World Naked Bike Ride
The first Naked Bike Ride was celebrated in Zaragoza, Spain, in 2001. In 2003 Conrad Schmidt conceived the World Naked Bike Ride after organizing the Naked Bike Rides of the group Artists for Peace/Artists Against War (AFP/AAW) which took place in the early part of the same year, as well as other high-profile political/media events leading to the creation of The Work Less Party of British Columbia.
WNBR rapidly started to come to life through collaborations with activist groups and individuals around the world. The first WNBR event in 2004 was a collaboration between the WNBR group (June 12) and Manifestacin Ciclonudista in Spain (June 19), establishing a precedent as a solstitial Saturday observance. Since that time rides have also taken place in February and March (mainly in the Southern Hemisphere). A smaller number of rides have taken place at other times of the year.
Prior to the first World Naked Bike Ride event in June 2004, two independent organizations - AFP/AAW and Manifestacin Ciclonudista - had been organizing very similar political events with virtually identical messages of protesting oil dependency. Despite having similar political messages neither of these groups knew of the existence of the other until collaboration began many months before the first WNBR event.
Some are opposed to large Critical Mass-type events in general because events may interfere with automobile traffic. Critical Mass participants counter: "We are not stopping traffic, we are traffic." Critical Mass and other "biketivist" groups promote awareness of cyclists, they feel, out of necessity – many cyclists are seriously injured and killed by careless drivers. That includes commuters, students, children and police officers on bicycles. All cyclists are at risk. Participants advocate "living streets" and bicycle-friendly communities.
Participants believe that many communities were not designed to take advantage of bicycles, which they consider the world's most efficient means of personal transport. Instead, they believe, society has subordinated community values to the requirements of expensive, dangerous, loud and polluting vehicles. Oil has become a treasured commodity despite its inherent evils – the costs of war, climate change, and innocent lives.
Like Critical Mass, WNBR aims to promote bicycle transportation, renewable energy, recreation, walkable communities, and environmentally-responsible, sustainable solutions to living in the 21st century. Participants celebrate the many benefits of a car-free lifestyle: free of emissions, free parking, and an overall free feeling.
Some cycling activists criticize the event for trivializing the issues of oil dependency, cyclists' access to roads, and car culture. Organizers argue that having fun and doing public outreach are not mutually exclusive. Creative advocacy stimulates people to contemplate the issues. They argue that by occupying lanes intended for cars and not for bicycles, by tossing their clothes and rejecting body shame, they are protesting a way of life which should be abandoned. They believe that getting people to laugh and smile is a great way to connect and share ideas in a non-threatening way.
||This section contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed. (March 2009)|
The ride has been criticized by some because WNBR often involves participants who are naked or topfree. Some people who are offended by nudity or topfreedom believe that it should take place in designated areas or times only. People who feel WNBR participants are going out of their way to get attention by using their uncovered bodies may argue that they are being exhibitionists or even expressing sexually-deviant intent.
Participants claim that non-sexualized, colorful and creative nakedness in repressed societies is a refreshing way to remind people of some fundamental freedoms of life that people have collectively handed over without really thinking of the consequences. They claim that the WNBR is about body-positive values: living a healthy life in tune with, not against, the environment; respecting the natural beauty and diversity of human bodies; establishing and projecting a positive self image; and rejecting shame. Organizers feel that WNBR is not just a ride against oil dependency; it is a ride for self-empowerment.
The policing of the ride varies according to local laws, local police policy, and local cultural expectations. At some events, police support and facilitate the event. A team of cycle-mounted police provide traffic control at road junctions for the London (UK) ride. At other events police take a more neutral stance, and simply monitor the event. In other cases police have attempted to stop the ride or have intimidated riders into putting on some level of clothing.
Arrests during WNBR events are rare. There have been arrests in Auckland (13 February 2005), North Conway, New Hampshire (11 June 2005), and Chicago (11 June 2005). Two male riders were arrested during WNBR North Conway 2005 and were charged with "indecent exposure and lewdness". The two riders agreed to having the charges reduced to "disorderly conduct" and pay a $300 fine, a major portion of which was paid for by the WNBR Legal Defense Fund. Six male riders were charged with "public indecency" during the 2005 WNBR Chicago ride and later prosecuted with sentences ranging from fines and non-expungeable conviction to three months of court supervision.
The reason the majority of WNBR events have encountered few problems is fairly simple.
(1) The laws on nudity are often vague and difficult to enforce. As WNBR is clothing-optional, organizers urge those who are uncomfortable going naked or who fear legal scuffles simply not to go completely naked. Participants have used body paint, liquid latex, a strategically placed sock, underwear and duct tape to cover "illegally exposed" body parts. For example, flesh-colored bodysuits with exaggerated body parts were used in Seattle in 1999 by Fremont Arts Council members to spoof the Solstice Cyclists in the Summer Solstice Parade in Seattle. Organizers encourage creativity and imagination, whether the participants go fully bare or not.
(2) Some cities have restrictions on nudity in public areas, and some cultures have harsh restrictions on nudity in public (such as Saudi Arabia). However, the laws of most progressive societies are written to discourage activities which are intended to shock or offend. Many laws on nudity hinge on a concept of "indecent exposure". Most participants believe that there is nothing indecent about a naked body and counter that the only thing that is indecent are the laws on indecent exposure. Many contend that the shame is on those who demand coverups, not on those who can go without.
Simon Oosterman, organizer of the Auckland 2005 WNBR, and the first to be arrested during a WNBR event, is credited with going further and refocusing the issue on oil-dependency. He urged: "Stop the indecent exposure to vehicle emissions." Oosterman later defended a charge of indecent exposure in the Auckland District Court in 2006; after hearing evidence, the Judge dismissed the charge.
I have had many fun encounters with police officers; one of the most interesting was when this grumpy police officer came up to me and told me that he thought that what I was wearing was indecent. I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I thought his opinion was indecent. I was right; and no, I was not arrested.–Conrad Schmidt, Vancouver, British Columbia
Organizers believe that there are many indecent laws that citizens of the world have to stand up to, such as laws infringing on personal freedoms.
(3) Police do not want to be seen confronting a large group of peaceful, naked people. It is too embarrassing. Attempted police/city crackdowns on popular nude events have met with popular backlash. As an example, the City of Seattle threatened to withdraw a permit to the Fremont Arts Council in 2001 for the Summer Solstice Parade due to an increasing number of naked cyclists. The controversy made the cyclists even more popular, especially after they agreed to participate within the spirit of the event with costumes, bodypaint and bike decorations.
(4) Participants who encounter police or other aggression are urged to not reciprocate the aggression, to keep it light, and to use humor as a weapon. It is tough getting angry at a colorful naked person on a bicycle. Anger and aggression only returns anger and aggression.
Riders are encouraged to "ride loud and be proud." Organizers only allow rides to be organized in public areas for maximum outreach, not in established or ghettoized areas such as nudist/naturist clubs. Events are promoted at the grassroots level, often using Internet resources such as discussion groups, web sites, blogs and online journals and also by placing advertisements in local, non-mainstream newspapers and progressive journals.
Some believe that public nudity may threaten clothing-optional freedoms such as at-home nudity, clothes-free beaches or naturist/nudist clubs and resorts, or that it may result in legislation further restricting other activities involving nudity or partial nudity. However, there has been no documented backlash due to any WNBR event. Some riders feel secure and empowered in their belief that they are part of a popular blowback effect after living in a restrictive society and feeling that their concerns have not been taken seriously.
This year, William and Edward Stevens participated in the WNBR as part of their Tall Bike Tour Britain ride around Britain on tall bikes. Though the pair were in the Scottish borders at the time they sent a pack of postcards down to the London event illustrating their participation.
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