It’s a bright summer day in central London and a swarm of tourists are snapping selfies overlooking the River Thames. Out of nowhere, hundreds of teenage boys on bikes flood onto London Bridge from the south.
Spreading out across all lanes, they block traffic and throw their front wheels defiantly up to the sky. A few riders break away from the group, jumping the barrier between lanes before wheelieing their way down the wrong side of the road, swerving at the last moment to avoid oncoming vehicles.
This is Bikestormz: a free ride-out drawing nearly 3,000 cyclists in their teens and early twenties from across the country. The crew’s energy is wild, captivating passers–by, but it’s just a brief glimpse of the Bikelife movement that’s blowing up from South London estates to the Welsh Valleys.
At the head of the cascade, it’s impossible to miss Kizzy, with his chestnut-tipped afro tied in knots that resemble giant bunny ears. He’s flanked by Jake and Kizzy’s cousin Mac, who co-founded Bikestormz in 2014.
“It’s an amazing feeling being surrounded by hundreds of people who share the same passion as you,” says Jake, reflecting on what they’ve pulled off. “I never thought something like this could happen here. All you can see is a storm of positivity.”
London projects itself as a prosperous, progressive city but beneath that facade it’s riven with inequality and violence. Nearly 40 per cent of young people grow up in poverty here – the highest level in the country, a figure that doubles if you’re not white. Knife crime has climbed to a four-year high and youth services have been slashed by local authority cuts, leaving few opportunities for kids without wealthy parents.
In a capital that offers less and less to its young people, riders have had to come up with an outlet of their own. #Bikelife, the wider movement that Bikestormz belongs to, emerged from the grittier neighbourhoods of Baltimore and Philadelphia. Motorbike riders would post videos of themselves either holding their machines completely vertical – ‘12 O’Clock’, as it’s known – or being chased by police.
This article appears in Huck 60 – The Outsider Issue.