By now it’s not much of a surprise to see thousands of nude cyclists riding through the streets of Portland come spring. “Oh look,” a passer-by might note. “It’s the naked bike ride again.”
The Portland version of the World Naked Bike Ride. The ride originated as a protest against society’s dependency on oil. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian
By: Jamie Hale/The Oregonian
The World Naked Bike Ride is a Portland tradition, but the question that lingers as those naked bodies whiz by is, why?
Some untold thousands showed up at Normandale Park in Northeast Portland, some hesitantly stripping upon arrival, others brazenly riding in baring all to the world.
Some were painted head to toe and others carried slogans on their backs – “Shame 4 Cars,” “Keep Calm and Peddle On,” “Note to Self: Buy new Bike Seat Tomorrow” – but most riders decided to remain purely and completely nude between the helmet and the pedals.
The scene was something like a nudist carnival at the park. A marching band called Love Bomb Go-Go paraded around the field, where the massive crowd danced, laughed and made new friends. Some hydrated and stretched. A few drank from flasks and lit up joints.
“What’s not to like?” said Noah Veil, who rode alongside a giant shark attached to a bike to promote his group’s upcoming show, “J.A.W.Z. – The Musical.” He admitted the event was 90 percent spectacle to 10 percent protest, but said that did nothing to diminish the point of the ride.
“Spectacle in and of itself is a protest, spectacle in and of itself is a freedom of expression,” Veil said. “The part I love the most is the number of people who have said yes to this.”
Standing on the outskirts of the circus were two of those people, Denny and Stephen, who didn’t feel comfortable giving their last names. Denny, 62, said he’s more into the cycling than the spectacle. “It’s kind of like a circus atmosphere here, but once you get riding it turns into an actual ride,” he said.
Stephen had a different reason all together, a very serious and personal reason to ride: Five years ago Stephen’s brother died in a cycling accident in Philomath. That secondary protest, the one about vulnerability of cyclists on the road, really hits home.
“Vulnerability of cyclists is close to my heart,” he said. “When I saw the vulnerability – that being part of what they’re trying to draw attention to – I was like ‘Yeah I definitely have to do it.'”
Still, people like Stephen were a minority at the ride. While some came to protest, most came to party. But whether or not they intended to rail against dependence on oil or vulnerability of cyclists on the road, just by being there they broadcast a message to the rest of the city.
That message was: We’re here, we’re naked and we’re all riding bikes. It’s a message that’s left largely up to your interpretation.