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London Naked Bike Ride 2016 – A Silver Lining

21 June 2016

I emerged from Sainsbury’s on Tower Bridge Road with two cheese ploughman’s subs and an orange juice. Esther was waiting for me beside the doorway, sheltering from a steady downpour. Together we looked out grimly at dark grey clouds that hung heavily with yet more rain. It was hard to believe that in little over half an hour we would begin a 13km mass nude cycle ride around central London.

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Maps data © 2016 Google – 13km route from Tower Hill to Wellington Arch

We remounted our bikes and pressed on over Tower Bridge. Assuming we went ahead as hoped it would be my seventh London Naked Bike Ride – after 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 – and Esther’s first time since her début in 2013. The World Naked Bike Ride spreads to ever more towns and cities but London remains the biggest and best. We were headed for the most easterly of its six start points: Tower Hill.

London assembly

Shortly after we joined the assembled riders sheltering within Tower Hill Memorial, the heavens opened with renewed vigour. It didn’t look promising at all, but there was no suggestion of quitting. In a clear statement of intent, Esther stripped and lathered herself from neck to ankles in silver paint. She then decorated me with blue and pink handprints, and we daubed random colours on each other’s faces. We were ready.

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Silver rider – Esther saddles up in Tower Hill Memorial

All around us, riders were ignoring the cloudburst and finalising their own preparations. Our friend Natansky was once again the main organiser for the Tower Hill start, whilst another friend, Cy, was helping on marshal duties for the first time. One of the regular ride marshals, Simon, stood beside us with a gadget that displayed real-time weather charts. He prophesied lightning ahead, yet outside the rain seemed to be easing.

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Simon on the left, Cy on the right – our all-weather marshals

At 3pm, we got the signal to move out. Incredibly, the rainfall had all but stopped. The universe loves naked people, it seems. More and more nude bodies on bicycles rolled out from the memorial and lined up for their mass exit via Trinity Square. Other friends were now with us, including Calu of Naked Movement, and Paula the Nude Nomad. Anticipation was building but there was to be no repeat of last year’s false start.

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Feathered freedom, on the wing and the road

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Calu ready for some two-wheeled naked movement

We waited patiently for almost ten minutes. All around us tourists, photographers and bystanders had a field day, ogling at our bizarre spectacle. We would have been easy prey for the seedier voyeurs but I didn’t notice any problems. As ever, the atmosphere was more like Mardi Gras: music was playing and we were buzzing to hit the road. At 3:09pm – according to my camera – we finally roared out to Byward Street.

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We begin – naked cyclists go west on Byward Street

Police intervention

Our first 2 kilometres along Lower Thames Street, Upper Thames Street and beneath Blackfriars Underpass were fairly low key. The early bad weather meant there weren’t many pedestrians to cheer us along, but a few fellow cyclists had pimped their bikes with impressive sound systems so we were not riding in silence; plus we found more old friends to banter with, like fellow naked performance regular, Chas.

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Top-hatted Chas and silver Esther before Blackfriars railway bridge

Along Victoria Embankment, we had the River Thames to our left, heavier traffic to our right, and more onlookers all around. Aside from being a lot of fun, the naked bike ride is a protest against oil dependency, a commentary on the visibility and vulnerability of cyclists, and a celebration of body freedom – without anyone to see us, our message goes nowhere. Individual cyclists took the opportunity to promote causes of their own.

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Solidarity with the ‘Naked Rambler’, Stephen Gough

From the Embankment we turned right into Northumblerland Avenue. Our plan was to ride its full length toward Trafalgar Square, but halfway along our progress was halted unexpectedly by the police. Our lead marshal conferred with them for a minute or two, and then led us left on a detour along Great Scotland Yard. We didn’t know what their problem was, but coolly we complied, emerging on the southbound side of Whitehall.

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Naked cyclists pulled up by the fuzz in Northumberland Avenue

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Funnelling past a concrete roadblock across Great Scotland Yard

The Tower Hill group usually converges with the those from Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and King’s Cross around Trafalgar Square. On this occasion, however, we joined them part way along Whitehall. I assume we met the Clapham Junction and West Norwood groups at the far end, on Parliament Street, but it’s hard to visualise the complete ride when one is a mere individual amid hundreds of naked bodies on bicycles.

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Coasting down Whitehall with The Victoria Tower in our sights

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Marshalling a London red bus on Whitehall – © Alisdare Hickson

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A selfie with Cy, on the corner of Parliament Square

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Dub reggae rider – this year’s finest sound system

Southern comfort

The turning from Parliament Street into Bridge Street for the crossing of Westminster Bridge is traditionally our first major encounter with large hoards of people. These are mainly tourists, natural spectators, who crowd the pavement edges and beyond; they narrow the road and close in on us to get the best photos. This year was no different, although for once we were able to stream across the bridge without hindrance.

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Esther runs the gauntlet on Westminster Bridge

I’ve enjoyed it in the past when pressure of numbers has meant we’ve been held up for a few minutes on Westminster Bridge. There’s a weirdly entertaining communion with the masses that yearns to spill over into a party, but mostly remains a self-conscious stand-off. We free-wheeled off Westminster Bridge Road, round Addington Street, and into York Road, from where we inched slowly into Forum Magnum Square.

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Time for that cheese ploughman’s sub – © SL50AZ

We reached the square at 4pm and stayed 10 minutes to allow time for riders from all six starting points to gather and continue as one group. Esther and I climbed from our bikes, finished our cheese ploughman’s subs and loitered while strangers took photos of us. Our mass departure from the square seemed to begin and then be halted again, presumably by marshals who wanted to make sure no-one was left behind.

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Spotted whilst waiting to leave Forum Magnum Square

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Cruising down Belvedere Road – © AntwoneWalters.com

We completed our trip south of the river on Belvedere Road, turning right into Concert Hall Approach, and then looping round onto Waterloo Bridge. This is a favoured place for dismounting and getting souvenir photos as there are no crowds on its pavements of the kind we encounter at Westminster Bridge. Esther and I joined in taking a quick break before returning north.

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Pausing for a souvenir embrace on Waterloo Bridge

Field of dreams

Saddling up once again, we exited Waterloo Bridge a little after twenty past four, then pedalled down Lancaster Place, onto The Strand, arced around Aldwych and back on The Strand to pass by the Royal Courts of Justice. Somehow at this point Esther and I became isolated from other cyclists as the ride became a tad strung out. There were just enough naked bodies still in view for us to follow.

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Leaving Waterloo Bridge, about to hit the north

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Esther peering forward, me grinning behind – © infp69 Photography

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I didn’t go barefoot this year, but Paula did – © infp69 Photography

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Breezing past the Royal Courts of Justice

From The Strand, we made it barely fifty yards up Fleet Street before turning left on to Chancery Lane. The next left took us along Carey Street, and a right sent us up Serle Street, leading to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. We cycled three sides of the broad central field before coming to a halt amidst a mass of nude humanity near the public toilets. It was half-past four; the rain had held off and now we were even treated to some sunshine.

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Natansky, fluorescent vest removed, body paint revealed – © Noctiel Alvarado

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An ocean of nakedness at Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Our extended break at Lincoln’s Inn Fields lasted fully half an hour. We used the time to answer nature’s call and encountered some more familiar faces. One of those was Dermot, a fellow life model, who kindly took us another souvenir photo. Come 5pm, it was time to set off again along Newman’s Row and two more sides of the field, being heckled fiercely by a couple of homeless guys on the way.

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Saddled up and loved up – © AntwoneWalters.com

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The ubiquitous red-bob lady – always present

Street life

Now we were onto some of London’s less celebrated highways: from Remnant Street to Great Queen Street; then Long Acre, Bow Street, Wellington Street, and Tavistock Street taking us to Covent Garden; Southampton Street next, then cobbled Henrietta Street, Bedford Street, Chandos Place and finally William IV Street taking us back to tourist territory at the southern end of Charing Cross Road.

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Can’t resist a reflection selfie – this at All Bar One on Remnant Street

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Boxed on Great Queen Street, Dermot on the right in the green hat

These roads are much narrower and always busy with pedestrians, meaning there is less space between us and our public. Progress was stop-start, but the atmosphere almost always upbeat – not least when we passed the inevitable hen party. Only one unsavoury incident came when a drunken lout decided he wanted to cuddle a guy on low-ride cycle. Last I saw, the rider had pulled over and was headed for a showdown.

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J-J-J-J-Juddering along the cobbles of Henrietta Street

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Always a picture – Esther in front of the National Portrait Gallery

A different Mall

A combination of traffic lights and much more traffic in the vicinity of Trafalgar Square meant we were halted on St Martin’s Place for a few minutes. Happily, however, here we met another friend, life model and life drawing group organiser, Matt. We bantered and exchanged photographic favours until the roads opened before us, and at last we could pick up the pace, with crowds cheering all around.

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Esther and Matt at St Martin’s Place

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Photographing Nelson’s Column, but getting an evil eye from the woman in front

Disappointingly, this year we were unable to enjoy a magnificent ride along The Mall as it had been set aside for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebration. I rather rather felt our own celebration of body freedom was every bit as worthy, but there it is. Instead we detoured along Cockspur Street (tee-hee), Pall Mall, St James’s Street and onto Piccadilly. At this point we had a choice: a quiet finish, or photo voyeur bedlam…

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Esther and me, photographed by Matt

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Heading towards Admiralty Arch but not destined to pass beneath it this time

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On Pall Mall – there’s a baby in that little trailer

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The silver streak continues, passing The Ritz on Piccadilly

Click click

I’ve no idea where the quiet finish would have been, but we were following the masses to our traditional end point at Wellington Arch. We rounded Duke of Wellington Place and passed beneath the arch at ten to six. We had been on the road for almost three hours, and now had to face the awaiting grubby voyeur photographers. I pushed away the camera of one who was blocking the road. He called me a lanky twat. Yep.

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Wellington Arch, the final frontier

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Underneath the arch, across the finish line – © Ðariusz

In fairness, not all the photographers are bad. A few respectfully asked permission to take pictures, and this was much appreciated, while others captured the joyful mood of the occasion rather than trying to zoom in on genitals. Esther and I found a space, lay down our bikes, rested a while, hugged and kissed, then dressed sooner than we would have liked as the dodgier photographers closed in once more.

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A rest… – © planetnd

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…and a hug… – © planetnd

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…and a kiss – © planetnd

Unlike last year there would be no naked ride back to Tower Hill, so all that remained for us to do was track down the friends we’d lost along the way and say our farewells. Chas, Cy and Natanksy had all made it to the end. As ever, Cy had recorded the ride on video and would soon share with the world. Gradually we drifted away and as if to prove how lucky we’d been with the weather, it started to rain. We’d been blessed.

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6 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Naturalian's Blog and commented:
    A wonderful cycle ride…..

  2. lovely Silver Bullet streaking London’s street, the barefoot Paula and eternal Steve presence – pity I was abroad. Hope next year will add some extra flavour to the event! Fantastico!!!

  3. boykog permalink

    Reblogged this on BoykoG’s Blog and commented:
    Commemorative…

  4. ChrisLT permalink

    Excellent account of the ride, thank you. I wasn’t able to get to it but did Brighton next day.

  5. Great ride! The guy with the native headdress ought to check what it means and how wearing it like this is not funny but an insult to North American indians

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Wild, naturist and free ~ Brighton Rock – Esther Bunting

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