No Lycra could be revealing enough for the thousands of cyclists who grinned and bared it for the World Naked Bike Ride. Bells rang out in cities from Brighton to Guadalajara during a ballsy exercise in nude cycling. But as saddles and delicate-minded observers recovered, a question lingered: why?
Jesse Schust is the American-born organiser of the London ride, which drew almost 1,000 participants to the finish at Hyde Park Corner on Saturday, where camera-wielding spectators caused traffic jams. He insists naked cyclists are not naturists. “Given the opportunity to have a skinny dip, I’ll go for it,” he says. “But that’s the limit of my interest in nudity.”
Schust, 41, exposes himself not in protest against clothing but car culture, climate change and our dependency on oil. “I’ve been involved in environmental protests before,” he explains. “Increasingly I found myself burned out by the negative reception. People are sympathetic about climate change but often look on at protests with an expression of pain or sadness.” During naked bike rides, he says, “People look on with a sense of joy and amazement. Using humour and celebration as an approach in protest was a whole new thing for me.”
To make sure they offer more than an amusing spectacle, riders bring slogans, sometimes painted on to their bodies. “I’ve had signs saying ‘curb car culture’, ‘no oil’, and – last weekend – ‘one less car’,” Schust says.
The movement started when various naked rides united under the World Naked Bike Ride banner. The first event, in Spain in 2004, has multiplied since to take in 50 cities. Schust helped organise the first London ride in the same year, attracting 60 trailblazers. He estimates about three-quarters of riders at least finish fully nude. “Aside from it being potentially embarrassing, it’s actually a relatively discreet way to be naked in public,” he says, offering tips to anyone tempted to join in (smaller rides take place this weekend in Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff and Canterbury). “Carry everything with you. Bring a bike that works – you don’t want a puncture – and clothes in case you need to stop to go into a shop. On a hot day you may also want some sort of towelling because you could get sweaty and create friction.”
Around 100 participants in London rode on Boris Bikes. Does the use of public bikes require special etiquette? Schust: “The advice with any borrowed bike is to cover the seat or at the end of the ride use a handwipe to clean it – just as a courtesy.”