Westside lowriders have their day

Nancy Keefe Rhodes 05/25/09More articles
(Lodisa Galeas' drawing of a lowrider bike won one of two third place prizes at last Saturday's Creative Bike Showcase, presented to her by Westside Arts Council member Mik Heagerty. Photo - Herm Card.)

Bikes come in all sizes and shapes, and Westside riders span the generations. At 4:00 PM on Saturday – after all the bike and helmet and goodie-bag and book give-aways, the bike parade around the block, and the drawing project at a table in the middle of the gym presided over by painter Juan Cruz – the four winning entries spanned that range. Third-place winner Lodisa Galeas’ entry was a meticulous drawing of a lowrider bicycle and she took home a purple number that looked just like somebody had touched her drawing with a magic wand. Anthony Aquino won the other third prize for his gold lowrider with elegant custom chrome work. Marcelino Pinet took second for his restored 1951 canary-yellow upright Schwinn, which he’d brought with him as a boy from Puerto Rico. Grand prize went to Anthony Mohn for a customized recumbent three-wheeler.

But pull up at the Shonnard Street Boys & Girls Club two hours earlier and you’d have seen from the hive of activity out front – maybe 35 younger kids buzzed around on pint-sized models – that here, lowriders hold a special place.

Lowriders get their name from the chopper-style motorcycles they resemble – with low-slung, elongated frames, smaller wheels that often sport flashy extra spokes and sometimes a front wheel way out ahead of the rest of the bike, banana seats and long, upswept handle-bars some call “ape-hangers.” They may sport a “sissy bar” in back, an upright chrome piece that affords some protection if a bike goes down. Their customized frames and chrome-work may look more like elegant sculptures that industrial design. Fringe and glitter are at home. Their classics include Schwinn Stingrays (Redhouse Arts Center’s Mik Heagerty, a Westside Arts Council member, has one of those that he’s restoring with a friend), British Roles Choppers and three-wheel “beach cruisers.”

The little kids out front on Saturday were taking advantage of Jan Maloff’s Ken Rubin Memorial Neighborhood Bicycle Repair Unit, which offers all services for free and rolls through neighborhoods in an enormous, shiny gray rig emblazoned with a painting of Rubin and a list of project sponsors. Maloff started his bike mission with a winter holiday give-away of donated second-hand bikes, and now make bikes and bike maintenance available year-round. Maloff handed out 75 bikes on Saturday and promised his rig would return to the Westside in two weeks to pick up where they left off – which was roughly 100 Westside bikes made ready for summer.

Maloff was one of three judges in Saturday’s competition. The others were Kathleen Coffey of B.I.K.E. Syracuse and performer Carlos Alban, in town for the "Intrigulis" show at Redhouse, which had invited in neighborhood kids, teachers and Near Westside Initiative’s board-members for Thursday’s opening performance. The boyish Alban had asked to be involved with the community during his Syracuse visit.

The Westside Arts Council worked on this event – its first – for months, wanting most of all to craft an afternoon where all Westsiders could get together and celebrate the creativity of their young people, regardless of what affiliations they might have the rest of the week.

The arts council practices what it preaches, drawing membership from arts venues in the neighborhood like Redhouse, Delavan Center and Rick DeStito’s Gear Factory as well as from agencies like the Wyoming Street P.E.A.C.E. (where the council meets monthly), Boys & Girls Club, Vincent House, Huntington Family Center, La Liga, SU’s Near Westside Initiative, and others, plus welcoming involved neighborhood individuals like Carole Horan and Carlos Rivera, better known as DJ Koolie D, the rapper/deejay/bike enthusiast who co-chairs the council with Sameerah Aiken of the Boys and Girls Club.

The Westside Arts Council is staffed by Sheena Solomon of the Gifford Foundation, whose long-standing project to nurture community on the Westside also includes staff support and some funds to mentor committees of residents for safety, housing, employment and green initiatives. When Syracuse University’s Near Westside Initiative arrived – the project to improve housing, green initiatives and neighborhood arts – it found Gifford’s support structure in place and has joined with it.

On Saturday, Kathleen “Kat” Coffey was busy helping three-year-old Makayla Gathings’ adjust her new helmet, one of the 50 that B.I.K.E. Syracuse donated to the event. The volunteer group operates throughout the city, working with Parks and Rec, police and probation. B.I.K.E. Syracuse is an acronym for “bikes and ideas for kids’ empowerment.”

“We use adventure to capture the kids,” she said. “Then the idea is to keep them in school. We have about 95 kids, maybe 30 families, connected with the Skiddy Park project. I’m really excited about this event. I’ve noticed that a lot of programs can get kind of compartmentalized and then not get the word out. I see what is happening with this arts council, by inviting others to join in, and I’m buying into that.”

Providing security on Saturday and an official escort for the round-the-block parade of about 30 bikes were Syracuse Police officers Paul Diffon and Carolyn Carbone. Usually Diffon and Carbone work out of the Northeast Community Center on Hawley Avenue, but the officers who usually staff SPD’s TOPS West office weren’t available on Saturday. There are community policing storefronts on the far north side on Wolf Street, on the Eastside on Westcott Street, on the Southside on South Salina.

“Then there are the downtown bike officers,” said Diffon. “But this is the fun stuff. This was nice for the kids today, and nice to get it rolling for them.”

Also parked out front with a steady stream of visitors, the school district’s PUMP Bus was giving out one free book per person and scads of brochures on parent, health and educational resources. According to Mary Lise Wade, the bus is a refurbished ESL traveling classroom dating from about 1986. Near the end of the afternoon she said they’d given away about 60 books.

“It breaks down all the stereotypes,” she said. “Dictionaries are by far the most popular. Many women have a favorite novelist. Lots of self-help books, ethnic authors, bilingual books. Syracuse has something like 85 languages now! We really are a resource for parents and we want to give them the experience of browsing for a book. Sometimes a school will call us too and ask us to intervene with a kid or a family. We’ll be at Juneteenth this year and we’ll team up with Mary Nelson at the OnCenter in December when she gives out school supplies.”

By afternoon’s end, the Near Westside Initiative’s Dani Moska-Wozniak had her two sons picking up trash and gathering tubes of glitter glue and other art supplies. Arts Council members picked up and tallied lists and Sameerah Aiken said, “We did it! I’m glad it’s over but we really learned a lot for next time.”

This article appears in the May 28, 2009 issue of the Syracuse City Eagle; the print edition carries a photo of the four contest winners. The Westside Arts Council meets on the second Friday of the month from 12-1:30 PM at the Wyoming St. P.E.A.C.E. office (next meeting: Friday, June 12). B.I.K.E. Syracuse holds a fund-raiser at Skiddy Park on June 21. Contact Jan Maloff’s Ken Rubin Neighborhood Bicycle Repair Unit at 446.7570. Nancy covers the arts. Reach her at

CATEGORY: Pop Culture
TAGS: Westside Arts Council, lowrider bikes, Near Westside Initiative, B.I.K.E. Syracuse, Syracuse University, Shonnard St. Boys & Girls Club, Gifford Foundation, Redhouse Arts Center
EDITION: The Eagle

Rating: 3.1/5 (18 votes cast)

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