Pimp my... pushbike!

Time Out wheels its bicycle into the Bling Ya Bike project at Brixton St Vincent’s Community Centre

  • Pimp my... pushbike!

    Johnson with his charges

  • The bike I’ve borrowed from the Metropolitan Police for Lamonté Johnson’s Bling Ya Bike project at Brixton St Vincent’s Community Centre is rusty, with peeling paint and a saddle that’s been leaking fluff. Four hours later, it’s a bike fit for a king. Fit for Time Out, in fact, resplendent in black, red and white – a London icon.

    It was a team effort. I chose the design while two kids dismantled and scrubbed down the bike in preparation for the spray painting. And then, once the bones had dried, we watched in awe as Johnson, the master of bike bling, drew my design of the London skyline on to the frame freehand.

    Johnson, 47, was born in Chicago and trained as a graphic designer. He got into bicycle art after a girlfriend in St Paul, Minnesota, asked him to design some wheels to match a pair of shoes he’d made for her. ‘Then all the kids in the neighbourhood wanted one,’ he says. He moved to Brixton in 2004, and was offered funding by Mayor of Lambeth Irene Kimm. The Met also provides money, as well as donating unclaimed stolen bikes, such as the one Time Out has decorated.

    The project has many positive aspects. If young people spray their bikes with their own design they are more distinctive and therefore easier to identify if stolen. A unique design on a bike deters thieves from swiping certain brands, as well as encouraging kids to be proud of their possessions rather than just loving a logo. Transport for London currently runs an initiative aimed at reducing the environmental impact of the school run.

    ‘We want to cut down the amount of cars crossing London, but it obviously ties in with fitness,’ says Lorraine Hinds of Camden Council.

    Hampstead School is the flagship for this travel plan. This mixed state school in West Hampstead was the venue for a one-day Bling Ya Bike project, condensing the usual five-to-12-week course into a single session. ‘It’s gonna be bright blue with white-and-gold handle bars and Chinese writing,’ said one excited 14-year-old, Mohamed Hussien, as he waited in the queue with his scrubbed and sanded bike.

    Bling Ya Bike will be decorating bikes throughout 2009 at the temple by the walled garden in Brockwell Park, a former storage area which Lambeth Borough Council has renovated and loaned out . You can register your interest via Johnson’s www.artworksdirect.org website. There will also be lessons every Saturday at St Vincent’s Community Centre. And Johnson has now found another way to help London’s kids. In the new year, Bling Ya Bike will begin working with young offenders.

    Johnson, who is also creating an NVQ in bicycle maintenance and graphic design, explains: ‘I use the bikes as a medium. We deal with a lot of issues like gangs and trying to use skills in a more positive way. The bikes can be the first chance to pull the kids back.’

    For more information about Bling Ya Bike and St Vincent’s Community Centre, including prices, see www.bsvcc.org and www.artworksdirect.org.

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