World Naked Bike Ride: raw for cause, in New York City


Barry and I were at Grand Ferry Park Saturday afternoon, but, bicycle-less and resolved to remain fully-clothed, we were were able to offer nothing more than admiration and documentation for New York's contribution to the World Naked Bike Ride. We watched an upbeat crowd of enthusiasts assemble and ride off in a deliciously and infectiously brash rally which took them over the Williamsburg Bridge and into Manhattan as far north as the UN before returning across the river later to party.

Enthusiasts in cities all over the planet have been taking this annual event very seriously for years. They seem to get it, even if New York doesn't. With an ebullience and a commitment which should be heartening to anyone who questions our culture of oil and cars, and who supports a sustainable transport alternative, people elsewhere have taken to the streets in impressive numbers - and in unashamed expression. Until yesterday however, in spite of (or because of?) the Naked Bike Ride's Dionysian attractions and its celebration of freedom, New York's participation had for years been chimerical, and finally pretty underwhelming.

I doubt anyone's been counting cheeks, but it looks to me like the city "showed" better this year (even if we're not yet up to the standard set by a certain awesome English seaside resort town).

Note: To be fair, the images I'm publishing at the top and bottom of this post are a somewhat misleading representation of what the bicyclists looked like once they hit the road. Many of the costumes seen here were later removed, beginning even as the group was assembling at the top of Grand Ferry Park. To wit:



In the still and video images I've seen on line, most spectators around the city seem to have enjoyed their exposure to the group's rolling march, but some may be asking what's the connection between environmentalism, bicycles, and nakedness. Why is this action naked? I may be prejudiced, but I'd say that not only do bikes have a huge potential for raising the quality of the environmental, one which we could start realizing almost immediately, but bikes also (when used civilly) seem to be able to charm almost anyone.

So bikes may be excellent poster children for saving the planet, but why naked bicyclists?

Two years ago Mark Barwell, a very fit-looking English environmental activist, took part in the Brighton & Hove Naked Bike Ride, and the BBC interviewed him prior to the run, photographing him in road costume ("completely starkers", as the reporter offered in the accompanying audio link). Barwell discussed the serious objectives of the demonstration and went on to address what everyone always zeros in on: "The idea is to be as loud as possible, really", he said, and then he offered the best explanation ever for its anomalous motif: [my transcript below]

Cyclists on the road are really the most vulnerable road users. Cycle lanes tend to appear and disappear all over the place, and drivers as a rule are quite sensitive to cyclists on the road, but there are quite a lot of issues where we're very much vulnerable, and that's where the naked thing comes in. It's to highlight the vulnerability, and also, as a follow through, to celebrate body freedom, and the fact that a naked body really isn't that bad a deal.

It must have had something to do with the rendezvous' Williamsburg location: I don't think I've ever before seen so much pale nerd skin, its beauties enhanced here by a lot of body paint broadcasting genuine conviction.

The image at the top is of the group about to leave the park; those which appear below were all collected in the hour before.









For much more, go to the New York Post video site for Jeff Lieberman's excellent video coverage of the ride's swath through Manhattan.

[I tried my best to get this post up sooner, but I was having serious server problems all day Sunday]

ADDENDA: I've uploaded additional images on Flickr, and Gothamist has more photos and video (look for Oliver "waving" to the cars on the bridge); go for the slide show on John Zwinck's feed and that of dogseat