Articles/Writing

Cork World Naked Bike Ride 2012

My teenage self would most likely have died at the thought of cycling through city streets bare assed naked. As a teenager my self esteem was low and view of my own body image very poor. It wasn't helped of course by the fact that I had terrible acne on my back and neck that meant I was extremely self conscious any time getting changed with peers. I dreaded changing for football or basketball practice, I never went swimming or to beaches during those years, never took my shirt off of a hot day. So I always had a farmers/cyclists tan up until a few years ago.

Over the years I've gotten more comfortable with myself or perhaps it's more care-free about how others might view me (it's helped that the acne cleared up). The odd skinny dip on a quiet beach brings a sense of life affirmation, of being at one with nature somehow, of grasping the moment and going for it! Whatever about having a naked swim on an abandoned beach or even at a place where it's accepted/ tolerated; cycling through city streets in the “altogether” is a far more daunting experience.

The World Naked Bike Ride has been on the go for a good few years now, it first came about in 2004 as a kind of more naked version of a Critical Mass bike ride. (Prior to 2004 two organizations had nude cycling demos protesting oil dependency: the Artists for Peace in Canada and the Manifestación Ciclonudista in Spain.). Since then it has become a yearly event in cities around the world such as London, Portland, Melbourne, Brussels, Vancouver, Paris and many more.

The idea is that cycling naked shows how vulnerable cyclists are to the dangers of cars and other vehicles, that human bodies are just that – human bodies as opposed to mechanized machines. There are other messages that are part of it too such as to promote positive body image by showing that people come in all shapes and sizes, that we are all naked underneath. To break the taboo of nudity and the sexualisation of the human body, environmental messages about the use of fossil fuels, to respect cyclists space on the road. It takes place with the spirit of fun, good craic and many people have messages or slogans written on their backs or get body painted for the event.

This years' cycle in Cork was the fourth year it has taken place in what the Corkonions call the Real Capital. The first year a group of 8 riders met in the morning and cycled through rain and drizzle; while the second year there had been a more traditional cycle during the day co-ordinated with the Garda. A big aspect of the Cork cycle is that many people get painted with beautiful art. This particular year on the morning of the cycle there was a large gathering of people getting body painted in an attempt to break the world record for the most amount of body painted people in one place. The body painting aspect makes the cycle into a kind of artistic statement along with the other messages. It also has the effect that the riders nudity is disguised, so throwing off any leering types that might be expected on city streets when a mass of naked bodies comes forth!

I didn't take part in the body painting record myself but I arrived early enough at the meeting point for the cycle [the meeting point and cycle route are kept secret so as to avoid voyeurs] early enough to get painted with a slogan and a nice coat of yellow paint with some green effects. Although I was nervous about stripping off for getting painted, the artist who painted me helped me feel at ease. It's also true that under time pressure I didn't have the time to get too nervous as the cycle was to start shortly. In the room where the body painting record attempt had taken place (in the Camden Palace Hotel, an arts centre on Corks' quays) there ambling around were various body painted people with the most intricate of artwork and designs over their bodies while others like me were getting themselves ready for the cycle. At 3 o'clock we all gathered in the yard of the building and one of the stewards gave an address explaining a few basic items and matters. It was explained that the Garda had advised that nobody was to be out and about with their private parts visible so all the women had to tape over their nipples while the men had to find some kind of shorts, sock or thong! (Shortly into the cycle a lot of people lost these coverings!).

The gate of the yard was opened and we all set off onto the streets of Cork. There was a small crowd gathered at the gate as we came out who gave us a big cheer, as well as quite a heavy Garda presence and many press photographers.

We crossed over the river Lee and headed down along Corks' quays quite slowly as we kept on getting caught in traffic lights as our group was quite big (110 people it was reported). Everywhere we went the looks on people's faces was priceless. Everyone broke into laughter and had fierce banter amongst themselves over the sight they had before their eyes. It was all very good humoured.

One of my main fears for the cycle was the weather factor. We all know the Irish summer can be a dour afair but the weather forcast for the day had been for showers with sunny patches. I was afraid of catching pneumonia cycling bare-assed around Corks' streets without any rain shelter if it did break. The first sense of this was cycling down the quays where the street was in shade, one could really feel the shudder in the air. With the fact that we weren't cycling very fast but stopping and starting every few metres it was hard to stay warm but then of course there was the sun breaking through for moments and that coupled with the banter and craic of the cycle one didn't really mind.

We cycled on down past the bus station and made it over to City Hall for a photo opportunity. As we were stopped to get a photo of the mass of naked bike riders Corks' Deputy Lord Mayor happened by and in all fairness to him he gave us a congratulatory speech on our brave and colourful protest, getting himself photograped with a bunch of the group. We carried on again and made our way back up the quays towards Corks' main street Patrick Street. While we waited for the lights to change as laughing motorists and bus passengers were parked beside us, the word filtered through that the Garda didn't want us to cycle on Patrick Street, that anyone who did would be arrested straight away. “Fair enough” was general consensus, the most important thing was to keep the cycle fun and enjoyable so the stewards quickly came up with an alternate route and we carried on. Stopping at the Opera House on the Quays for another photo op I had a real sense that there was going to be a bout of rain coming down so I reached for my hat which I had with me in a bag attached to my handlebars.

Sure enough shortly after cycling further up the quays a burst of rain hammered down on us. I crouched down low on the bike, keeping my back almost parallel with the cross bar. The rain bounced off my back, I figured it'd be better for the rain to knock off my back than risk getting a chill in my chest. The body paint started to splash onto the road, it was a funny sight! Although it was a heavy shower, the rain passed quite quickly as we turned left onto a side street and the sky started to brighten up again as we tried to recover from this lashing!

This street was quite a quiet street and for the people that saw us cycling past, whether through their windows or from the footpath it must have seemed the most random of sights! We carried on, hitting Washington Street and finally turning onto Grand Parade (avoiding turning onto Patrick Street) and around down towards the quays again. This was the home stretch, the sun was out again and we got to cycle a bit faster than until now, so getting the chance to warm up somewhat. Some of the cyclists were making great wise-cracks to people on the street and among ourselves cycling by. The reactions from the public was brilliant. One group of young boys got a right land when they saw us cycling up to them, their reaction was class!

We were getting close to our base now, the Camden Palace Hotel. Cycling back up the quays and in towards the entrance.

Back at the Camden Palace Hotel, we started to get dressed again. One of the stewards/ organisers Dave made an announcement that there was to be refreshments and a reception in a nearby bar, for people to leave on their facepaint. I wasn’t able to stay for the refreshments so said my farewells to the nice people I had met on the cycle and headed out with the sense of a great buzz after it all.

More info on the World Naked Bike Ride see: http://wiki.worldnakedbikeride.org and on the Cork ride which took place as part of the Cork Cycling Festival see: http://www.corkcyclingfestival.com or email: myrebelcounty at gmail.com