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London Naked Bike Ride 2014 – A Fresh Start

21 June 2014

In the beginning

12 June 2004, 8pm, a band of 58 naked cyclists rode 2.5 miles around Hyde Park; it was the first World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) protest in the UK capital. Since then it has become a major annual event on the streets of London. When it took place for the tenth time last year, participants had increased to thirteen hundred. This year’s tenth anniversary outing was primed to be the largest ever.

To the Tower

A big innovation for 2013 was to vex the voyeurs that assemble before each ride by spreading its start across five different locations: Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, King’s Cross, Clapham Junction and West Norwood. This year a sixth start was added, at Tower Hill. As its organiser was my friend Natansky, this would be the start for me.

Another difference this year was the weather. The 2013 ride took place on the only dazzling day in an otherwise cold, wet week. This year looked like being the exact reverse. Conditions had been overcast all morning. By 1pm I was pedalling towards Tower Hill station through light rain. It petered out as I arrived, but prospects for the afternoon ahead remained uncertain.

The official assembly time was 2:30pm for a 3pm start. I drifted into Trinity Square Gardens, opposite Tower Hill, an hour early to see if I could help with preparations. For a while I thought I was first to arrive, until eventually I discovered Natansky with Lee Rex – our companion last month for Spencer Tunick in Folkestone – being body painted in the vaulted corridor of Tower Hill Memorial.

Lee was already halfway through being decorated neck-to-ankles as a leather-clad biker – extraordinary artistry by Valbona Bicker – while David Southworth of the UK Bodypaint League was applying finishing touches to a pair of green bloodshot eyes on Natansky’s boobs.

The eyes were concealed beneath a fluorescent vest when official duty called. I took over as the artist’s canvas, and gave David a free hand to paint whatever he liked. He in turn gave me a large yellow cartoon bird’s head on my chest. I was well satisfied.

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Natansky – London Naked Bike Ride official start organiser

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Me – with a, erm… rooster on my chest.

As the clock ticked round, so more people joined us in the memorial. Some were our fellow riders, others were curious onlookers, while a few were just shameless voyeurs. Among the riders were friends from previous events: Camila, Chris, Cy, Gil and Robin. Another friendly face was photographer Scott – London remains a small village.

My pitiful efforts to help went no further than accompanying Natansky on a single lap of Trinity Square Gardens, and then failing to sell a single WNBR saddle cover. I did, however, put myself among the first riders on the corner of Trinity Square at a quarter to three, frontline, ready to hit the road.

To my left was a couple who’d arrived already painted head-to-toe: one red with horns, the other green with leaves. Just behind me was Clare, who could hardly stop grinning at the bizarreness unfolding all around. Next one back was a chap with a young child and a large sound system strapped behind him. And everywhere else cyclists were in various states of undress, attracting the predictable circle of amateur photographers.

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Lining up to start – red devil, green goddess

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Whistle while you wait – Clare raring to go

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Hell’s Boris Biker – Lee revs up

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Me – poised to saddle-up (photo by © Maria Sierra)

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Unmoved by double-red lines – Chris and Camila (photo by © Scott H.)

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Sound system guy, with the Tower of London and Tower Bridge behind

The ride to Westminster

The cry went up at three o’clock and we were away. Natanksy stepped naked into the middle of the road, fluorescent vest held high over her head, and brought all traffic to a standstill. We streamed out of Trinity Square, rolling right into Byward Street and then onwards to Lower Thames Street, Upper Thames Street and Victoria Embankment.

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At last – wheels in motion on Lower Thames Street

Almost immediately we were surrounded by cheers and waving. Whether pedestrians to our left, or motorists and tourist-bus passengers to our right, or the crowds leaning over bridges on high, everybody seemed happy to see us. Elsewhere across London, the other five start groups were also by now on the move.

I lost sight of Lee very early and for the remainder of that day, which was a great pity. Cy too, disappeared from view until we were over the finish line. Of those unknown to me in our group, however, I was pleased to see one of the more iconic regulars of this ride: the lady with the bright red bob.

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Red-bob lady coasts along Victoria Embankment

The plan was that the Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and King’s Cross starters would all come together as a single group at Piccadilly. Meanwhile, the Clapham Junction and West Norwood starters would merge at Vauxhall Bridge. These two mammoth groups would then converge with our own Tower Hill group at 3:30pm on Westminster Bridge.

We turned off Victoria Embankment into Northumberland Avenue, inching between red buses as we moved closer and closer to Trafalgar Square. At the north end we got our first glimpse of riders from the other groups streaming past in front of us. The plan was working – full credit to the organisers.

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Slow progress behind buses along Northumberland Avenue

At Trafalgar Square I spied Natansky again, and the words ‘DOING IT FOR WILL’ that I’d painted on her back. The same words were daubed across my own back. This was our tribute to Will Golden who’d marshalled last year’s ride so magnificently.

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Natansky at Trafalgar Square – doing it for Will

Will’s incredible battle with cancer prevented him being with us again this year. Our thoughts remained with him, however, as did the thoughts of many well-wishers who spoke with us throughout the day to honour his name.

Natansky lingered here a while to make sure all her Tower Hill starters got through and merged safely with the main group. She stayed at the back of the pack for the rest of the ride, so this – alas – was the last I saw of her until we reached the end.

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Natansky in command – naked crowd control in central London

I pushed on, hanging a sharp left into Whitehall, passing Downing Street and assorted government buildings. The Palace of Westminster loomed large on our horizon. As our groups coalesced, so the clouds split asunder and sunshine spilled down upon us.

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Wheeling down Whitehall, waving and whistling to well-wishers

Crowds and traffic thickened again as we neared Parliament Square – a favourite part of the route. There’s always a warm response from the foreign sightseers who throng here to see our living history, then suddenly get the unexpected bonus of a thousand naked cyclists pouring through the heart of it.

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Entering Parliament Square, a lovely day to be on an open-top bus

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All eyes on the London Eye?

Bridge to bridge

Our exit from Parliament Square was Westminster Bridge, where we ground to a halt for several minutes. Whether this was due to weight of traffic, or waiting for stragglers, I know not. Either way, we were a gift to the heaving masses of tourists that lined the west pavement. The photo opportunities here are always superb, but on this day…

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Caught by © Scott H. in front of St Stephen’s Tower (Big Ben, if you like).

It wasn’t just friends and tourists and fellow cyclists taking photos here. Somewhere on the bridge I managed to get myself snapped for publication in Time Out London. And I never even got the chance to discuss my fee!

When eventually we cleared Westminster Bridge, we turned left onto York Road and began a short excursion south of the river. As per last year, our first destination was Forum Magnum Square to pause and get all the cyclists together before completing our journey. Again, progress was grindingly slow due to sheer weight of numbers.

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Are we there yet? Westward to Forum Magnum Square

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Diablo Delenfer – one of the more colourful characters on York Road

Forum Magnum Square was where I spotted Chas: friend and regular fellow performer of nude art. He’d given himself a good chance of being spotted by selecting a top hat tied with a long red silk scarf as his only garment.

We bantered about plans for future modelling in Berlin. Nearby a chap entertained the troops by walking naked on his hands – a curious sight that garnered much applause. And somewhere around here I got snapped for publication by the Londonist.

Back on our bikes we spewed forth from the north side of the square, looped round to York Road and wheeled left up to Waterloo Bridge. Another familiar face was spotted taking pics on the bridge so we stopped once more for a chat and photos.

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The Olympic legacy – British cycling at its very finest

Around the courts

As is now the tradition, our next rest break would be at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Our route north from the Thames took us along Lancaster Place, around Aldwych to the Strand, and on to Fleet Street. A left hand into Chancery Lane, and then… I lost my bearings. But two turns later were at our destination.

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Free to go – passing the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand

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Room at the inn – pausing for breath at Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Theatreland

Our lingering at Lincoln’s Inn Fields did not seem to last as long this year as it has in previous years. Or maybe I just lost track of time. Back in the saddle we swept along Great Queen Street, passing the Prince of Wales pub and pushing on to Long Acre.

Last year a barrier in the road made our loop through Covent Garden the most tedious crawl of the whole route. This time the area was bypassed completely as we circuited north along Endell Street then across Shelton Street before heading back south, down St Martin’s Lane. In these narrow passages the atmosphere turned to a carnival of dub reggae and street dancing.

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Dancing queen on a golden streak

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Window shopping – bagging a cheeky selfie

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Into the light – down St Martin’s Lane towards St Martin-in-the-Field

From St Martin’s Lane we wheeled around St Martin’s Place and back onto Trafalgar Square. Our roads ahead were wide and largely empty. Only traffic lights would slow us now, but with the sun breaking through again, no-one was in a hurry to finish.

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A right and then a left – coneheads lead us around St Martin’s Place

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Passing between St Martin-in-the-Field and the National Portrait Gallery

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Around Trafalgar Square beneath the stony gaze of Admiral Lord Nelson

The home straight

If one part of the route conjures a greater sense of freedom than any other, it is surely The Mall. Once through Admiralty Arch this regal red road, broad and straight, opens grandiosely before us, its entire length lined with huge pristine Union Flags. At its far end the immense façade of Buckingham Palace beckoned us forward.

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Bringing it on – through Admiralty Arch to The Mall

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Makes yer proud – the great British public descends on its monarch

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Selfie in motion on The Mall – well, who wouldn’t?

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Is that you twitching the curtains, Ma’am?

We turned onto Constitution Hill for the final leg of our journey. Naturally, scores of us dismounted for an opportunist photograph outside Buck House. There were still a few tourists left over from Trooping the Colour earlier that day and several joined in the fun. Back on two wheels I checked my watch: it was twenty past five. We’d been cruising naked around the centre of London for almost two and a half hours.

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The end in sight – Wellington Arch in the distance

The end

At the top of the Hill, we found the wearyingly-inevitable predatory rabble of slavering damp-trousered photographers. Some water-pistol-toting women made certain those trousers got even damper whenever a camera was pointed at them without the basic courtesy of first asking permission.

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Armed and dangerous – a masked avenger, naked nemesis of voyeurs

This year, rather than crossing beneath Wellington Arch for our finish, we took a sharp right at the top of Constitution Hill to finish in Green Park instead, close to the Bomber Command Memorial. Friends from the Tower Hill start who had lost sight of each other on the road, slowly drifted back into company.

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We’re puttin’ the band back together

And here at last was Cy. An ever-reliable veteran of the ride, he’d once more captured video footage of the whole thing on a small camera hanging around his neck. His next challenge would be the race to publish first on YouTube.

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Quite how I lost sight of a man trailing a large orange flag, I don’t know

Within 24 hours, the “World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) London 2014 – A Rider’s View” was online. Victory was Cy’s:

Denouement

It had been another great ride – doing it to demonstrate our vulnerability as cyclists on the road; to protest car culture and oil dependency; to celebrate individuality and body freedom; to have a bloody good time. And – this year – doing it for Will Golden.

Here’s to absent friends.

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2 Comments
  1. Excellent Post. Thank you very much. I have promoted it on twitter to spread the word.

    • Thanks, ladygod1va. I think I saw you a couple of times, working to make sure the ride was both successful and safe. Thank you for all the work you put in. It was a great day.

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