More than 1000 young lads on bikes took over some major London streets briefly on Saturday, with many of them pulling wheelies and riding manuals as they did so. A few rode on pavements, ran red lights and rode on the wrong side of the road, causing motorists to stop and stare. The bikes used were a mix of trials machines, hardtail MTBs, BMXs and even some "Boris bikes".
The event was organised by Bikelife TV, a website and youth movement that says it "captures People Riding & Wheeling through the streets of London." Bikestormz4 attracted many hundreds more young riders than its previous events.
The Bikestormz rides started small last year, and are likely to grow in size, especially now they are attracting publicity. The Evening Standard's headline yesterday was "Central London brought to standstill by horde of 'aggressive' cyclists".
(When, in March, London's taxi drivers similarly blocked central London streets, in a protest against Uber, the Evening Standard's headline was "Taxi protest: Black cab drivers descend on Whitehall in demonstration against private hire vehicles". Spot the difference.)
Bikelife TV sells Bikestormz merchandise – including hoodies and masks – on its online store, and it also gives away branded t-shirts (and GoPro cameras) to kids who can pull the longest wheelies. Bikelife TV organisers use branded megaphones in an attempt to control riders.
In a video promoting the latest event organisers said “streets are gonna be shut down!” and “today we’re running the roads”. This was met with replies of "wicked" and "respect."
Bikelife's videos have gangsta-rap backing tracks, and many of the organisers are black, as are many of the riders (which clearly rankles with some online commenters). Many of the kids – some appeared as young as 12 – on Saturday's ride were "semi-naked", reported the media, meaning they weren't wearing t-shirts. There were unconfirmed reports of petty theft from shops, and abuse directed at pedestrians. Police made no arrests on the day. Bikestormz events are now shadowed by police on bikes and by a following van or two.
Comments on the Evening Standard have said the children riding their bikes in central London were "animals" and should be attacked by police with water cannon. Others have said because of the sins of a minority all UK cyclists should be licensed and forced to carry number plates.
'Marmite' said: "[The riders] were scraping the sides of cars so causing criminal damage. People could do nothing with so many of these animals all over the roads and pavements. I have no doubt they would have attacked people who challenged them."
Other commenters were more sympathetic: "These kids are accused of causing 'havoc' and bringing traffic to a 'standstill', but the video just shows them having fun and causing minimal disruption," said 'Rangjan', adding: "It seems that some people here have forgotten what it's like to be young."
Chillingly, 'jlauderdal' wrote: "donald trump will not allow this behavior, even in london."
Transport for London's traffic news twitter account called the ride a "demo".
Road safety campaigner Eva Charrington estimated the number of riders on Saturday's event to be closer to 2000 and, on her blog, called them "anti-social cyclists" who "terrorised the roads and pavements."
Bikelife TV is loosely modelled on Bikelife of the US, an urban youth movement that fetishes wheeled transport. There's also a Bikelife movement in the UK focussed on motorbikes and souped-up mopeds. On a Bikelife TV "road trip" to Birmingham the organisers met with youths on motorbikes and quadbikes. Think Mad Max but with Brum accents.
BikeBiz has reached out to the organisers of Bikestormz and will be carrying an interview soon. None of the riders on Saturday's ride appeared to be chasing Pokemon Go characters.