I have never cycled naked. Not because I’m opposed to the idea. It’s just never really occurred to me. Until recently anyway. With two appearances on this very blog of what I’m now calling Val’s “signature photo” of the naked-ass woman straddling a bicycle (from a series of provocative Brooks saddle ads), I’ve found myself thinking about naked bike riding. I’m sure the recent weather here helps explain this. It’s been so cold that even bundled up like a polar mummy you can only stand to be outside for a few minutes. I stare out the window at the frozen streets and try to imagine the heat of high summer, when clothing is a social courtesy, not a necessity for survival.
A few months back Val and I both wrote about a memorable lunar ride we undertook. But now I’m entertaining the prospect of a different kind of Full Moon adventure. After doing a bit of research, I’ve discovered that there is, in fact, something of a naked cycling scene. And that naked cycling seems to occur in one of two ways: either as part of a large, semi-organized group riding ostentatiously in public spaces, often to make some kind of political statement; or as a solo venture, one with more mythical connotations.
Turns out the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is the best known manifestation of the former. According to its website, the WNBR is an annual, clothing-optional event, held in June in cities around the world; full or partial nudity is encouraged but not mandatory, and it claims to be a “non-sexual event.” Its goals are to raise awareness about oil dependency, encourage bicycle advocacy, and promote “a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world.” Think of it as part Critical Mass, part Critical Ass. The event started out—where else?—in Germany and Spain, about 15 years ago. Now it’s spread to numerous cities in North America, from big metropolises like New York and Toronto to smaller cycling-friendly centres like Portland, Seattle, and Madison, Wisconsin (America’s version of Germany).
What strikes me as a bit strange about these rides (other than the, you know, rampant nakedness) is the way the act of cycling naked is inevitably tied to politics or environmentalism or bicycle advocacy, as if there’s some kind of logical connection between the two things. I want to stop global warming; therefore, I cycle naked. This attempt to tie a NBR to some cause seems a bit silly to me. I’ve got no problem with cycling naked, but why not let the act stand for itself or honestly acknowledge more likely motivations? I cycle naked because it feels a bit thrilling. Because it’s subversive, silly, and fun. Because life is absurd and so are we all when completely naked, even more so pedalling a Norco.
Some iteration of the WNBR isn’t really what I have in mind. And it’s not just the lame political aspect that turns me off. What I don’t like about it is probably the very thing that so many people do: the groupyness of it, the sense of community, the connection between a diverse bunch of strangers who share a common interest, however absurd or out-there that interest may be. Thing is, I just don’t have much of a yearning to join a group of pantsless and/or “topfree” strangers for a brisk spin about town. I can think of other ways to fulfil my need for social connection.
The second kind of naked cycling, the solo act, is more commonly the stuff of myth and advertising (is there a difference?), like in these vintage cycling posters, and there is something about this idea that does appeal to me (and it’s not just because these images tend to depict beautiful, naked, or partly naked women). These images convey something more visceral and appealing than mere politics—the promise of liberation, of expressing individual freedom, of feeling the wind blowing on your face, not to mention your nether regions. This is something I am kind of curious about and might actually be interested in experiencing—but by myself, thank you very much. (Or perhaps with my wife.)
With any naked ride, whether in a group or alone, there are some practical issues to ponder before stripping down. The most common questions, I imagine, have to do with the saddle situation. The WNBR’s website’s FAQ doesn’t beat around the bush, so to speak. “Won’t it hurt my genitals?” is the first place I clicked. “No,” was the comforting response. “It will feel just like riding with clothes, only cooler.” I bet. What about footwear? And would a helmet ruin the effect?
So much for practical matters. When contemplating my naked solo ride, I’m faced with metaphysical questions too, such as the old if-a-tree-falls-in-the-forest query: If I ride naked and no-one actually sees me do it, is it, in fact, a naked ride at all? Will I be required to produce some kind of evidence to back up the feat? And just how much of the thrill of the naked ride comes from being seen by others, or the possibility of being seen by others?
Anyway, I’ve got lots of time to sort this out. My NSR won’t be happening anytime soon. I’ve got months to prepare myself. And perhaps, one warm evening in July, I’ll end up with a “signature photo” of my very own.