A primer on the aesthetics, fabrication, and culture of lowrider bicyles in West Texas: Participant observation throught elens of a white, middle-class male, artist/educator
McQuilkin, Kyle S.
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In spite of a 40-year history and their expanding popularity, lowrider bicycles have largely remained invisible to academe, perhaps due in part to their marginalization as a Chicano/a paradigm, with a consequential subordination of the aesthetic. Although there is a wealth of literature related to greater lowrider car culture, chiefly in the works of Brenda Jo Bright, Ben Chappell, Denise Sandoval, Paige R. Penland, and Michael Cutler Stone, the absence of material specific to lowrider bikes necessitated close inspection as participant observer. Primarily limiting my sample to a 150-mile radius around Lubbock, Texas, I interviewed enthusiasts and examined their lowbikes to learn fabrication methods and the canon under which they function, as well as nuances of associated lowrider culture. As keys to my immersion, I fabricated my own bicycle, The Fourth Rider of the Apocalypse, consecutively joined Tru Riderz and Los Bajitos lowrider car clubs, and competed to the national level. Concurrently, I organized seven lowbike exhibitions at the galleries of Texas Tech University and the Buddy Holly Center, in Lubbock. These public shows inspired ancillary programs in the School of Art at Texas Tech, including outreach at two Lubbock middle schools. Filtered through my positional lens, as a White, middle-class male, artist/educator, this dissertation records my efforts to understand the reasons that lowbikes have previously been dismissed by academe, and the ethno-cultural impetus behind the aesthetic. Starting with discussions about the history, ontology, and fabrication of lowrider bicycles, I analyze my findings through the works of contemporary Chicano/a authors, including Shifra Goldman, Tomas Ybarra-Frausto,Amalia Mesa-Bains, and Marcos Sanchez-Tranquilino, in reference to Chicanismo, pachuquismo, rasquachismo, and issues related to gender and gallery exhibition. In Lubbock, the fabrication and exhibition of lowrider bikes function as a means toward self-presentation, increased social mobility, and family unity. In contrast to academic assertions consistently defining lowrider cars and bikes as a Chicano/a aesthetic, lowriders themselves typically self-define on the basis of club involvement and vehicle ownership, regardless of race or political affiliation. Ultimately, the aesthetic is driven most by the canon imposed by car show rules, governed by Lowrider Magazine.