Give Raymond Wiggins a bicycle any bike will do: cruiser, mountain bike, BMX, even a 10-speed and watch him transform it to something extraordinary, something more valuable than merely a mode of transportation.
Spray paint and tinfoil is all he needs. Maybe some duct tape, too, for the oversize wheels. You want it tricked out with a temple-pounding boombox? Ray can do that and even lay down some hip-hop tracks for you. This is his medium, his means of expression, his consuming passion.
For when Wiggins starts to work on a scraper bike or cruises down the street on one of his creations, he, too, is transformed.
"It feels good, real good," he said. "It's like ain't nobody going to stop you. You cruise down the street in the bike lane, turn the music up, look around. You got little kids saying 'Hi.' They see the bike and like the way it looks. It just makes you feel like a star. They'll yell 'Scraper bike!' "
Wiggins, as if emerging from a chrysalis, sloughs off the burdens and memories of the past while working on scraper bikes. He's not just another at-risk 15-year-old who endured a childhood bouncing around the foster care system; whose problems in school led him to Gerber Senior High, a continuation school in Elk Grove; whose life has often lacked structure and focus.
He becomes Ray Mac, the scraper bike artisan of Elk Grove and south Sacramento and budding rap recording artist, a disciple of Tyrone "Baybe Champ" Stevenson Jr., the undisputed king of scraper bikes in Oakland, birthplace of the movement.
He becomes enthused and infused with plans for the future, both realistic and boldly aspirational.
He becomes the fine young man his grandmother, Sharon Brandon, with whom Wiggins now lives, always knew he was.
"Raymond's not your traditional 15-year-old," Brandon said. "(Childhood) affected him a lot, being taken from his mom at age 6. That was an adjustment. It's still hard for him. But he's hanging in there. Like I told him, he's created for greatness."
Brandon stood, arms folded, in the driveway of her home in suburban Elk Grove as her grandson cruised the neighborhood on his shiny blue-framed, white duct-tape-wheeled creation. She shook her ahead in wonder.
Scraper bikes? Who would've figured? She's certainly not that old and not out of touch, but Brandon admits with a chuckle not having heard of this pop culture phenomenon until Wiggins first got involved nearly four years ago.
"I keep asking him, what is this about?" she said. "Where are you going with it? He tells me it's about being creative."
Actually, it's all about doing the most with what you have. And, in inner cities, where teens aren't yet old enough to drive or can't afford a car, outfitting your bike with bling can be the height of self-expression and imitation of adult role models.
Its history dates to 2006, when then-teenager Baybe Champ saw all the tricked-out luxury hip-hop-inspired cars cruising the Oakland streets and thought that two-wheeled transport could sport the same look. Scraper cars, mostly big Oldsmobiles and Buicks, feature bright colors, flashy accessories and chrome rims so huge they often scraped the inside of the car's wheel wells. Hence the name.
Baybe Champ transferred that aesthetic to bikes with smaller frames and bigger wheels. He started to paint the frames in candy-color hues, use silver and golden tinfoil on the spokes to mimic the "spinner" hubcaps on the cars and, just to show they're still kids, affixed candy wrappers such as Snickers or Skittles to the sides.
Now, in a twist, scraper bikes have almost eclipsed its automotive originator in popularity. The Oakland hip-hop group Trunk Boiz recorded a scraper bike anthem, and its video has more than 3 million views on YouTube. Baybe Champ opened a scraper bike shop out of his Oakland garage, led Critical Mass-style rides through town and watched his crew swell in numbers.
He's since started a scraper bike nonprofit that features a team of young teens who must maintain a 2.0 grade-point average to participate. The group has about 40 members. And, last summer, scraper bikes received their first taste of mainstream recognition when a collection of Baybe Champ's bikes was put on exhibit at the Addison Street Windows Gallery in Berkeley, along with artist Karna Kurata's photo project "Scraper Bikes: Images of East Oakland Youth Culture."
In Sacramento and environs, scraper bikes have yet to saturate the culture. But Wiggins said they're growing in popularity here. And his crew will ride the streets of Elk Grove and occasionally cruise over to Cosumnes River College to represent.
"Only if, like, a special event is happened out there," he said. "Everybody brings their scraper bike and we'll be deep, you know, just riding around. There's about 20, 25 of us. But that ain't deep compared to Champ. He'd be having 50 to 100 in Oakland."
Wiggins estimates he's made about 35 scraper bikes, for friends and himself. He charges $20 to trick out a bike, which barely covers the paint and materials. But he's not in it for the money at least, not yet.
He said he still gets the same charge out of creating a scraper bike as he did when he first heard about them four years ago.
"I had a friend named Alfred, and I had bought a new bike and he came over and said, 'Yeah, man, you don't want your bike to be normal. You don't want it just regular with paint and regular stickers,' " he recalled. "He told me about scraper bikes. I'm like, is that where they mess with the tires and stuff? So (Alfred) flipped the bike over and said, 'You got some foil?' He taught me how to do it."
What interests Wiggins more now is putting the scraper-bike aesthetic to music. The Bay Area rap group Trunk Boiz got there first, of course, but Wiggins is working on a CD entirely of scraper bike songs. Last summer, he recorded the first song "Ride Wit Me" and went to Oakland to shoot a video for it. He ended up getting Baybe Champ to star in the video.
"I was thinking, 'I can't do a video about scraper bikes without Baybe Champ, he's the scraper bike king,' " Wiggins recalled. "So I took my scraper bike people and went to Oakland. Ever since then, me and Champ be cool.
"I just do this all for fun. Hopefully, it goes somewhere. I would like a recording contract or something. But really I just want to do something positive. I want to be doing positive things instead of getting in trouble and going to jail."
Ray's father, Anthony Wiggins, who lives in Tracy, is in the music business as a producer (for E-40, Too Short) and an artist who goes by the alias "Frenchbraids." He produced and helped with the arrangement of "Ride Wit Me," as well as enlisting a Bay Area R&B singer to add vocal stylings.
"(Ray) was raised around the music business, and I remember him coming with me to the studio," Anthony Wiggins said. "As he's getting older, he's starting to pay attention about what's going on. I think he's got some talent."
The elder Wiggins is a big fan of the scraper bike movement, saying, "Champ is giving kids something to do to get off the street." As for his own son, whom he visits frequently, he added, "He's definitely turned the corner and is heading the right direction."
It hasn't been easy for Ray. Stoic by nature, he recounts his childhood in a matter-of-fact manner.
"I've lived in Oakland, Antioch, West Oakland before coming here," he said. "My mom was in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend. He beat her up and shot her. CPS took us (he and his older brother, Anthony, now living in Vallejo) and we were foster home after foster home after foster home. For a while, I lived with my dad and then moved in with my auntie."
Ray said CPS eventually took him from his aunt, before his grandmother stepped in. "My Granny, she risked a lot to take me in," he said.
Brandon said Ray had problems adjusting to the Elk Grove school system, which is why he now attends Gerber. He said he wants to go to college and start a business afterward, but admits he still needs to muster interest in school.
That's evident when you ask him how he came to write and compose "Ride Wit Me."
"I actually wrote the song in eighth grade, in my history class," he said. "I really don't like history. I was sitting in the back of the class, and I figured I'm going to write my own story. It just came to me: 'Ride wit me, and I'm gonna ride with you. Scraper bike riding, me and my crew.' I got the hook from a T-Pain song."
Brandon, at first taken aback by her grandson's interest in scraper bikes, has seen how it's positively affected his life. While she wants him to excel at school, she is encouraging his nascent creativity.
"This is it for him," she said. "This has boosted his confidence. He wants to entertain. He's a whole different Raymond."