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London Naked Bike Ride 2013 – Arch to Arch

15 June 2013

An undisputed highlight of the naked events calendar is the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR). Thousands of people gather in scores of cities around the globe, stripping off and jumping on their bicycles to ‘protest oil dependency and celebrate the power and individuality of our bodies‘. The tenth annual London Naked Bike Ride took place on 8 June 2013. As in 2009, 2011 and 2012, I cast off my own clothes and saddled up.

New for 2013, five separate start points had been organised: three on the north side of the river, converging at Piccadilly Circus, and the other two joining at Forum Magnum Square near the southern end of Westminster Bridge. I chose the start at Marble Arch to meet with friends who intended being body painted there before the 3pm kick-off.

It was 2:15pm when I arrived at Marble Arch with my hired bike and WNBR seat cover. Crowds were already gathering. For every one naked cyclist there may have been two onlookers. Part of the reason for dividing the start was to thwart the irksome, intrusive, oily inadequates that gather solely to snatch photographs of those taking part. Marble Arch was always likely to get the worst of it, being near the finish at Wellington Arch.

After casting about for a while I asked Will Golden, WNBR steward extraordinaire, if he could point me in the right direction. Sure enough, in the secret location I found a small band of body painters, including Natasha who I’d first met at Guerilla Galleries’ ‘Art & Protest‘ exhibition, Esther who I’d met many times through Spirited Bodies, and Julian, a fellow life model and spirited body.

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Me, Esther and Julian lining up at the start, as snapped by our friend Camilla.

Not having time for body painting myself, I’d fastened a string of Nepalese prayer flags round my neck – the most colourful adornment I could lay my hands on before leaving the house. I hoped the peaceful, respectful nature of the ride would be in harmony with Buddhist ideals, and thus I would not be lynched by angry monks.

Having stripped naked at the body painting space, we made our way a short distance to the main Marble Arch gathering a little after 2:30pm. Very few others had started to undress at this time so we stayed out on the fringes. Nevertheless, we received some early attention from photographers.

Of course, being naked in public we expect to be photographed. Riders photograph each other; wide-eyed passers-by spontaneously grab for their camera phones; and it’s a good thing because it helps to spread the protest message. It is the socially dysfunctional snappers – the furtive, or brazenly disrespectful – that are annoying. Thanks, therefore, out go to those who at least had the common courtesy to ask permission before taking pictures.

As 3pm neared, more riders shed their clothes and began shuffling towards Marble Arch itself. Esther, Julian, Natasha and I were towards the back of the field, and it seemed to take an age for us to make progress. Meanwhile, beyond our sight the stewards were doing sterling work to clear a path through the crowds.

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And we’re off – underneath the arches to begin the 2013 London Naked Bike Ride.

I’d brought with me a little plastic whistle that had been handed out before the previous year’s ride. Once we were through the archway and out on the open road it was time to cut loose, make some noise and have some fun. Or so it should have been. As ever the ride was more stop-start than free-wheeling on most of the route.

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Esther and Julian, responsible cyclists, waiting at the traffic lights in Park Lane.

The four of us had it in mind to stick together but frequently we lost Natasha. She’d had the superb idea to take advantage of the photographers by demanding a pound towards Help for Heroes every time someone pointed a camera at her. She was often to be seen posing and then thrusting her collection bag towards the unwary.

From Park Lane we moved slowly along Piccadilly. This has always been one of my favourite streets on the route as the crowds are not too intense but are always good humoured, and the riders still have that first rush of excitement at being naked and free in the city – ecstatic at the sheer unreality of the situation.

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Reaching the east end of Piccadilly, turning left around Piccadilly Circus.

At Piccadilly Circus the crowds are among the heaviest. A regular highlight of the ride is to burst out of Piccadilly and free-wheel around Eros. Not this time, however, as the mass of riders was still too tightly packed. Not until we turned down Haymarket could we find open road and joyously pick up speed.

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Art nudes Esther and Julian ride towards the National Gallery.

As Esther observed: “It’s an exhibitionists’ day out!” From Haymarket to Pall Mall, we pedalled towards the National Gallery and then curved south around Trafalgar Square to the accompaniment of African drums. Police watched us roll by with dispassionate detachment. Until 2009 they had provided crowd control for the event. Now they just let it happen.

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A very British day out.

We raced down Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament, pausing only for photos in front of St Stephen’s tower, wherein Big Ben struck four. At the river we stopped on Westminster Bridge for more photographs. The ever-roving Natasha appeared just in time to strike her pose naked in front of the government.

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Natasha, Esther and parliament – if this isn’t democracy, I don’t know what is.

On the south side of the river we dismounted at Forum Magnum Square and waited for riders from the last two start points to join us. Natasha managed to collect a few more pound coins before we were off again, east along York Road before turning north and crossing back over the river via Waterloo Bridge.

At this point I had expected us to go east towards St. Paul’s Cathedral but instead we carried on in the direction of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where we would take a longer break. On the way there, during another stop for traffic, Julian and I found ourselves next to a chap who offered us strawberries from a punnet. Simple pleasures – thank you, sir.

The Lincoln’s Inn stop allowed us to dismount, stretch, chat with friends, take a toilet break and generally chill out. The most extraordinary thing – which I only appreciate now with hindsight – is that by this point I was totally oblivious to the fact we were all naked. Indeed, I really don’t know if I stopped taking it for granted until we returned to riding through the cheering masses.

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Blowing my whistle on the way to Covent Garden.

The London crowds were magnificent. Their response was uplifting throughout: cheers, applause, whooping, laughing, the merry incredulity of the unprepared, many snapping souvenir photos for their friends back home who might never otherwise believe what had occurred this day. For three hours the sun was out and life was good.

Around Covent Garden the crowds were at their most dense. Progress wasn’t helped by a barrier across road at the west end of Russell Street. Julian went to the aid of one of our senior fellow riders who had fallen off his bike on the cobbles directly in front of us. All the time, the herd inched slowly forward either side.

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Natasha, decorated with mohican and firebird motif, amid the throng in Russell Street.

Another traditional highlight is leaving Covent Garden and turning onto Charing Cross Road, where the crowds are invariably deep and in the very best humour. We pushed onwards, returning to Trafalgar Square, then racing under Admiralty Arch and bursting through to the magnificently wide traffic-free space of The Mall.

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Julian and Natasha make haste along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace.

We stopped in front of Buckingham Palace for more photographs. Nearby was a rider wearing a Prince Harry mask, who we’d first met back at Marble Arch. He obliged us with a few photos in royal company, after which we lined up for a group shot, starker in front of the residence of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. That this could even be possible is grounds for a little national pride.

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Julian, Esther, Natasha and me – buck naked at Buck House.

At last we reached the final leg of our journey: up Constitution Hill to the finishing line beneath Wellington Arch. It was 5:40pm when we arrived, just ten minutes behind schedule – a tribute to the planning of the organisers. We posed for one last group picture and instantly drew another tiresome hoard of opportunist photographers.

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The finishing line ahead at Wellington Arch.

While dressing we met Adrian and Chas, familiar faces from performance art events. It was a pity not to have spotted them during the ride itself. We never did see our mutual friend Cy, and he too failed to see and recognise us but at least he captured us on his fine “rider’s eye” video.

The weather had been kind, the crowds magnificent and the company fantastic. It is said that between 1,300 and 1,400 took part in the ride. If true, it would have been the biggest ride ever in London. It was a joy to be part of it.

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3 Comments
  1. dominic permalink

    Hey I’m on you tube

  2. Reblogged this on and commented:
    I have not yet had a chance to write about my wonderful experience with WNBR last weekend – but fellow rider and friend Steve has! Please enjoy his memories; we were part of the same little group keeping up with each other on the journey. What a pleasure; looking forward to more, and maybe at some point I will share my own recollection.

  3. sassycoupleok permalink

    Very cool !!!

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