Critical Ass: Why I Biked the Streets of Portland Naked

Squished among throngs of people, my friends and I pushed our bikes up a little grassy incline in Fernhill Park. I glanced back over my shoulder to see an unforgettable, beautiful spectacle: a sea of blinking, colorful bicycle lights and thousands of people in the buff. Many of the cyclists, including myself were sporting body paint and glitter.

With a setting sun and temperatures well above average, 98 degrees to be exact in the City of Roses, the annual World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) had commenced.

According to the PDX chapter website,

“The WNBR is an annual, worldwide bike ride that highlights the vulnerability of cyclists everywhere and decries society’s dependence on pollution-based transport.”

“We’re using nudity as a way to draw attention to cycling, and the folly of oil dependency. We hope motorists will begin to suspect cyclists have more fun, and hence maybe they don’t need their cars as much as they thought….It’s also good, goofy fun.”

This wasn’t my first time mounting a bike naked. The first time was back in 2011 for the Fremont Solstice Parade in Seattle. However, for my boyfriend Gary, this was his virgin ride.

I asked him, why he decided to join me for an evening ride in our birthday suits. He said,

“I appreciate causes that advocate for acceptance and inclusion of all people without shaming or judging.”

As someone that is concerned about climate change and as a cyclist, the mission behind the WNBR event definitely speaks to me, but, it was not the main reason why I joined some 10,000 other riders. I decided to join the ride in protest against the way our society and media body-shames people that don’t fit a certain mold; to desexualize the naked body and that nudity is something to fear or be disgusted with.

My friend Anne, shared a similar message for joining in:

“I love that the participants are free of judgement toward one another since without clothing you can’t easily tell someone’s social status, religion, politics, or what they do for a living. We are all one.”

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Let the naked biking begin!

The meetup spot for the ride was an event all on it’s own featuring dance parties, art parties and musical jam sessions. Gary and I arrived at Fernhill Park a couple hours before the official start of the ride. We wandered around for a bit and eventually found the art station where one could get painted for a small donation. We both decided to get a Greek symbol painted on our backs to go with our Greek headbands. We also painted our penises gold and were decked out in gold glitter. 

It didn’t take long after shedding my clothes that I soon forgot that I was even naked. When you are surrounded by thousands of other naked people, it becomes so normalized. Everyone becomes friends. It’s as if clothes had never really existed before.

By a quarter to 9pm, people began exiting the park to make the journey through Portland. The first leg of the seven-mile ride found us walking our bikes for several blocks. There were so many bikers that it took awhile for everyone to spread out enough to being pedaling.

As we snaked our way through neighborhoods and business areas, we were greeted with cheers and highfives in solidarity from the sidelines. We rang our bike bells and whooped and hollered back for them to join us. We were all met with good vibes and positivity which I would expect nothing less in Portland.

A little more than an hour after we left Fernhill Park, the ride ended in Tom McCall Waterfront Park downtown where dance parties sprung up and naked cyclists froliced in the water fountain. Several local bars held clothing-optional after parties which ended up being one of my favorite things about the event. How often does one get to go out to a bar and not have to wear clothes?

It’s a phenomenal feeling to have this kind of non-sexual interaction with other naked human beings. Judgement goes out the window. For my friends and I, the World Naked Bike Ride was about having fun and being free and unbound by the constraints of society. There may be a sense of vulnerability but it is counterbalanced by a sense of comradery, freedom and oneness. I just wish this event happened in more places and more than once a year.

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Anne and I during the start of the ride

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