My naked body raced though the illuminated streets of Columbus, a tall, plush pompadour wig sitting firmly atop my head, my bare skin glistening in the moonlight. Behind me, an armada of 750-some fellow nude bikers were chanting and roaring, producing a din so profound that I couldn’t help but feel like I was a part of something big. Children gawked, moms blushed, students cheered, and I sang in a celebratory coo at the practicality of the bicycle and the beauty of the bare bottom.
On June 13, Columbus will again partake in the World Naked Bike Ride, its seventh year. This nonviolent act of civil disobedience takes place on four continents, in 20 countries, and across 70 cities, which is a considerable amount of butt cheeks on bicycles.
Okay, so I maybe I didn’t have the “balls” to ride completely nude, but instead sported a pair of golden boxer briefs and a dash of sparkly body paint on my nipples. (Okay, and someone painted a giant, veiny, glow-in-the-dark phallus on my chest.)
“Bare as much as you dare,” is the ride’s motto, so 75 percent of the participants were like me; outfitted in body paint, skivvies, and ridiculous wigs in the irrational fear their grandparents might recognize them. However, a good quarter of the group (mind you, that’s roughly 200 pairs of naughty bits) went full nude, creating a powerful yet strange feeling of fulfillment. Breaking the law feels good, even if I’m not the one doing it.
Okay, so I maybe I didnt have the balls to ride completely nude, but instead sported a pair of golden boxer briefs and a dash of sparkly body paint on my nipples.
I heard about the World Naked Bike Ride from a friend a couple years ago and remember bluntly disregarding it as a couple of bike geeks yearning for attention.
Upon further inquiry, I discovered that the WNBR actually has a rich and unique history originating, not surprisingly, in Europe as a collaboration of different protest groups under the outfit Manifestación Ciclonudist.
The messages are simple though sometimes vary across cultures: decrease dependency on oil, support cyclists’ rights, clean up the environment, and celebrate the human body.
A common complaint against the bike ride is that it congests traffic and takes up the road. The group quickly retorts, “We are the road!” Yes, this may be a bit abstruse, but the message is firm. Also, the ride is often construed as a form of sexual deviancy and debauchery. However, I feel that it is a refreshing reminder of the fundamental freedoms that make being human awesome. And the feeling of nips in the wind—don’t get me started.
Even though indecent exposure is illegal, arrests are extremely rare, which is the beauty of the protest. Get enough eager and pissed-off people together and even the police are unable (or at least unwilling) to do anything. (I did see one officer smiling and filming us on his smart phone.) That is to say, it’s probably best not to let your child out at night during the ride lest they receive a free anatomy lesson.
Historically, nonviolent protests are a fundamental variable of change. I feel that the message wasn’t relevant to everyone in the ride—some people just wanted to get naked, and that is okay. Also, the hordes of people honking, waving, and whistling probably weren’t completely aware of our environmentally conscious intentions. Hopefully they looked up the website.
“We face automobile traffic with our naked bodies as the best way of defending our dignity and exposing the vulnerability faced by cyclists and pedestrians on our streets, as well as the negative consequences we all face due to dependence on oil and other forms of non-renewable energy,” said Ryan Place, a coordinator of the naked ride.
Place is celebrated among the Columbus bike groups for jumping in front of a gun when an officer threatened to arrest one of the riders during an early ride. He experienced the first WNBR in Portland and felt it was essential to bring it to Columbus.
“The WNBR is a political theater that demonstrates the power of people,” he said. “The message should highlight the vulnerability of bike riders, the economical use of bicycles, and the pride of the body,” he continued. “In Guatemala, being naked in public is not just a slap on the wrist. Globally, the importance of this ride is monumental.”
I asked Place if the rave party at the end of the ride might distract from the message. He responded as you would probably imagine: with the grace and sophistication of a gregarious community organizer. “Part of the message is the party,” he said. “Should we be ashamed of a good time and celebrating what we accomplished? We have ignored the transformative value of the temporary anonymous zones! This is an exercise in creating an ideal community, so why shouldn’t we ‘live it up’ with our new brethren?”
So, if you see a swarming parade of two-wheeled nudity this month, give them a smile and a wave. Or better yet, take it off, hop on your Huffy, and join them.
After all, it’s for the environment.