Last year I took part in my first World Naked Bike Ride. Coincidentally the ride I elected to take part in was also a first, Hasting’s first WNBR which suited me because as a new ride, numbers were much lower and I’m not exactly confident on a bike.
A number of my friends have ridden on WNBR rides for years and quite a few organise and marshal the events so I had plenty of people to turn to for advice to allay my qualms, not only about my distinct lack of cycling prowess but also as a woman and naturist, taking part in such a public event.
For those of you who have never witnessed or taken part in a WNBR ride, they’re joyous occasions transmitting a deadly serious message. Although I haven’t cycled much in adulthood, I’m environmentally conscious, a belief structure which underpins the naturist community.
Supported by naturists and non naturists, these rides are fundamentally protest rides designed to highlight the deleterious effect we are collectively imposing upon our broken planet. Consequently riders who take part draw attention to the WNBR aims by daubing themselves in slogans such as ‘think bike’, ‘it’s oil over,’ ‘less gas more ass’ and in some instances sporting full body paint or dressing up.
As an active networker and naturist, although a recent convert to public naturism (I joined British Naturism in May 2011), I quickly grew a large naturist network, both in the UK and overseas. One member of my network, Richard Foley a British ex-pat now residing in Germany became a good friend and we communicated actively about naturism/nudism.
A published author and founder of a free international naturist/nudist networking site the Naktiv Network, Richard has been involved with naturism for many years and is passionate about the WNBR and what it stands for. In 2012, Richard published his book on the World Naked Bike Ride and asked me to review it for him.
Many of the questions I had about the ride were dispelled. The questions I had about my cycling abilities remained and still do to this day. I do have a bike now but I am still loathe to go out on it unless I am chaperoned. Lame I know!
Hastings pictured during the WNBR 2014
I’m a member of Diogenes Sun Club, a large family-friendly naturist club in Buckinghamshire, one of the counties bordering London where I live. Another member Andy Crawford kindly agreed to take me to the ride and keep an eye out for me which was reassuring. Andy and I get on well. He has a great sense of humour and is equally blunt and outspoken which can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your viewpoint.
As the ride approached I was still wrestling with the thought of being fully naked given how public these rides are. Not because I have any issues about nudity but because as a woman I have concerns about the invasive, predatory individuals who leech around these rides with their macro telephoto lenses, whose quest appears to be to take as many photos of the women in attendance as they possibly can and upload them, goodness only knows where on the web.
After reviewing Richard’s book, the activist in me was stirred to think I would do the ride naked. Nudity serves to highlight the vulnerability of cyclists and being stripped bare on a WNBR ride simply brandishing slogans helps to emphasise the key environmental messages, which the founders of the World Naked Bike Rides were striving to convey to maximum effect.
The body is judged in society just as clothes can demark people. Every year at least one council representative becomes apoplectic with indignation that a WNBR ride is scheduled to pass through their town or city, failing to take into account that nudity is perfectly legal in England and perfectly normal!
However, most people who favour public nudity, whether ascribing to the term naturist or nudist, choose not to ‘flaunt’ their nudity as some of the tabloids would attest. The WNBR is designed as a peaceful protest, the body brandished for emphasis.
Nudity still has the power to shock and sadly for many, nudity is wrapped up with sexual connotations, hence the neurotic assumption that a naked body is automatically associated with sex. It’s an assumption we constantly have to challenge in the naturist community, especially in relation to children. Infact children who are brought up as naturists are likely to have higher body confidence and self esteem and be more conversant with so-called societal ‘norms’ and perceptions and how the modern media projects its cultural and gender bias. In turn, this fosters disharmony between the sexes with its pervasive, malign misogyny and in turn encourages a whole host of eating disorders; anorexia nervosa, bulimia, body dysmorphia, low self worth, low confidence. I could go on….
By encouraging riders to go ‘as bare as you dare’ the founders of the WNBR intended rides gain the optimum amount of publicity and coverage. However, in recent years in the UK, national media has appeared to fight shy of covering the rides although the local press will cover it widely and generally with good humour, acknowledging why participants take part naked or partially clothed and stressing the environmental issues at stake.
So what did I decide to do on my first ride? I chickened out and wore knickers. As a naturist, I’m not shy in getting the message out about naturism and our community. I did a short interview with Stephen Smith on Newsnight after all but the prospect of those telephoto lenses was more than I could bear.
The ride itself was a relatively gentle, circular six miler, taking in the beautiful promenade and seafront and fringing the shops, which were lined with a combination of largely supportive bystanders.
A carnival atmosphere prevails on the WNBR rides. Daubed in colourful slogans, some head to toe in body paint, riders honk, cars toot and some members of the public shout out in support while the occasional person crows or chooses to shield their child’s eyes from the sight of a raft of naked people cycling past. As a parent and a naturist I feel sorry for the children, it just serves to perpetuate the ridiculous notion that the body is something to be ashamed of. My children are completely comfortable with the human body, having been brought up with a naturist parent although there are times when I embarrass them morbidly. Isn’t that the role of a parent ;)?
Numbering about fifty, we set off from Alexandra Park, escorted by Sussex Police. I’d hired a bike from Bell’s Bicycles. What a treasure this shop is and I got exactly what I’d requested, an old fashioned sit-up-and-beg bike. I don’t do gears darlings.
Initially I was nervous and useless quite frankly but by the end of the ride I was whizzing along, emboldened somewhat by PC John Beacham’s presence who was safely astride a robust touring bike.
PC Beacham was one of the police who had been assigned to ensure the ride progressed peacefully and safely. I spent much of the ride at the front of the convey where my wobbling gait couldn’t bring other riders down but also to highlight the fact women also participate in these rides and we can be top free too!
Probably because of the reasons I outlined earlier, women are less likely to take part although nudity isn’t mandatory. “As bare as you dare,” is a key message churned out by the ride organisers and one lady who joined the ride spontaneously on the day having heard about the ride that morning, took part with her boyfriend and participated fully clothed. It’s more about taking part and embracing the key environmental issues the ride seeks to promote.
We stopped for a quick break along the route near a lovely little park where I discovered Harold and Edith.
Ever the joker, I seconded Andy to replicate the pose
And PC Beacham proved to be a real sport too. I did warn him I was a blogger and his picture was likely to end up all over the web.
After the ride, Sussex Police stuck with us so we were able to have an impromptu skinny dip without being unduly harassed. There was the odd catcall but passers by who were keen to impress upon them why we were butt naked, brandishing slogans settled the taunters down and we enjoyed half an hour or so on the beach.
Roger Coupe, one of the Hastings WNBR organisers after Hastings WNBR 2014
Today is the second Hastings WNBR. Sadly I can’t be there but I have friends who will be, organisers and riders. If you are in the area, why not go along to show your support or better still, take part?
People are meeting at 1230pm in Alexandra Park and the ride starts at 130pm. Rain is forecast but what better way to spend a rainy Sunday. Live a little🙂
WNBR. Hastings World Naked Bike Ride 2015
TODAY, Sunday 31 May 2015: http://bit.ly/1SJoyIW
WNBR Hastings, Facebook group: http://on.fb.me/1rfx9If
WNBR Hastings, Facebook event page: http://on.fb.me/1JaSiLT