More bounce per ounce

Lowriding has fans pumped up in the Old Pueblo.

Aaron Moore waves for the lowrider to come back and hop head to head against his mini-truck. The dropped cherry-red Cadillac makes a wide turn with one wheel lifted, its chassis tilted sideways and pitched forward. Aaron pumps the hydraulics of his mini, giving the driver a preview of what's in store. Twelve batteries power Aaron's hydraulic pumps, jerking its front end a good four feet into the air.

The cherry-red lowrider rolls away without bouncing once. The crowd laughs and cheers.

"See, he's a little hurt," says Moore.

"You hurt his feelings?" I ask.

"Yeah, but that's the whole idea," Moore says. The other low didn't want to compete "or else he would have come right up. It's kinda like drag racing."

The cherry-red ride circles in the background, flexing its hydraulic muscle at a safe distance.

"Now he's trying to grab some attention doing 3-wheels and stuff. It's all fun and games. It really is," says Moore.

"Do you know what kind of hydraulic system he has?"

"I speculate he only has a 2-pump set-up and I have a 4-pump set-up so he's a little intimidated. It's kinda like a V-6 going up against a V-8 ... they call it a double-pump because 2 pumps drive the front to jump off the ground."

Like cargo trucks that use hydraulic gates for rear loading and unloading, lowriders use battery-powered hydraulic motors, which pump oil into a hydraulic line to supply pressure into the car's shock system. But instead of providing a standard 12 volts, the hydraulic motor is zapped with 72 or even 90 volts so that it will then pump up to 10,000 pounds of pressure in an instant shot, which makes the car hop. "Since we only use that motor intermittently you can get away with it," explains Moore, who describes his hydraulic system as a "gate lift on steroids."

Moore estimates that he has put $8,000 into his hydraulic system, which he flexes at Reid Park's 22nd Street and Country Club Road parking lot, the epicenter of Tucson's lowriding activity.

"The biggest competitions really are at the park on Sundays," says Moore. "When somebody is done building whatever they're building, you come out here and see who has what."

At Reid Park, hydraulic competitions usually dismiss the formality of a meter stick for direct head to head combat. "The first [car] to break or the one that out jumps the other [car] without breaking is the winner and the crowd decides."

But Moore doesn't come to the park as much as he used to because of the expense and time that lowriding requires. "It takes up so much of my time. There definitely needs to be some time set aside for your family."

That sense of family is precisely why many join lowriding clubs. "You join a club not so much to join a real hot club, one with the most rides or the best rides. I joined because of the family--the people who were behind it and my dedication is to them, not so much the car," said Moore.

Alfred "Big Al" Teran and his wife Sandra, of Dukes car club, concur. They've been lowriding together since they were 16--30 years ago--and have been involved in Dukes since the Tucson chapter was opened in 1982. The Dukes' mother chapter, one of if not the oldest in the country, was founded in East Los Angeles in 1962.

To Sandra, lowriding is part of a cultural heritage passed on from generation to generation. "My dad was a Zooter [Zoot Suiter] in the '40s in East L.A. ... when the [Zoot Suiters] were fighting against the sailors [in the Zoot Suit Riots]. And from him it came to us."

"The whole family's involved [in lowriding]," says Big Al. "I got my kids involved, my oldest to my youngest. My youngest has a bike and my four other kids, I gave them all each a 'bomb' [referring to the early Chevys made in the '30s and '40s]."

Lowrider bicycles "is how kids start out," said Manny Inclan, treasurer and vice president of Bajito car club. "They get into lowrider bikes. It's more affordable ... with the stuff that you learn, the responsibility working towards getting your bike done, you put that towards doing your car."

But bikes, though relatively less expensive than cars, aren't cheap. "The first lowrider bike I built--I put in easy at least $800 into it with paint, chrome, gold and custom parts," says Inclan, who ordered parts out of Lowrider Magazine, picked up parts from Ajo Bikes and traded with friends in order to get the bike finished.

Now that Inclan has a car he deals with new issues besides the added expense. "You get the occasional cops following you and keeping an eye on you because they're suspicious of the lowriders. ... The stereotype has already been put out there that lowriders go hand in hand with gangs ... [some people] just haven't had a chance to see what we can do as far as [community service] and the time and effort we put into our vehicles. ... I think it's just that people [who stereotype lowriders] just don't know."

To combat this, some clubs are active in the community and others are increasing their activities.

Detective Alex Echeribel of the Tucson Police Department drives a 1940s Studebaker and his wife has a '39 Chevy. Alex is a longtime member of Dukes.

"When I joined I made a big effort to let the officers know that the car clubs out there aren't bad. ... All the lowriders are doing is just cruising. They're not the ones that are causing problems. It's the gangbangers out there causing problems."

As a one-time school resource officer, Echeribel utilized Dukes car club in helping out whenever he talked to kids about gangs and drugs. He explains that as a result of Dukes' community services, "We don't have to prove ourselves" to the TPD.

Other clubs are also forming a coalition "to get the car clubs together to work in unity and be introduced to the Tucson Police Department to where the department cannot stereotype all lowriders as gangbangers," Echeribel says.

June 9 will mark Dukes annual "Peace in the Streets" carne asada get-together, starting at 2 p.m. Many of Tucson's car clubs will exhibit their rides during this noncompetitive event. Bajitos sponsors a lowrider car and bike show from noon to 5 p.m. June 2 that includes a hydraulic competition. Both events are free and open to the public at Reid Park's southwest parking lot on 22nd and Country Club.

"About every other month somebody will come up with a show," says Big Al. "The little shows are more fun."

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