The World Naked Bike Ride has been happening in Portland since at least 2004. At the time, there were around 125 people in attendance. I've heard several different reasons for why we ride around naked. Some say it's just to show the joy of biking. Some say it's to illustrate the carefreeness of a carfree lifestyle. The most popular reason is that is exaggerates our vulnerability as cyclists. We are always exposed to the dangers around us since we don't have tons of steel surrounding us in protection. Being naked and biking around says that while we are vulnerable, we are still proud to do it. It also helps to have the numbers that we do. In 2010, there was an estimated 7000 riders which was such a wonderful feeling!
Personally, I ride naked in the WNBR every year for other reasons. I was raised Catholic and was taught shame as a part of life early on. Any form of sexuality or exhibitionism was frowned upon. I was (and remain) not the most fit specimen out there as well. For the longest time, I felt ashamed of my body. It wasn't skinny, it wasn't tan, it wasn't up-to-societal standards. I rarely took my clothes off and would often pass on going swimming with friends of family because of this shame. It seems silly now but even as a kid, I found my body to be inadequate.
When I moved to Portland and came out as gay, I basically starved myself. Part of this was trying to due to me trying to live beyond my means and keep up with the gay lifestyle of fashion and bar-hopping. Another part of it though was the pressure to be thin. I got to the point where I could fit into a 7 year olds polo shirt from the thrift stores (although it was extremely tight).
I realized that this was unhealthy and so I gained back some more of the pounds but in a slightly more healthy fashion. Still, I'm not trim, I don't have abs, I don't have a tan and I have body hair. While in mainstream culture (and specifically in gay mainstream culture), these traits are not desirable, I found comfort in the radical queer culture. I went to Radical Fairy-land where I witnessed acceptance of a number of different bodies, ages and abilities. Gender-fuckers also dazzled me with their pride in defying stereotypes of what is acceptable for either gender. And the radical queer party spaces like BlowPony featured go-go dancers who were not tanned, hairless, fit 20 year olds. They feature all types of bodies and genders and they are fucking fierce.
In 2010, I was biking to meet the WNBR. I had planned on leaving my boxer shorts on. However, I was running a little late when the ride happened upon me downtown. Thousands of naked, joyful cyclists passed by me and the euphoria was contagious. I stripped down to my birthday suit and joined them for one of the most liberating moments of my life. Not everybody was naked but I don't think that the non-nudes experienced any direct peer pressure to strip down. People go in their underwear or in full clothing and that's cool. However, I didn't really feel liberated until I went completely naked. It's not a sexual thing. After talking it over with a friend, I realize that I couldn't describe anyone else's genitalia. While I'm sure there are some damn sexy folks of all ages, bodies and abilities out there, I don't go there to check them out. I go there to celebrate my own comfort with my body, flaws and all cuz I accept who I am and I feel fabulous in doing so.
*The photograph was found through a web-search. It is not me and I don't own it but it illustrates my point.