The Naked Truth on the Back of a Bike

Click here for a slide show.

In beginner’s art classes, developing artists learn to depict the subtle difference between nudity and nakedness. An ideal portrait of the human figure, such as the statue of David, is a nude. A less flattering vision of one without clothes – straight-up free boobing – well, that’s just naked.

As a participant in Denver's second-ever World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), which took place Saturday, July 12, I learned that although most participants were indeed naked, their vision of the world was an ideal one.

With camera ’round neck and notepad in hand, I stood on a welcoming porch before the entrance to the pre-ride meeting place; Tibetan peace flags fluttered, along with a handwritten Sharpie sign reading “World Naked Bike Ride.” Then I rang the doorbell. A tall, shirtless man with kind eyes and silver shoulder-length hair greeted me. Beyond him, the opened door revealed five other smiling faces.

“Owen,” the main organizer for WNBR brought me up to date. “We have an unhealthy dependence on non-renewable energy,” she explained. This nighttime nakedness was intended to raise awareness of bicycle and transportation issues and to protest the nation’s oil dependency and car culture. A similar ride takes place every year in around seventy cities in twenty countries. “This is what a car-free society looks like.… This is a solution (cycling)…. We are riding naked to highlight it,” she added.

A few more riders filtered in over the next hour, and some prepared for the event with body paint. Though I was hip to their green cause, I was a little yellow when it came to the thought of my own resources of clothing stripped bare. So I offered to help paint someone so as not to sound like a total square.

“My ass needs to be painted,” said a friendly redheaded woman, handing me a brush. After I painted a bumpersticker of blue iridescent swirls on a stranger's buttock, I began to realize how up-close and personal I was about to become with the subjects of this article. “Now my front legs, please,” she said and turned around. With a pause and a tight, drawn-in breath, I surrendered all reservations about keeping a respectable reporter's distance. There was no beating around the bush, for I was face to face with one.

“Um, what's your name again?” I asked. “I feel like if I am doing this, I should know your name.” We shook hands, and I continued to swirl and stripe her legs.

As the hour approached, participants suited up or suited down. “Bare as you dare,” said a woman in skates, underwear, bullhorns and two nipple rings.

The full story began to flesh out in front of the starting point at Benedict Fountain Park around 9 p.m., as riders met flashing police cars. But unlike last year, when some riders were issued tickets for indecent exposure, the police officers put on amiable faces and offered “protection” as chaperones. Although the rules were a little hard to follow, they basically asked us not to flash anything below the waist, not to act sexual, and for God’s sake, not to ride through busy LoDo.

So, as a couple of motorcycle cops and two squad cars rode beside the naked masses -- covering riders' asses as well as their own -- we paraded bumper-to-bumper down 17th Street, clad primarily in paint on bums and backs with slogans that read “Burn fat, not oil,” and “Less dirty gasses, more clean asses.”

Bystanders offered cheers and fist pumps along the route while bar-goers stood jaws agape with drinks in hand. Some took pictures. “Now, this is what I call America. Fuck the helicopters [a reference to Denver's recent helicopter scare]. This is what it's all about,” said one bystander.

Partway through, I decided a little tit for tat couldn't hurt anyone, so at a stoplight, I peeled my shirt off over my helmet -- for the cause, of course -- and continued the ride in my bra. Sure, I was tat with no tit, but a little more bare than before.

And though an older, rollerblading man who flashed passing cars with his package was defiantly naked – his car-free ideal made a lot of sense by the time the ride wrapped up near REI. Nearly fifty people participated, and nude and naked became one and the same. -- Kimberly Berkey