Beautiful, Naked & Free

Article by: Celeste Brash|@celbrash

Wed June 04, 2014 | 00:00 AM

Fueled by a few glasses of wine, my group of five women and I waited with our bikes on the sidewalk of East Burnside, the main street that bisects Portland, Oregon. Finally, with the sun low behind, we saw them: a teeming mass of cyclists crossing the Burnside Bridge. We immediately started taking off our clothes and stuffing them in panniers. The people on the street around us had no idea what was happening and stared in disbelief as we disrobed, seemingly without reason.

Earlier that morning I had never even heard of the World Naked Bike Ride. I had expected this evening to be spent at my friend’s bachelorette party; the email invite talked about a few friends getting together for food and wine. It sounded fun and I expected to be home by 11pm.

But this was not to be.

“Where’s your bike?” I was asked when I arrived.

Apparently I hadn’t made it onto another email chain that had detailed the next leg of the party, whereby we would all take our clothes off and ride bikes with 10,000 other naked people. You know, the usual bachelorette fare.

“Um, I guess I’ll go, but I don’t have my bike or look very good naked,” I said, as if the latter part of this confession would persuade them to believe that it would be better if I didn’t join them.

My friends looked at me blankly. They were all maybe five-to-ten years younger than me, which didn’t help my body image anxiety. It occurred to me for a fleeting moment that maybe it didn’t matter what I looked like naked, but then I banished the thought. That would be too far-fetched in this body-conscious day and age. Whatever the case, it looked like I was going whether I wanted to or not.

I borrowed a bike from the party's host, who had an extra. Because it was a loaner, I decided it would be polite to wear underwear, and luckily I was wearing a good pair that day.

The wall of riders reached us, like 10,000 naked Norse warriors on bicycles. Some people were 100% nude while others wore gimmicky costumes that let their goods hang out – think lots of wigs, thigh-high stockings, headgear and a whole lot of tattoos. There were fat people, thin people, old people and young people. We dove into the masses and started pedaling; I was immediately struck by how incredible it felt to feel the breeze against my exposed skin. It’s like skinny-dipping for the first time: sensory overload that is exhilirating and liberating.

About five seconds into our ride, a good-looking, naked guy rode up beside me and said “I’m sorry Miss, but regulation says you must take of your panties!”

I was speechless. I was topless on a bike. This was weird.

“I always wanted to say that,” he said, looking a little embarrassed. The panties stayed on and I noticed plenty of other people were wearing underwear too. We were biking, after all.

The sky grew dark, and soon spectators were lined up along the sides of the street handing riders beers, others cheered and some just stared. A few people were also snapping pictures. I moved to the middle of the biking mass to avoid ending up on Flickr or worse. We rode through quiet, residential neighborhoods, urban commercial centers and everything in between. After an hour or so, the novelty of nudity began to wear off. Soon everyone was chatting and hanging out like you would at a normal party where the guests are fully-clothed. Averting eyes away from the crotch area became second nature.

At last we reached the end of the route. A few wide-eyed young guys, obviously high on something, came up and got way too touchy-feely, but we managed to escape and found our way to a naked dance party under a bridge, where the people were welcoming and fun. Everyone danced and I befriended a guy wearing a mullet wig and a fishnet bodysuit who called himself Randy. Randy, in his mullet wig and fishnet bodysuit, helped me stave off the weirdos, which would have been ironic in any other context.

As the party wound down, my girlfriends, Randy and I ended up on the street spraying whipped cream at each other. The streets were dark and empty, except for a cop informing us it was time to go home.

Most of my clothes had gone off in someone’s panniers, but I managed to find my cardigan before biking home at 3am through Portland. It was then that it struck me: I wasn’t embarrassed to be naked. At all. No, I don’t look like a supermodel, but on this one night, not only was it acceptable, it was awesome. When you spend time naked with a huge group of people who are naked, you suddenly realize that a bulge of fat or a ripple of cellulite is completely normal, because, well, it is. 

The following year I went to the World Naked Bike Ride again with two friends but skipped the after party (there didn’t seem to be one). The city had become stricter with the event’s alcohol restrictions so it wasn’t as wild but the naked part was just as confidence boosting. While the event is about promoting bike riding as a more eco-friendly means of transportation, the collateral benefits are immeasureable. Flying through the city streets with 10,000 of your closest friends and strangers while your naked skin bathes in the late afternoon sun, the breeze whips across your bare chest, all the over-Photoshopped images that infiltrate the media are washed away by real life flesh. The flesh of fat people, skinny people, old people and young people, all of them happy in their own skins. All of them beautiful, naked and free.