Whether scuffing, sanding, painting, or welding, members of the Olathe North Hispanic Leadership Lowrider Bike Club build both bikes and family every time they meet.
These local knights of the lowriders have a two-fold mission. First, the team repairs and donates bicycles to other area children who don’t have bikes. Second, club members each have an opportunity to design and build their own custom lowrider bicycle.
“Our custom bikes are a way to express ourselves as individuals, but we also give back to the community with the donated bikes,” said Ismael Elizalde Rojuno, 18, a senior at Olathe North.
Launched in 2016, the club includes 13 members from both Olathe North and Olathe West high schools. Each group member brings unique skills, experience, and abilities to the table and the club offers the chance to hone those skills — mechanical aptitude, automotive repair, design, painting and more — in a unique setting.
“Most of the club members have basic skills in these areas and we build on those,” said Olathe Public Schools Migrant Director Erik Erazo, who also serves as the district’s Hispanic Student Facilitator and is the lowrider club’s faculty advisor.
Time and labor intensive, building a custom lowrider bicycle involves many of the same skills used in building a custom car or motorcycle. Learning and applying these highly detailed processes requires mentoring from those with experience.
“We have different skills and learn from each other,” Rojuno said. “We even have a dedicated tool person who knows all the tools and what to use.”
Ulises Ibarra’s brother, Christian, a recent graduate of the district’s Automotive Collision Technology program, helps fill that role.
“My brother offered to teach me everything he learned,” the younger Ibarra said. “He taught me how to scuff and a lot of these other processes.”
Erazo also brings a wealth of experience to club members. After studying automotive technology in school, he served as a mechanic in the military and has taught automotive technology in public schools. He also builds custom cars.
Along with teaching and modeling bike-building skills, Erazo fills another important role for many club members.
“Erik is a father figure to these kids,” Olathe Public Schools Communications and Media Manager Cody Kennedy said.
It’s a role Erazo embraces.
“Many of these students are not connected and want to belong to something,” he said. “A lot of times, these clubs end up being a family and I work hard to be a good example for them. In my 15 years as an educator, I’ve learned that many students don’t want to talk about their feelings, but you get them to write a rap song or work on a bike, and they’re like an open book.”
Erazo grew up in California building lowrider bikes and immersed in the lowrider culture.
“For many, ‘lowrider’ has a bad connotation,” he said. “Where I grew up, lowriders symbolized gang prevention, not gang involvement. This club is a way to change that stereotype. Lowrider is about expressing yourself through something metal.”
While expressing themselves through their custom projects, this growing club also has several other irons in the fire.
Currently, club members are working on a commissioned bicycle for the Olathe Police Department. Named the “OPD Lowrider,” the police department’s custom bike will be unveiled at the Garmin Marathon in April.
Through a Fund-a-Need platform, the club is also working with the Olathe Chamber of Commerce and the Olathe Public Schools Foundation to raise $25,000 for a mobile trailer. The stuff of lowrider dreams, the trailer would serve as a workshop and bike storage unit.
“The trailer will provide opportunities to repair more bikes and to give back to the community,” Erazo said.
The trailer will also fuel the club’s dreams for the future.
“Once we have our mobile shop, we hope to work with students as early as elementary age,” Erazo said. “I want students to know they are part of something right off the bat and that we will always be here. We’ll get as many bikes as possible to repair and build. Together, we’ll build bikes and family.”
To donate bicycles to the Olathe North Hispanic Leadership Lowrider Bike Club — whose members also are active with bike rodeos, festivals, and other events — email Erik Erazo and visit https://www.olathepublicschoolsfoundation.org/fund-a-need/hispanic-leadership-lowrider-bike-club to donate to the mobile trailer project.