THE WORLD NAKED BIKE RIDE
Soup Bæs CX team member and general friend of the Soup Nick Skarajew dropped this one by our inbox one afternoon, with a little delay in posting due to aforementioned website update, here is a few words with a whole bunch of naked folk on bike. NSFW depending on your kind of workplace.
The World Naked Bike Ride started in 2006, with 14 riders. It's received lots of traction over the years due to the coverage of the media, to hundreds of participants. A small but enthusiastic group maintains and runs it. The 3 main issues that they want to highlight (which are also important to me) in no particular order:
1) Being seen on the road
2) Car and oil dependency
3) Body positivity
For me, I heard about it last year while racing the IPWR. I was considering doing a few kilometres without anything on, but I’m sure the passing traffic would prefer to keep their focus on the road.
I don’t mind being without clothes, where it be the beach or around the house, but I did find myself uneasy at the thought of being in such a busy place without anything on.
As expected, EVERYONE pulled out their phone to film and take photos. Unsure really for what medium, surely something to add to their Instagram story or snapchat. As much about it being a body positive event, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with having it all out there. And surely with body positivity, the idea would be to feel normalised without clothes on. Creating a situation where you’re drawing attention to yourself for baring all does create a bit of a paradigm on whether or not it helps.
The original idea leading up to it was to wear a mask. To remain anonymous by the very slight chance that someone may recognise me. Not only on Fitzroy St, St Kilda, but also through the many professional photographers (of which I had lost count) flanking the sides of the road as we slowly rode past. Two issues arose from my mask idea:
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1) Both my legs, and my whole chest are covered in tattoos
2) People may recognise the bike. Most got around on clunker mountain or city bikes. Some even used bike share bikes, which I couldn’t even start to imagine the hygiene issues. I was grossed out enough by riding my own near brand new track bike without pants.
3) I’d look like a white nationalist going to a rally, without clothes…and without a car.
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The flamingo was generously donated, its previous life existing at Burning Man. Which worked well as I felt there was some cross over to the Utopian Society of Burning Man and what I was about to undertake.
One older gentleman wore a Santini branded Australian green & gold jersey, modified to fit as a crop top. I did find it ironic that in the ‘religion’ that we follow, the green and gold is a sacred garment only to be worn by the leader of the land, the fastest in our nation. Not as a crop top buy an old guy on a mountain bike, distinct thong tan and all.
Says the man dressed as a flamingo.
I am always, always late to things. I had no excuse this time around. I lived practically across the road from the staging area. I didn’t want to be the first one there, looking awkwardly keen, but made a mental note not to be late.
It was nearly 2 hours before we had set off. It felt like the longest 2 hours of my life. I met up with some people who I half knew, but not met through a Facebook group. They were quite excited, and a few of them were marshalling for the event. Standing around in the sun had taken its toll, and I was beginning to get anxious about rolling out. Many of the participants (and the ring of spectators around the outside of the staging area) wanted photos of me in my costume, but many more wanted photos of/with the two girls from the group. Both were topless and in body paint, and also felt somewhat uneasy and self-conscious about the situation.
Dressed as a flamingo, I now felt what it could be like as a zoo animal with the hordes of tourists holding up their cameras to take photos. Other female participants were also asked for photos. I can understand how the organisers wanted to keep many of the photos female based, to communicate the message of it being a diverse event and to promote it to other women, but I felt it had the opposite effect on some of the participants, especially while they were part of the stark minority. I’m fairly sure a few had left before the ride had begun, sick of all the unwanted attention.
After a very long briefing, which mainly addressed that there was an unsavoury photographer who had attended previous events, and could be out today, we finally set off down Ferrars St. My brief but illustrious career as a flamingo in captive had ended, it was time for me to reprise a role in the next instalment of the Madagascar franchise.
Once we were underway, a lot of the anxiety lifted. Seeing the people at various cafés wave and smile did give me a rush of feeling good, which wasn’t the reaction I was expecting at all. To be fair I couldn’t see much with the giant flamingo bill in front of my face, and this could have been what gave me a certain sense of calm as we cruised down the road with hundreds of others. We would talk about how we felt, and comment on slogans people has painted on their backs. My slogan was “Bird of Prey” – which doesn’t really make much sense as Flamingos don’t really hunt anything, but I was pressed for time in finding an antonym and “Road Kill” seemed a little too morbid. After a few photo ops in front of Luna Park, and St Kilda beach, it was time to slowly cruise back to Albert Park for a debrief. In my typical fashion, I darted off a side street and headed home to do the rest of my Sunday errands. I had been semi-naked and socialised while semi-naked enough for one day.
LESSONS TO BE LEARNED
First of all I was astounded by how patient other road users were. I rarely ride in bunches anymore, and usually cop the abuse from impatient road users, but to have something like 100 people take up the whole right lane, and sometimes both lanes was something else. Probably because we were naked, just a guess – but there was no abuse, just smiles and cheering.
Perhaps that’s good advice against irate drivers – ride naked, or dress as a giant bird. If you still manage to get angry then we’ll talk paying rego. Does the fact of not wearing an undersized Orica kit not make us more relatable? A lone police car did happen to watch, smile and wave, as we all slowly clogged the road, and let us file through on intersections when the lights were read – the benefits were starting to show!
Secondly that the lines were blurred between a cause being behind and doing something for the sake of it. Throughout the whole afternoon I found myself thinking who genuinely cared about the message that the organisers wanted to communicate? I did chat to a few people about incidents with cars, and the few that I did speak to had a story to tell. That included me too – I’d been the victim of a hit and run in the past, I’d lived through diagnosed eating disorders, and lived without a car for a period of time. It does make me cast back to big organised rides to think about whether we actually get behind the cause, or are just in it to be a part of something.
WHAT COULD BE DONE DIFFERENTLY?
I think that a safer space for female participants would be ideal. All the images allude to these rides overseas that there is equal participation from both genders, but now seeing it on the onset that may not be the case at all.
Perhaps a faster transition to the physical ride would have appealed to me, instead of it having a vibe akin to a pop-up nudist hangout.
I think the emphasis and the excitement from people having thought out costumes would make a great difference. It shows effort to the cause instead of just showing up and getting your todger out. Would these events survive without the riff raft? It’s power in numbers, perhaps a few shells have to be cracked to get the eventual message out.
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I guess as a bucket list item it is good to cross off the list, using it as a way to explore all possible subgenera of cycling and seeing how it all works is also good. Apart from playing Bike Polo (which I like spectating) I can’t think of much left I haven’t done on a bike. That includes undertaking breathtaking missions like riding across mainland Australia to cycle speed-dating in Sydney. Would I go again? Probably not…but then again I said that when I rode to Adelaide.