They have face tattoos, their heads are shaved, and they wear all-black clothing, but the Chilangos Lowbike Club, or “Los Chilangos,” are an amiable bunch who’ve bonded over their love of flashy custom lowrider bicycles.
The word “Chilango” refers to a resident of Mexico City. Most of the club members were raised in or near the city, in sections like Tepito, or are from places like Ecatepec de Morelos, a municipality north of the center of Mexico City. In these areas, gang violence and crime are part of everyday life. There are often high homicide rates, among other crimes that include gender-based violence and human trafficking.
Los Chilangos, which includes more than 100 members, began in 2014 as a way to promote positive lowrider biking culture as an alternative to falling into the world of drugs and gangs. Much time and effort goes into building and painting these custom bikes, with some of them costing thousands of dollars. The bikes are usually decorated with details reflective of their owners’ lives, including hobbies, family, and the Mexican flag or Aztec calendar.
“I learned a lot from Los Chilangos, about the lowrider culture but also about the life of each member,” said photographer Jeoffrey Guillemard, who has been following the group since 2017. “The strength of a community in a strong cultural dynamic gives meaning to our society.”
Los Chilangos want their lowrider culture to be accessible as they try to break neighborhood stereotypes. Through community outreach, the organization cooks for public events, gets involved with other bike groups across Mexico, and travels to events that promote positive bicycle riding. Los Chilangos includes all genders, and the children of many riders join them at club events.
Each Sunday, members of Los Chilangos get together and bike throughout Mexico City when some streets are closed to cars and open to pedestrians. “They take pictures with families and passersby,” Guillemard said. “This is a way for them to change the mentality that people may have about the cholo culture.”
Lowrider bike culture first became popular in the early 1960s in California, when bike enthusiasts wanted to emulate lowrider cars. Whether it be cars, bicycles, or motorcycles, lowrider culture has been synonymous with Latin American peoples. “The Chicanos created a style, a language, and a culture in accordance with their identity as a minority,” Guillemard said. “Looking to preserve a culture of their own in the US. Nowadays, many migrants have returned to Mexico and have brought this culture with them.”