Notes from the Skrapyard: Custom Bike Frames Shaped by a Drive to Serve
4:28 PM PDT on October 7, 2019
The sun has already begun to heat up the Skrapyard - the driveway Art "the Skrapfather" Ramírez has turned into his humble welding studio - when I stop in on a recent Tuesday morning, but Art and Javier "JayPee" Partida, founder and president of Los Ryderz Bike Club, are hard at work finishing up yet another incarnation of the fat-tire "bombita" bike frame.
The distinctive frame designed by JayPee was inspired by Chevy Fleetline classic cars, often called "bombas" back in the day.
He'd always had it in his mind to create something along those lines, he says, but didn't really have a reason until Art asked him to design a frame around some fat tires he had picked up last year.
Art was so inspired by the design JayPee sent him that he worked out the specs and knocked out a frame within hours.
Art chuckles at the memory. “I sent you a picture [of the built frame] the next day!"
As images of the nostalgic design spread through the bike life community on social media, orders for the custom frames quickly flooded in. Next thing they knew, they had sold 18 frames.
Then Micargi came calling, looking to partner with them for commercial production of the bombita frame.
Thrilled by the idea of still being able to build thicker-tubed custom versions of the bombita with skrap materials while allowing Micargi to manufacture lighter, more accessibly priced frames for those looking to get started in bike life, they inked a deal this past August.
Being able to put their own stamp on bike culture this way wasn't an outcome either of them would have predicted when they made their first forays into bike life all those years ago.
But they didn't know each other back then, either.
Reflecting on their respective journeys, JayPee says he thinks he just met Art at the right time.
Art, quietly tracing the lines of one of the more challenging custom builds he's done (below), agrees.
Art had been more antisocial back then.
Despite being well-known around town and in the low-rider bike community for the distinctive Skeletron bike (below) he had built back in 2005, he had preferred to keep to himself.
"I was a lone wolf," he acknowledges.
That all changed in 2014, when JayPee spotted Art's distinctive predator bikes lined up on Long Beach Boulevard from the Blue Line and decided he had to have one.
"They looked like Transformer bikes. No - Voltron!" JayPee says of the colorful frames. "They were like nothing I’d ever seen before."
JayPee had just launched his own bike club, Los Ryderz, a few years earlier. His dedication to youth struggling to leave gang life and other troubles behind had raised his profile in Watts, while the logos, t-shirts, and vests he designed had helped make him and his club members recognizable figures on the scene.
One of Art's custom bikes, he thought, would help set him even further apart.
But when he finally stopped in the Skrapyard to inquire about the bikes, they immediately clashed over the price. He left convinced Art was a jerk.
Still, Art's talent had impressed JayPee, who was trying to find ways to keep his club members busy. Welding bikes both kept the youth occupied and gave them skills they could parlay into jobs.
So JayPee invited Art to YO! Watts (which had served as the de facto headquarters for the club) to do a welding demonstration. Still convinced Art was only motivated by money, however, JayPee figured he probably couldn't get him to do more than one demo without paying him. But something unexpected clicked between Art and the youth he worked with that day. As JayPee drove him back home, Art asked when they were going to hold another class.
"I was going through a very hard time in my life," Art says of what he was thinking in that moment. "I needed a new direction."
He began attending some of the club rides JayPee held around Watts and easing into that side of bike life. But it wasn't until he accompanied JayPee and a few of the youth to their first Ride OBC meet-up in Las Vegas in April of 2015 that he really came out of his shell.
Established in 2013, OBC describes itself as "the largest gathering of custom bicycle enthusiasts, builders and bike clubs in North America - coming together to celebrate the bare foot pedal, polished rim, and bike party life." People come prepared to show off their bikes and take inspiration from each other.
It was a side of the bike life Art didn't know existed but one he discovered he desperately wanted to be a part of - especially after seeing how people reacted to him and his bike. When he had to withdraw Skeletron from the bike show in order for the youth they were with to make it back to L.A. in time for work, he was crestfallen. To stave off his disappointment, he immediately began imagining the new bike he would enter into competition the following year.
That was the origins of Cobra, he says.
“Cobra is not a bike," he muses, half to himself. "It transcends that.”
The same could be said of so much of what he and JayPee have accomplished over the years together.
On the surface, they have a bike club and do basic bike club things, like host and participate in bike rides on the weekends. But it's always been about so much more than that for both of them.
When JayPee founded Los Ryderz back in 2012, it was with the express purpose of giving some of his community's most marginalized youth a surrogate family and support system.
The bike rides were an important part of what the club members did as a group, but mainly they were a vehicle for teaching kids from rival 'hoods how to get along and work together, how to see themselves in a positive light, how to take on leadership roles, and how to give back to their community.
It was the meetings behind the scenes, the post-ride family-style lunches, the tough love, and the constant reassurance from JayPee that he was in their corner that made the youth feel empowered to get on those bikes in the first place.
“By them having someone to look up to...and me growing up in the streets and being part of that group at one point of my life, I know how to relate to them," he had said of his role as a mentor back in 2015.
He, too, had experienced the loss of homies at a young age, the paranoia of thinking he could be next, and the struggle involved in leaving that life behind. But he had found that the responsibilities of getting the bike club up and running - rising at 5 a.m. to design club logos and patches, map out routes, plan events, or fix up the club’s bikes - had helped dull his own demons.
"When they see all the scars of everything that I have been through […] and what happens when you take the positive road," he said, "they see that there is hope.”
Art had taught himself how to see that hope, too.
He had originally built Skeletron to get himself out of a rut. He'd lost everything when he separated from his wife, including his carpentry business, and was in need of a fresh start.
With the welder his mother had bought for him in 2005, a book on the basics of bending metal, some basic skills from a class he had taken in Watts, and a section of an I-beam someone had gifted him (and which he later modified), he charted a new course for himself.
He wasn't sure of much else at the time, he says, but he knew he didn't want to be like all the other people he saw riding their regular bikes to work. So, taking inspiration from a piñata stand he had built, he began constructing his own bike with scrap metal parts he got from a place down the street.
He quickly branched out into building other things.
He started by building bikes for eloteros, heading up to Olympic and Central at 3:30 in the morning to set the bikes up in the hopes of getting a sale. As folks got to know his handiwork, he became the go-to guy for fixing broken bikes, vendor carts, and anything that needed welding at the nearby swap meet (including a churro maker).
"I'm severely mechanically inclined," he jokes, heading over to a corner of the Skrapyard to show me how he plans to convert the gears from a sliding gate into a tacos al pastor machine for a client.
There's literally nothing he can't build.
But it is being able to use those skills for good that has helped make his chosen trade fulfilling.
When elotero Benjamín Ramírez was attacked and had his cart damaged in 2017, for example, Art and JayPee quickly rallied their network and got the materials together to build him a new one. Being able to set that kind of example for the Los Ryderz youth while passing on actual skills has transformed the Skrapyard into a welcoming space where anything is possible.
In turn, those Art has apprenticed have helped him. When he gets overwhelmed with orders, friends or youth pitch in to help build bikes, earning their own custom builds as payment (if they supply the parts).
In this way, the Skrapyard has become a kind of sanctuary for him, too, says JayPee.
When he first lost his club's spot at YO! Watts a few years back, the club felt somewhat unmoored. With no place the youth could just drop by, it was harder to do the important mentorship work that kept the club rolling.
Being able to turn to the Skrapyard has helped him root the club again and give it new purpose.
"I find shit to do here. I help [Art] with something or do my own thing," he says. "We help each other."
They've also come to prefer collaboration with each other to competition. Although Art had been the one to bring JayPee's bombita design to life, Art had insisted JayPee put his name on it. They compromised and decided the custom frames from the Skrapyard would be called the "JP Bombita Bike by Skrapfather" (the Micargi frames will called the "JP Bomber").
Even "Skrapfather" is a brand they worked to build together, with JayPee telling Art to embrace his skill for turning scrap into art as a way to stand out. "You don't need to be recognized as a 'chopfather,'" JayPee says he told Art at the time. "'Why not be the Skrapfather and stand in a category by yourself?'"
Knowing that they've managed to leave such a positive mark on bike life culture has given both a measure of peace.
“I tell people that when it comes to this whole Micargi [deal], it’s not about the money," says JayPee. "My thing is I want to leave a legacy behind. That’s what it is. I want to be up there with that exclusive group of people that you’re always going to remember for something, not because of that frame but because of what it symbolizes."
Where he had once been fueled by the naysayers who thought he'd never get a bike club off the ground, he now found himself energized by the relationships he and Art had built by keeping their heads down, doing the work, and staying true to themselves and their goals.
It's allowed him to relax and take pride in all they've managed to accomplish.
"I can’t say that I really want anything more than that."