*This article is part of a series highlighting the four panelists who are speaking at the 2023 Velo-city conference in Leipzig, Germany on Thursday, May 11th. The panel discussion is titled, “When a Fire Starts to Burn: Creating Community Mobility Rituals to Support Cycling Culture and Drive Policy Change”.
Growing up on a safe street where it’s okay to physically play in the street can have profoundly positive impacts on the social and physical well-being of the people who live there. Friendships with neighbors are cultivated when the street is a meeting place, rather than just a way for cars to get through the neighborhood. Freya Lomax of Bristol, UK is a 16-year-old who grew up on a street that doubled as a playground and meeting space. Having access to a safe communal space right outside of her front door contributed to her eventually becoming an inspiration to the nearly 22,000 people who now follow her on Instagram as a sponsored rider for Mafia Bikes (@freya.sl1)
When Freya was around 5 years old, she got her first bike for Christmas. She and her best friend would ride up and down their street all day every day. Having this safe place to play got her outside in the fresh air, getting exercise and meeting other kids on her block. She developed social skills and relationships that she still holds dear today as a young woman.
Around the time Freya turned 13, her confidence riding bikes led her to start trying stunts and tricks. Riding bikes with friends became a major social activity in her life. She never really got into riding just for the sake of riding, it’s always been a social group activity for her. Before long, she was riding wheelies, and doing complicated tricks that required an acrobat’s level of balance and coordination. And then, the pandemic hit and the weekly rides had to stop for a while. Like a lot of people all over the world, Freya was temporarily disconnected from her social life and the joy of riding a bike with her friends.
Thankfully, the stay-at-home orders in Bristol were eventually loosened and the weekly bike rides continued. Freya kept working on her tricks and wheelies, all of which was excellent content for an Instagram feed, so she started posting. In a very short period of time, she had thousands of followers and the attention of Mafiabike, her current sponsor. Freya discovered that she was part of a growing subculture within cycling that is youth led and turns urban city streets into playgrounds. It’s called #BikeLife and it’s awesome!
The #BikeLife movement (not to be confused with the motorcycle based #bikelife scene) is a cultural phenomenon with a massive social media presence. Teenagers around the world are getting together on BMX bikes and holding impromptu bike rides (a.k.a “ride outs”) that range from chill social rides in small English cities to hundreds of riders taking over Times Square in New York City.
Being able to ride a wheelie or do a variety of mind boggling flat land tricks all while weaving in and out of the pack gets street cred and followers on social media. In a sense, Freya and her mates were pioneers in the development of this subculture, so it’s only natural that she’d become one of the most recognized #BikeLife riders in the U.K.
For a deeper look at #BikeLife in London, check out this July 2021 article from G.Q. Magazine.
Freya’s followers no doubt found inspiration and joy in what she was doing. Simply put, it’s really fun to watch someone ride wheelies with the poise and confidence that she displays. As her followers kept growing, she wasn’t afraid to be honest about the learning process and share the falls and crashes along the way. She occasionally went a little too far outside of her skill-zone and ended up getting hurt. One time while riding a wheelie, her finger snagged the rear brake lever which led to her suddenly going over the handlebars. What’s worse is the bike went with her and she ended up on the ground in a tangled mess with her bike. Luckily, she fully recovered without any long-term effects.
Freya is now almost 17 years old and is really looking forward to getting her driver’s license. Taking the bus everywhere she needs to go is very time-consuming, so she’s saving up to get a car. The role of the bicycle in Freya’s life may ebb and flow over time, but having access to a safe place to ride as a young girl will have a lasting impact for years to come. It gave her the space to discover talents and confidence that she ended up sharing with thousands of other young people all over the world and became a positive role model for young women everywhere.