Yesterday afternoon saw me cycling 13km through the heart of London in the middle of a massive crowd of naked people. And I absolutely loved it!
It was the World Naked Bike Ride London – one of many such organised rides around the world – and my very first time participating. Organised to protest our over-reliance on oil for transport, to get people out and cycling and to highlight the danger cyclists face on the roads, each bike ride is really well coordinated. It’s definitely not a spontaneous naturist meet up!
I started with the Tower Hill group, which is closest to home in Canary Wharf. Other groups cycled in from a range of starting points and we all met up in the centre of town for a lap of its most famous landmarks.
I’ll admit to feeling a little nervous. It’s one thing to be naked in public when you’re on a beach, quite something else to be naked in a context you associate with clothes, crowds and conformity!
But the people around me that I got talking to were so friendly and supportive, it wasn’t long before I’d joined in – throwing off my shorts and t-shirt and tucking them into the bag attached to the front of my Brompton.
(Incidentally, I lost count of the number of Brompton owners on the ride – I wonder if there’s a sort of correlation between owning a Brompton and naturism? There’s an MSc study, if not a PhD to earned from looking at that, I think!)
The ride definitely isn’t a race. Progress was extremely slow and we stopped multiple times, to coordinate meeting with the other groups and so the Marshalls could halt traffic and allow us through busy junctions only when it was safe. We had our own segregated cycle lanes for much of the early part of the ride – along Embankment for example – but after that, it was a start reminder of how it is to cycle in a major city. Difficult.
And as for the public?
I’d say the responses ranged from hilarity, through to shock, bewilderment, loud encouragement, builders dropping their pants in sympathy, and much tooting of horns. Chatting with a girl cycling next to me, we noticed how some of the most outraged people were also the ones taking snaps with their phones!
Unfortunately, the early heat of the day evaporated during the afternoon, which along with the wind, made for quite a chilly cycle. I honestly found it too cold to be outside naked at several points and questioned my sanity along the way. My…extremities were chilly, to say the least. But when we stopped as a group, I managed to warm up, especially given the heat that was coming off the bodies all around me.
At one point, I even welcomed the warmth of the exhaust coming from the bus next to me! That didn’t last long though…
There wasn’t a single cyclist I met on the ride who wasn’t great to talk with. Some were passionately supportive of the various WNBR causes, others were most definitely taking part for a laugh and to air their exhibitionist side! But everyone was in good humour and the amount of laughter in the crowd was heart-warming.
And every shape and size of body was represented. Men were in the majority, but there were participants from their early twenties all the way to their (estimated) eighties! You could see it all: gym bunnies cycling alongside those of us with ‘less contoured’ physiques. Young guys next to grandmothers. WBNR old hands next to those on their very first ride. Many sporting some very impressive body paint and/or amusing slogans.
Our route for the day was actually amended, due to the presence of supporters of a right wing nut job congregating near Trafalgar Square. So, due to safety concerns, we were rerouted. It didn’t take much away from the ride, but there were times when his supporters and our riders mingled and the sight was something to behold. There’s nothing like seeing a ‘hard man’ shrink away from some naked people!
I expect that’s why Fascists are so enamoured with uniforms…
Only one thing took away from the experience: The voyeurs. Not the public on the street, frantically snapping us with their smartphones, but the men (all of them were men) who followed the route doggedly, take photographs of the women with professional photo equipment.
Several were quite aggressive when we were stopped at lights or on a slow section of the run, pushing into the crowd to get pics of the most attractive girls they could find. But the riders were excellent – often stepping between the ‘photographers’ and their targets. And I heard several women loudly ask these guys to step away. The ride organisers too were brilliant in this regard. But these guys had obviously prepared for their day out, as several of the same ones popped up regularly throughout the ride. How sad.
All in all, it was an excellent afternoon in London. It reminded me of our core humanity, how crowds can be wonderful and how there’s nothing like several hundred penises flying past on bikes to make elderly ladies scream with laughter.
Would I do it again? Definitely. But next time, I’d hope for warmer weather and more sun. I actually ached a little from all the shivering, even when cycling. If I was organised, I’d get over to Barcelona for their one.
Now. The internet.
I sort of expect to find photos of myself somewhere online in the coming weeks. Only one has surfaced so far (actually the header photo for this post! Can you spot me?) and it was tame. But I wouldn’t have participated if I wasn’t comfortable being ‘papped’ by passers by. I don’t think you can expect to cycle naked through Covent Garden and not have at least a few people take photos.
Not to mention the many, many open top tour buses we passed – providing visitors to London with some interesting memories!
Maybe one day, public nudity won’t be such an issue here. I see that there’s a campaign to let people sunbathe naked in certain parts of London’s parks. That might be a first step. Until then, we’ll have our single day in the sun, to remind everyone what’s under all our clothes.