Every June, thousands of cyclists around the world gather in joyous revelry for an evening ride in the nude. There are many differing accounts of how the ride started and why we ride, but the common theme of World Naked Bike Ride is promotion of cycling and protest against fossil fuel. Portlanders, not wanting to be outdone, often have one of the largest crowds of all. The numbers aren’t in for 2017 yet, but as a veteran rider in the Portland WNBR (I’ve been 7 times starting in 2009) I can attest that this year was no exception.
There are all kinds of great reasons to do the ride. But I would guess that the origin of the ride’s success can be attributed fact that this protest is, well, really really fun.
Every ride is a little bit different and a little bit the same. New parks and starting/ending points each year keep it fresh. And the routes, kept secret until the day of the ride, give riders something to look forward to. With thousands participating, designing a great route can make or break it.
This year’s was a great one, with few bottlenecks forcing riders off their bikes. But the crown jewel of the ride had to be the prize at the ending point, the waterfront fountain, Salmon Street Springs. We all know how fickle Portland weather can be in June, but this year was balmy well into the night. Between the warmth and the adrenaline, a beautiful, wild, naked dance party in ensued in the fountain. There were rivers of glitter released from fountain streakers, booty shaking with portable sound systems, and ecstatic reunions complete with topless hugs. It was, in a word, magical. The freedom I feel moving through the sweet summer night, en plein air, and the surprise of the unknown are why I mark my calendar for the ride every year.
Though the organizers recommend shoes and helmets, the dress code is officially, “As bare as you dare,” which yields all kinds of amazing, hilarious, and sexy interpretations with body paint and carefully placed objects. Between the costuming, bike art, both funny and earnest messages of protest and solidarity, the event feels like something in between the Climate March and Burning Man. Huge crowds of onlookers flock to the sidewalks along the routes, and in the starting point at the park (more on that part later), most cheering, and some looking dour and clothed. Nudity gets people to pay attention. That’s why it’s such a great tactic. This brings me to the a few of the ride’s other purposes.
Safety The spectacle of nudity reminds everyone how vulnerable cyclists are on the road.
Community-building Portland’s annual Pedalpaloza, which includes the WNBR, is among the best evidence I can think of to show that bicycles create public space, enhance city life and build community.
Cycling promotes physical and mental health, and the ride creates an atmosphere of celebration for all bodies of all genders and expressions. Sex positivity and queer positivity abound. It’s truly a beautiful sight to behold.
Fun! Body paint, art bikes and horses (?) oh my! People love an excuse to bring out their inner (or outer) artist. In addition, organizers imagine motorists seeing that cycling is not only a healthy way to get around but it’s loads of fun. The art of WNBR, with it’s mini Burning Man vibe, is as eclectic as you could imagine. Personally, despite being an artist, I’m a bit of a body purist, preferring to skip the paint and pedal with only shoes and tattoos. To each their own.
Have you been to the ride? Tell us what you did or didn’t wear in the comments!
And now word on consent…
Using our bodies in public protest, especially nude, can feel really vulnerable, exciting, freeing, or sexy, depending on our experiences. However, organizers of the Portland ride caution, “If you think you’re going to an orgy, then you’re going to be very very disappointed.” Their mantra is “Safe, Comfortable, and Fun,” and they state that “anyone at the starting/ending location who makes other participants feel unsafe or uncomfortable will be asked to leave.” Organizers also discourage taking photos, though, in my experience, photo etiquette at the ride is understood to be consent-based, and for riders only. It’s pretty simple. Just ask first.
That said, at every WNBR I’ve experienced far too many people taking photos without consent, nearly all of whom are clothed and sans bike. We all tend to watch out for each other, jeering at the creepers, “take your clothes off first!” It’s both something to watch out for and in a weird way demonstrates the core community of riders’ commitment to a safe and healthy environment. Bodies are political. Sexuality is political. Bikes are political. I love that I live in city where this event is not only possible but revered and supported, thanks to everyone in Portland and around the world who puts their body on the line.
Written and Photographed by Erica Meryl Thomas