The York Naked Bike Ride is all about freedom

20 Jun 2013 @ 8.59 am
| Opinion, Transport

Naked bike riders pass the Minster in 2006. Photograph: Matt Crypto on Wikipedia

As cyclists prepare to take to the streets wearing nothing but a smile, organiser Tony Minou reveals all about this protest and celebration

On most days of the year I ride my bike as a means of getting about. I put up with appalling road infrastructure, rude and aggressive behaviour from drivers and toxic exhaust fumes. On one day of the year, I take part in a highly visible yet very enjoyable protest to draw attention to these conditions.

The World Naked Bike Ride taps into a long and healthy tradition of naked protest. Ever since clothes became a feature of mainstream society, people have been removing them as an act of defiance and to reclaim a certain humanity that they feel has been taken from them. It’s a way of saying: “This is who I am, pure and simple, and I reject the trappings and restrictions you seek to impose on me.”

In the early days of cycling, the bicycle was seen as a form of social emancipation and a means of escape from the industrial pollution of the big cities. A bicycle wasn’t cheap but it was something that workers aspired to and a realisable dream for many. Campaigning cyclists in the late nineteenth century played a key role in getting the existing roads upgraded so that surfaces were suitable to ride on.

The endemic creep of car culture from about the 1930s onwards put paid to cycling’s heyday and one form of pollution (the smog of coal fires) was replaced by another, the not-so-visible exhaust fumes from vehicles.

The 2011 ride comes to a temporary halt on Micklegate. Photograph: Tony Minou on Wikipedia
The 2011 ride comes to a temporary halt on Micklegate. Photograph: Tony Minou on Wikipedia

Today we are seen as little more than an obstruction to the flow of traffic and politically marginalised, pushed to the edges of the highway and treated as a second-class species. A whole anti-cyclist mythology has grown up among car-drivers: we don’t pay road tax, we all go through red lights; it’s our fault if we get hit because the driver didn’t see us.

As a social group we’re pretty much in the position that gay or black people were in the early 1960s.

Planners feel free to discriminate against us. Media celebrities ridicule us. The police and courts are reluctant to take action against drivers, even when death and serious injury to the cyclist results. Some days it feels as if we do not exist at all.

Yet we still believe cycling has a key role to play in the transition towards a sustainable future on a planet whose natural resources are being rapidly depleted. We want more people to take up cycling and we want them to feel safe and empowered to do so.

To existing cyclists we say: take pride in the fact that you ride a bike: it doesn’t mean you’re a loser. On the contrary you’ve made a positive choice not to put yet another car on the road.

Be proud of your body too: no matter what its colour, shape and size, it’s the locomotion that your body provides that enables you to move forward in the purest way possible, without burning a load of oil. Of course you are vulnerable on the road: your nakedness emphasises that, but don’t forget – bare skin also makes a wonderful canvas for painting on slogans.

There’s plenty to protest about, but there’s also plenty to celebrate. We will do what it takes to be seen and heard, and we’ll have fun doing it at the same time. That’s why I’ll be riding once again in the York World Naked Ride.