Your correspondent spent his Saturday taking a nude jaunt on his bike through the streets of Philadelphia.
I was not alone: Thousands of attendees, estimated to be close to 4,000, participated in the eighth annual Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride, drawing attention to the culture of dependence on fossil fuels, cycling advocacy and body positivity. Moving as a large mass and interrupting traffic on its 11-mile route for 2.5 hours, the group drew the citizens of Philadelphia out to the street to cheer and partake in the evening’s spectacle.
While scouring the internet only a couple weeks ago, I came across the event's Facebook page and resolved to participate in this colorful event.
The PNBR is part of the larger World Naked Bike Ride movement, which began on June 12, 2004, as bikers around the world shed garments and took their aluminum mounts to the streets to raise awareness for fossil fuel dependency and cycling safety. The PNBR, currently the second largest of its kind in the United States (behind Portland, Ore., which recently had more than 10,000 riders), started in 2009.
People come from all over the East Coast — Amtrak even offered a weekend discount for people traveling to and from the bike ride.
“We’ve had Amtrak discounts for several years now we know that people come from New York, we know that people come from D.C., and other areas to participate in our ride and visit for the weekend," one of the organizers, Maria Lily, told me.
As two friends and I approached the starting location, Glendinning Rock Garden on Kelly Drive, we started to join increasing quantities of decreasingly clothed bikers en route to the ride.
On arrival, nude and semi-nude cyclists filled the park, rising to, as the event urges its participants, “bare as you dare.” Professional body painters turned hundreds of human skins into canvasses, using paint from the ride’s first major sponsor, California paint company Wildfire. Bikes of all shapes and sizes accompanied unclothed cyclists, as well as people on roller skates, a unicycle and skate boards.
Initially unsure of how committed I was to the ride’s nude theme, I witnessed two loudspeaker-wielding protesters carrying signs with religious slogans against homosexuality. I decided to doff everything but my shoes.
Promptly at 5 p.m., the mass of cyclists started down Kelly Drive.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania defines indecent exposure as when a person "exposes his or her genitals in any public place or in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm."
But throughout the ride, I never saw a cyclist disciplined by Philadelphia police.
After circling in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the group started east on Spring Garden Street. While trailing the group at first on Spring Garden we encountered the clothed residents of Philadelphia, who were overwhelmingly supportive. Some people laughed, others looked shocked and and almost all recorded the parade on their cell phones. Although I witnessed a few catcalls, body-shaming comments and threats, they did not detract from the shared spirit of the riders and spectators. Crowds of people lined the streets and encouraged the riders, offering cheers, high-fives and the occasional “you guys rock!”
The ride snaked through Center City, passing Independence Mall and City Hall and taking a loop through University City. The group took Chestnut Street back to Center City, and the back of the pack could see the entire mass, which appeared to stretch from 38th Street all the way to the Schuylkill River.
After passing crowds at Rittenhouse Square, the group took a victory lap down South Street and ended the ride at Washington Square Park. Some cyclists went to the official afterparty.
Isaiah Zagar, the designer of Philadelphia’s renowned Magic Gardens, held the clothing-optional party in his personal studio in South Philadelphia. The walls of his warehouse studio, of the same likeness as the Magic Gardens, reflected the bare bodies and bikes of cyclists from across the East Coast.
Local beer and local food were provided like manna to feed the exhausted cyclists, many of whom looked forward to a night of blacklight dancing and various visits later to local bars.
While most cities hold their rides in June, Maria Lily said Philadelphia's is held later on purpose.
"We do it later to maximize attendance … [the] Burning Man [festival] is over, a lot of people are back in the city,” she said.
A major component of the bike ride is to normalize bicycling as an alternative to America’s heavy focus on automobiles. Although the riding mass drew a police escort to keep cars away and blocked cross traffic from side streets, the cyclists acted as a part of traffic.
“We ride along with cars on the same roads the purpose of the PNBR as a part of the world movement is that we are here to build cycling advocacy and that we are here to bring attention to cyclists safety," Lily said. "We move along on the road like any cyclist on a regular day."
Another large part of the PNBR is spreading body positivity. It was a democratizing experience, and being naked highlighted our common and diverse human qualities. People of all traits rode with a sense that nobody was subject to unjust judgements or social standards.
“Cycling can be for everyone … the World NBR stands for body positivity, positive body image and loving yourself,” Lily said.
Until next year, my naked friends.
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