Everyone was standing around the front patio at the secret meeting spot on Pearl and Ninth Avenue. A few people knew each other, others introduced themselves amiably. A man rides up and immediately says, “Hi everyone, I’m Gary. I’m going to wear my boxers, is that alright?” Usually an odd question from a stranger, but not at Denver’s first installment of the World Naked Bike Ride, an international cyclist campaign to “end indecent exposure to cars.”
As the sun got lower, the last remnants of shame evaporated and the first person to bare all exuberantly pulled her dress over her head and shouted “I love to be naked.” The ice was broken. More and more boobs and balls started coming out as everyone did last minute checks on their bikes.
“Does everyone have a blinking light on the back of their bike?” someone yells. “You’ll get a ticket if you don’t.” Somehow it seemed that if the police were to stop us, the lack of a blinking rear light was going to be the least of our worries. And given Denver’s sordid history of clashes between dressed cyclists and the police, everyone was getting a little antsy about the ride.
We rode through Capitol Hill and headed towards Uptown, careful to stop at every stop sign and light. After last year’s police crackdown on Denver’s Critical Mass, group cyclists stopped taking any chances. Cruising across 17th Avenue, past Pasquini’s and Strings, the group got, or gave, its first exposure to large groups on the restaurants’ patios. The eruption of cheers was encouraging as people who previously still had bras and underwear on started going all out, or all off. Chanting “less gas, more ass,” the group turned west and headed toward downtown.
LoDo garnered the biggest response as the Saturday-night club crowd was just warming up. Wine drinkers on the patio of Tamayo and the front steps of 1515 fervently got out their cell phones to snap pictures. The energy from the gawking crowd fueled the group. “Get out of that Caddie and get on a bike,” one rider yelled at a passing car.
But the fun wouldn’t last for long. As we rode up 14th Street past the Performing Arts Center, the first Denver Sheriff’s SUV pulled up. I pulled off to change tapes on the camcorder and to get some space in case anything happened. At Stout, two motorcycle cops came up behind a light rail and cut the group off as several more squad cars sped up 14th to get a piece of the action. Heart pounding, I locked my bike up, threw my clothes back on and ran up to the chaos. By the time I got there, the riders were already dressed and on the ground, handing the police their IDs. Cell phones and cameras started coming out, but were quickly confiscated, including my video camera. One officer started yelling at a rider to hand over his license. “Do you want me to make an example out of you? Now give me your ID and shut your mouth!” Denying that he had his ID, the rider was put into handcuffs and led to one of the waiting cruisers, as was another rider who refused to give his information.
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After the police had visually instilled the threat of arrest they started handing out tickets to the rest of the crowd. Despite some riders being mostly dressed, everyone got the same indecent exposure ticket and some got a disturbing the peace mark to boot. After everyone was cited, the two who were handcuffed and secluded were eventually let go.
Slowly the riders dissipated, still smiling, but a little jaded. One rider smirkingly named her bike Naked. Now she can ride Naked wherever she wants, and the police can’t do anything about it. --Taylor Sullivan