by Jacob Fenston
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Weekend Edition Saturday, September 13, 2008 ·
YouTube has spawned many sudden sensations. Take scraper bikes, for example. A music video about the tricked-out bicycles posted to the site by some teenagers in Oakland, Calif., has attracted a cult following, with nearly 3 million views.
The video spawned what is becoming a worldwide movement, even as it changed the lives of the young men who customized the bikes and made the video.
"Actually, scraper bikes saved my life," says Tyrone Stevenson Jr., who prefers the title "Scraper Bike King."
"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."
Oakland is a town where hip-hop is king and cars known as "scrapers" are huge. They're large, bright and have rims so big that they scrape the inside of the wheel well. Stevenson and his friends took those aesthetics and applied them to bicycles, fitting large wheels on small frames.
Stevenson, 19, started making scraper bikes a few years ago. He couldn't afford a car, so he made do with a bike. But not just any bike.
"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."
To do that, he put the few resources he had to work. He added colorful foil food wrappers — from Oreos or Skittles — to the spokes, so when they roll they flash with color. Then he spray-painted the frames to match.
But scraper bikes didn't really catch on until he and some friends recorded a music video about them and posted it on YouTube. And now…
"Oakland has been taken over by scraper bikes," says Stevenson. "On the Internet, it is worldwide. There's people from literally across the world making these bikes, from Portland, Oregon, to Japan to Australia to Jamaica."
Stevenson says he's already making a living scraperizing bikes, but he's got big plans for the future: trademarks, patents and, someday soon, a scraper bike shop.
"The true meaning of a scraper bike is basically, I want to give back something positive to the community," Stevenson said.
"Because there's so much going on. Drugs and killing and stuff, this is a way of giving the kids a way to a positive future, but being creative at the same time."
Jacob Fenston reports from member station KQED.