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Teens in Oakland, Calif., find an outlet in ‘scraper bikes’

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Last year, Stevenson joined forces with a local hip-hop group, da Trunk Boiz, to make a music video paying tribute to the scraper bike. Their videographer posted it on YouTube, and Stevenson soon forgot about it. Perhaps because hip-hop songs aren’t normally playful ballads describing a boy’s love of his bicycle, perhaps because the lyrics are simple and catchy, their video quickly soared in popularity. The two most popular online versions of the video have now been viewed 3 million times.

The chorus of the song goes like this: “I’m moving on my scraper bike. I’m cruising on my scraper bike. My scraper bike, go hard. I don’t need no car.”

Those words are now on the lips of teenagers from Germany to Russia to China. But nowhere are they so well-known as in the neighborhood where the Scraper Bike King grew up. The bikes have become a symbol of pride for east Oakland youth. They offer an outlet for kids growing up in troubled schools, troubled neighborhoods, and – often as not – troubled families.

Scraper bike boys may not have access to the expensive video games enjoyed by their suburban peers. There’s no promise of a car on their 16th birthdays. But there is the simple pleasure of refurbishing a discarded bicycle, of taking something old and broken and making it shine.

“He’s helping the kids that would otherwise be on the street – packing guns, selling drugs,” says Andre Ernest, who directs da Trunk Boiz and has a nonprofit called Super Innovative Teens.

•••

Six years ago, when he dreamed up his first scraper bike, Stevenson was spending his freshman year at a continuation high school. He’d been kicked out of middle school for smoking pot and fighting. “I was a problem child,” he says.

His father – never much of a presence in Stevenson’s life – had died of AIDS when the boy was in third grade. His mother, who worked two jobs, begged her only child to find a hobby, some constructive outlet for all his pent-up frustration.

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