Mexican American cycling ‘lowriders’ celebrate festive Memorial Day weekend on two (and sometimes three) wheels
When Tomas Flores takes time off from his busy job as a pizza maker at Collegeville Italian Bakery, he pursues his other passion: lowrider bikes.
He founded Champions Lowriders, a year-long lowrider cycling club that held its first post-pandemic event at FDR Park on Sunday, surrounded by La Liga Pattison, soccer players from many countries, food vendors and t shirts, family barbecues and lots and lots of parked cars.
“We are trying to change the perspective of what lowriders are. It’s not about gangs and drugs. It’s about getting together as a family,” said Flores, 35, a Norristown resident and longtime lowrider bike enthusiast. His first bike from scratch that he built himself, a green Schwinn-style banana seat that he later sold for $300.
A form of design that spread from Mexico to California, the lowrider style began with Mexican American automobile owners in the 1940s. motorcycles, said Flores.
“Some Mexicans who came to America couldn’t afford to buy cars, so they built bikes,” he said, adding that there are lowrider clubs “all over the world, even as far as Russia”.
Champions Lowriders meet about once a month and have about 30 members. Club owners will participate in the Collegeville Memorial Day Parade on Monday.
Lowrider fans combine a love for bikes, family, Hispanic culture and a bit of engineering. Most bikes are handcrafted and include a shoutout to the manufacturer’s country of origin.
“It’s really about bringing all of our families together,” said Flores’ son Andy, 16, who set up shop under I-95, holding a raffle table and selling chewing gum and candy. .
While planning the event, Flores didn’t have a chance to reach anyone at the city’s parks and recreation department to get a permit. In typical Philadelphia fashion, it relied on a personal network.
Flores called Edgar Ramirez, the famed Spanish-language radio host from Philatinos Radio, who put him in touch with Alvaro Drake-Cortes, the new community link for immigrant groups in Philadelphia with the Welcoming Center. They worked together to obtain the necessary permits for an event at FDR Park.
“I really want to work with Latino and immigrant populations in Philadelphia,” Drake-Cortes said, and he helps Latinos build relationships with the city’s licensing departments, the Small Business Resource Center of Widener University and the Fairmount Park Conservancy, which oversees the 348-hectare FDR Park.
He also advocates for the Conservancy’s five-year overhaul master plan to include underrepresented populations in the city.
“New recreation grounds, for example, may all have to be leased and paid for under the new plan. But the board wants there to be inclusion in this overhaul,” he said, which is estimated to cost $200 million.
The Welcome Center has also set up a new business incubator program for entrepreneurs such as FDR Park food vendors. It is open for admissions until September. For more information, contact Lina Duffy at the Visitor Center at 215-557-2626.
Drake-Cortes’ other goal is to promote interaction between new immigrant communities and the rest of Philadelphia.
“I want to help these immigrant groups integrate into this American life,” said the Colombian immigrant and 14-year U.S. Army veteran.
“I didn’t fit in like I should have when I came here at 9, because I only engaged with my own community.”
Food is a great way to promote this integration, he said. So he’s already got a Latin food vendor license in the city.
He also hosts events with groups like Champions Lowriders, the Wall Arts Program, Peco and others. “Anyone who is interested in doing an event for the community, I want to talk to them,” he said.
Flores, for his part, fell in love with his first lowrider bike when he came to America from Puebla, Mexico at age 15.
“I came to live in Norristown, and it was my dream to have a bike like that,” he recalls.
Later, Flores discovered that the owner of the bike was “a gangster, part of a drinking and smoking gang. But I had just left Mexico, where the gangs were fighting and killing each other. I didn’t want that for me.
Instead, Flores’ wife, Ana, and his three children all participate in the deceived bike club. He invited friends through Latinos Together on social media, including Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and Spanish-speaking singers to sing numbers from a stage fashioned out of the back of a pickup truck.
“It’s my culture,” Flores said. “And it’s spreading all over the world.”