Bikes in the nude!
My third, and main, new experience of Saturday (following taking my bike on a train, and cycling in London), was my first ever World Naked Bike Ride. For those unfamiliar, the World Naked Bike Ride is a series of protests that take place, as the name implies, all over the world, on bikes, and in the nude. They are protesting against our oil dependent culture and economy, and highlight the vulnerability of us cyclists by us being naked, and thus more obviously susceptible to damage (obviously if a car hits a cyclist naked or not they’re pretty screwed, which is kind of the point). It also acts as as a bit of a rallying event for my fellow nudists, embracing the opportunity to be able to be naked without too much of a fuss being made, and in the process highlighting how stupid it is that such a fuss is normally made when people get naked anywhere remotely public.
As an environmentalist, nudist, and cyclist, I’ve been keen to take part for some years. Unfortunately deadlines, work, or lack of funds, have inhibited that desire previously. Not this year though.
Where to start. Well, first, what a relief it got warm just as the ride was about to start! I was shivering away most of the morning. While I love being naked, I also hate being cold. So that was good!
I found the whole event kind of hilarious. There is everything absurd and surreal about several hundred (800 or so we’re told) naked people cycling through London, as we go past all the tourist hot spots, get driven past by open top buses, and cheered as we go through busy places.
It’s great that we were met with all round positive reactions. I saw the odd person looking away in embarrassment, but most people were very cheerful at our sight. When the first few people started stripping off at the starting point it was great to see that very few people even really cared that naked people were starting to appear in the middle of a city. Why on Earth cant we be so relaxed about nudity all the time, society??
There were some down sides. The ride stopped very frequently, and had long pauses between cycling sections. This did become a bit tedious, and after about half way I saw several people give up and leave. I’m told this is a new development in the ride's routine, and hopefully not one to be repeated (especially the windiest long pause in the shade, which was rather chilly).
I also felt the protest was kind of lost in the festival atmosphere of the event. Only a handful of people had signs or were body painted to say what the whole thing was about. So I imagine to masses it just seemed like an exercise in the surreal. In fact that's definitely the impression I got listening to people talking about it on the train home. That’s a shame, as the protest is about really import issues, and gets enough attention it should help push them into the public agenda. I was guilty of not plastering myself in signs, so I know to put more effort in next time.
I also feel the multitude of different things the ride represents (as noted above) doesn’t help drive home a clear message of what it’s all about. It’s a bit like the occupy protests; the problems are so vast and multifaceted it’s very hard to present a concise and simple explanation of what we’re there for.
The other really grating thing is the bloody photographers. Now obviously we’re there to be seen; or we’d be a pretty ineffectual protest. And I have no problem with tourists taking some snaps, and others taking in the event - I took my own camera after all. The problem is the crowd of (and I’ll hope you’ll excuse me for stereotyping) mostly middle age, fat, men, waddling right up to people and taking close-up portraits, or sometimes quite obviously what is not a portrait at all… They might as well have all been wearing T-shirts declaring “I’m a pervert”. I’m a photographer, I appreciate the desire to get a good picture. But I also appreciate boundaries. If you’re going to ram your lens into someone’s personal space you could at least have the decency to ask to take their photo? Or if you really want to dabble in nudes, go find a model (it’s really not that hard, trust me). At the starting point especially you could barely move for this particular category of camera users.
There is a flip side to all the cameras though. As the user of my own camera I didn’t take a single picture of me there, but thanks to a bit light browsing on Flickr I can quickly amass a little collection recording my day’s adventure.
I mentioned a festival atmosphere earlier, and that seems to be the core of the experience as a cyclist in the protest. Much like my first experience at a nudist swim a couple of weeks ago, there seems to be something about being naked that makes people much more open and friendly. And that’s really nice. It’s a shame that the environmental message seems to have been sidelined by the sensationalism of the nudity, but it’s also great that, actually, the nudity isn’t that sensational - Most people it seems are, when it happens around them, very relaxed about other people’s nudity.