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The Views from a New Oregonian: Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride

Monday, June 29, 2015
Ilene McConnell, GoLocalPDX Guest MINDSETTERâ„¢

Saturday was the day bikers and biking advocates have been waiting for all year - Portland's 12th Annual World Naked Bike Ride.  Yes, you heard me correctly - 10,000 buck-naked people rode their bikes through Portland Saturday night to make a statement about oil dependence, cycling rights and body image.  It is an unusual event that promotes bike riding as a preferable alternative to driving cars.

Portland's World Naked Bike Ride is just one of almost 100 other World Naked Bike Rides that happen all over the globe, in more than 75 cities and 20 countries.  Portland's is by far the largest, having increased in size from 125 riders in 2004 to 10,000 riders last year. This was definitely the event in which to see and been seen here in the most bike-friendly city in the U.S.

The World Naked Bike Ride was conceived n 2004 as a protest again big oil and our dependence on cars, but now organizers encourage participants to protest any cause they want.  But isn't public nudity against the law?  you might ask.  Shouldn't police be arresting these people?  On the contrary.  Police not only allow this public nudity, but they help riders block off the streets along the route.  This is because in "live and let live" Portland, public nudity is permitted if it is in the form of a protest.  Feel like taking off all your clothes in a public plaza and protesting something?  Come to Portland, where you will be welcomed with open arms!

The race started at 9:00pm.  A few hours ahead of time, participants start arriving at the park designated as this year's starting point.  Once assembled, clothing comes off and the body paint goes on.  Bare backs, chests, stomachs are all good places to paint whatever your "protest" message Is.  Sometimes body paint is used just for strategic covering.  Some riders shun the body paint and prefer to ride au natural.   Wearing helmets and shoes is encouraged, but since the official dress code of the event is "Bare as you dare," you can really wear as much or little as you like.

Since the ride is at night, don't the bikers get chilly? you might ask.  Apparently, feeling the wind on your bare skin is "exhilarating," as one participant from last year put it.   And apparently, that feeling is so exhilarating, that the naked partying continues well after the ride is over, with some participants partying sans ropa until dawn. 

Did I attend the 12th Annual World Naked Bike Ride?  No.  One can't really "attend" unless one is riding in it.  It would be kind of creepy to hang out at the starting point if you are not naked and with a bike.  Can one spectate from the sidelines along the route?  No, because the route is kept secret, with only the starting point revealed beforehand. This is to discourage gawkers from gathering along the route. If YOU were riding a bike naked, would YOU want thousands of spectators to be taking photos and videos of you on their cell phones?  Well, actually, I suspect the answer to that might be "yes," or you probably wouldn't be riding naked in the first place. 

Some residents who live along the route got very upset last year that a bunch of naked people were riding past their houses.  They found it offensive that police would allow full frontal nudity in public on one day of the year, which is one day too many for them.  "We have small children," parents complained.  One woman lamented, "I'm not accustomed to seeing naked people."  The Portland Police actually had to release a statement this year with advice to anyone who doesn't want to come into contact with naked bike riders, telling them to, "Stay indoors during the ride. Pull the shades down. Put the kids to bed.  Watch a movie or turn up some music to avoid hearing the revelry."  C'mon, people.  The police are just  doing  their part to "Keep Portland Weird"!

I do try to get involved in fun events happening in Portland.  But would I even want to go to this one?  Unlike the woman quoted above who is unaccustomed to seeing naked people, I myself have seen naked people before and it is not always a pretty sight. That said, would I ever want to participate in the ride myself?  After all, it's only an hour long, and it's for a good cause.  Hmmm.  I don't think so.  And it's not due to any nudity issues.  As much as I hate to sound like my mother, I find the whole idea of naked bike riding just a bit...well...unsanitary.  Does anyone agree with me? Because I know there are 10,000 Portlanders out there--Saturday's bike riders--who don't!   

If you love the idea of the World Naked Bike Ride and would like to participate in it when you come to visit us in Portland, come during June, as that is the month in which it is held every year.  Unfortunately, I probably won't do it with you, but I would be happy to bike over to he the starting point with you (it is considered very gauche to DRIVE to the starting point, as it whole event is a protest against cars) and would be happy to hold your clothes for you until the event is over.  I'll even paint your protest message on your body.  One of my favorites messages that a guy had painted on his back last year was, "Note to self:  Buy new bike seat tomorrow."


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