Cyclists, Vulnerability and Privilege: The World Naked Bike Ride in Its 10th Year
Editor’s Note: Organizers of World Naked Bike Ride Columbus chose to be identified by their first names for this feature story.
On Saturday, June 15, World Naked Bike Ride will celebrate its 10th anniversary in Columbus.
Internationally, the event is a coordinated form of protest that occurs in nearly 20 countries and 74 cities. What originally started as an anti-war protest in Vancouver now includes a few messages to address issues of body positivity and the vulnerability of cyclists on the road, as well as automobile and oil dependency.
Ten years ago, Brian — a Portland transplant — was directed to nonprofit workshop Third Hand Bicycle Co-op to get a World Naked Bike Ride similar to Portland’s started in Columbus. It was there he met another ongoing organizer, Teddy, who along with the co-op decided to help host that first ride in Columbus.
“It wouldn’t have happened without a lot of people really digging into what community resources they had,” says Brian. “Who has what, what can we piece together without asking for permission, without going through some bureaucratic rigmarole. It’s basically about [the] coming together a of community.”
Columbus’ protest has fluctuated from 150 riders in its initial years to 1,500 riders at its largest, and organizers behind the scenes have come and gone.
Fellow organizer Tanya joined the ride initially because it sounded fun. She was shocked by how empowered she felt amongst a community of people who simply wanted to be free. It’s not something that can be felt in an everyday, solo commute.
After that first year, she knew she wanted to be a part of organizing.
“That sense of freedom and empowerment is key for me and why I started riding …” she says, “and started working on making this what it is.”
Involved in the organizing is figuring out logistics: where the group will ride (“Short North is no longer viable,” says Cherry, another organizer) where it will end and preparing for any number of reactions the protest will get from authorities.
The police presence has been varied, says Tanya.
“Some years there were arrests, other years they’re like high fiving us. It’s really hard to say. So we tried to just consider what all those possibilities might be and how we might respond,” says Tanya. “We invite [people] to do this thing and ask them to be vulnerable, so we do have to put in place some thoughts regarding their safety and protecting them from people in authority who might want to prevent them from doing what we’re doing.”
For the 10th anniversary, the organizers are looking to open up the issues they are addressing to encompass other activists and activist communities in Columbus.
Tanya says that when it comes to vulnerability, there are people who are more vulnerable than others in the same situation. This is especially true for the protest, which demands space on the road hardly given to cyclists on any normal day, let alone during a nude demonstration.
“Where our bodies are vulnerable, black bodies are more vulnerable. Where our bodies are vulnerable, trans bodies are more vulnerable. And so we really want to keep that in mind,” says Tanya.
The group is also interested in bringing tangible change to local legislation and city code, especially when it comes to mobility, says Tanya, which is receiving some positive support in Columbus.
“I think now’s a good time for us to press a little bit on a few local ordinances,” she says. “Actionable items that benefit the cycling community and people in general moving through Columbus with some ease. But also, just to constantly remind people that we’re all humans here in this little space. We all experience, as people riding bikes in Columbus, what it feels like to be in a space where there’s other people with a lot of privilege, and them not being aware of how vulnerable you are.”
A few cyclists of the World Naked Bike Ride have been arrested in various cities for indecent exposure and lewdness, including in Columbus. But organizers continue to ride under the stance that their form of protest is a form of free speech.
“It’s been said that rights are, they’re not possessed. You don’t have them. You exercise them. You use them,” says Brian. “So the First Amendment right, it’s like the bicycle. It’s moving. It’s an action.
“So yeah, these streets are our streets. We paid for them. We’re traffic,” he continues. “Just because a bunch of free citizens decided that they wanted to ride on the streets that we paid for, in maybe a thousand at once. That’s to be accommodated for. That is not an emergency. That’s life.”
Riders of the World Naked Bike Ride are not required to be nude or even ride a bike. Riders have joined the protest in three-piece suits; There have been riders who randomly joined in passing, and others have shown up on roller blades, skateboards, with petty cab drivers or their own two feet.
And the reason for its popularity over the years is not just the revelry of it, says Brian. Protest and politics aside, for some the World Naked Bike Ride is just a fun experience to be a part of.
“The idea that like, hey, let’s get kind of naked, totally naked, and ride without anybody’s permission … because we can, well it turns out that idea is actually been pretty popular over the years,” he says. “There is something super radical about doing a thing because you would like to do it and because you can do it.”
The World Naked Bike Ride is mum on details of where the ride will start for safety reasons, however, information on the event can be accessed via email.
For more information, visit World Naked Bike Ride Columbus’ Facebook page.