Goosebump-inducing rain pitter-patters on the skin of more than 80 Bellingham cyclists that are about to embark on the first nude bike ride around downtown in two years.
The infamous Bellingham Naked Bike Ride made its return Sunday, June 5 after its hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, when bare-clad cyclists hit the streets to promote awareness of body positivity, fossil fuel consumption and biking visibility.
Zachary Robertson, an event organizer, said in previous years, more than 300 riders participated in the event, but due the inclimate weather and less organizing this year, only 87 riders attended this year.
“I was cold,” Sverre Finney, an event participant, said. “[Earlier], I was volunteering for a friend of mine to do this thing in the woods, [so] I’ve been wet all day.”
Now in its 12th year, the Bellingham Naked Bike Ride dates back to 2007, when Robertson sought to host a Bellingham section of the World Naked Bike Ride that originated in Portland, Oregon, in 2004. According to Robertson, about 70 cities and 20 countries participate each year with their own spin on the event.
“My friend and I were like, you know, Bellingham doesn’t have a [naked] bike ride,” Robertson said. “We lived in a cooperative house of 20 people at that time and it was easy to get things started.”
WHY BIKE NAKED?
Some bikers participated in the ride to become exposed to other bodies, reconcile with their own body image and break down their own stereotypes, while others rode in protest to the fossil fuel industry by showing one’s body can provide the energy for transportation. Other cyclists just sought out the thrill of biking naked.
“I mean being naked is cool, body positivity, all that kind of stuff is cool, but I just wanted to do the thing,” Finney said.
The event organizers theme of the Post-Apocalypse Riders was aimed to break down the stigma around ageism and societal structures that don’t value elderly bodies.
Ageism is where “age is used to categorize and divide people in ways that lead to harm, disadvantage and injustice,” according to the World Health Organization.
Ageism can affect the mental health of seniors and even lead to shorter life spans, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association.
When Roberston hands out flyers promoting the event, he said 95% of people over 45 respond with something to the effect of, “no one would want to see that,” referring to their own bodies.
“That breaks my heart,” he said.
Lucy Rose, an event organizer and volunteer, focuses on making sure everybody attending the event is educated on consent and boundaries in a safety talk she gives as riders show up. She works to make sure everyone is respected at the event.
Rose and other volunteers perform the important task of putting out flyers ahead of the event not only to advertise for the people that are interested in watching or attending, but also to inform those who want to avoid the sights altogether.
“If you’re taking everybody by surprise and you’re involving them in your own body empowerment without their [prior knowledge], that’s not really fair to them,” Rose said. “Everybody has a right to put themselves in the position they want to be in.”
To not be apprehended by the law, the riders can’t be shocking or arousing, which is considered indecent, Rose said. Some opposing members of the community were taking down the flyers downtown leading up to the event, which she found frustrating because it could have left some community members uninformed.
Robertson said the first few years of the ride, riders were just scantily clad because of the friction between them and the police. One officer said they would never be able to ride fully naked in Bellingham.
“That sure lit a fire under our butts,” Robertson said. “A year or two later, we were fully naked and that was really great.”
If riders want to participate in future events, the organization’s Facebook page will be updated with details.
Andrew Ford (he/him) is a reporter for The Front working on local environmental and social justice stories. He likes spending time outdoors, biking, and taking photos.
You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.