportation Commission recommendations for bikeways and other bike and pedestrian safety measures such as crossing improvements, street paving and signs that alert motorists to cyclists. 

Scraper bikes
Tyrone “Baby Champ” Stevenson leads children from the bike enrichment program passed another class for high-fives. (MJ Johnson)

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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