The Man Who Says He Invented the Lowrider Bike - OZY | A Modern Media Company

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because lowrider bikes are cool as shit.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Manny Silva, 65
Compton, California

Am I the inventor of the lowrider bike? Of course I am! I was born on a bike. I wear my hat, my shiny shoes and my suspenders … since I was 10 years old. I used to fix bicycles when I was probably 8 or 9. I fixed them for all my neighbors. 

If you dream it, I can build it. That’s my motto. In Vegas every year, they have a super lowrider bike show where they only permit pro bikes. And when I say pro bikes, I mean $8,000 and up. I made this one here in this magazine. $15,000! These kind of bikes have TVs, music, lights. Many, many, many lights. It takes me about two months to make this. 

I’m from Chihuahua, Mexico. One day, when I was 11, I thought, “Hey, I’m a Mexican, but I’ve never seen Mexico. So I went by myself, 11 years old! Everything I know I learned on that trip. Let me tell you what I learned: How to appreciate friendship — pure friendship when nothing is involved, like money. Because we didn’t have money. I’m really proud I never steal nothing. I knocked on the doors, “Hey, my name is Manny, I’m coming from Chihuahua. I’ll trade work for food.” I meet millions of people, you know? Rich and poor. Bad and good. 

This shop was opened in 1935 and from then to today, three owners. It’s funny because the first one? White. Second one? Black. The third one? Mexican. I came to this shop and asked for a job when Mr. Spencer, the first owner, was here. He said I was too young. He was a real mean guy. He sold the shop to Mr. Stewart. I worked for Mr. Stewart part-time and he gave me a chance to buy the place. The original name was Spencer’s Bicycle Shop, then CNC Bike Shop, then in 1972 or ’73 I changed it to my name: Manny’s.

Manny Gonzales

Manny Silva at his custom bike shop in Compton, California.

Source Sean Culligan/OZY

We have customers from all over. If somebody wants to make a pro bike, it doesn’t matter where in the States, they have to come here. If you go to another shop, they say, “Oh, we do custom jobs!” But then they charge you and then send the jobs here! The other bicycle shops, they just sell what’s on the market, but we create. It’s $2,500 for a regular lowrider. We can make those in two weeks. But my real specialty is to make bikes for people in need. People with no hands? I make a bike! People with no legs? I make a bike! People blind? I make a bike! My last creations? Two bikes for 10-year-old kids, both blind. And an 11-year-old girl paralyzed from her waist down. The bike for her you can use in the swimming pool. People say I’m crazy, and I believe them. I say, “I am crazy!” 

I’ve been here for 47 years. Nobody can walk in the city of Compton around 2 or 3 in the morning. I do. I can walk everywhere. People stop and say, “Hey, Manny, where are you going? You need help?” Everybody stops. For 47 years we don’t have no problem with nobody. 

One little kid came in here and asked how he could be a part of the bike club. And I said OK, I want to make a deal with you. I want you to improve your grades, and if you show me good grades I’ll let you drive the best bike I have over here in the next parade. After a few months, his mother came here and said, “Hey! What did you tell my son?! He’s improving his grades.” 

An earlier version of this story included an unverified allegation of a criminal act. The allegation has been removed. 

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