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London Naked Bike Ride 2009 – First Time

11 January 2017

It is early 2017 and I am a veteran of seven London Naked Bike Rides. I’ve stripped naked many times as a life model, art performer, street protester, photography model and charity fundraiser but on 13 June 2009, before any of those things, came my first London Naked Bike Ride. On this warm breezy Saturday I joined 1,200 other cyclists on a long leisurely loop around central London, from Hyde Park to Wellington Arch.

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Maps data © 2009 Google – from Hyde Park to Wellington Arch

I remember, it was around 90 minutes before the 3:30pm start that I wheeled my bike past Wellington Arch, into Hyde Park. I’d expected to find the formative gatherings of soon-to-be-naked cyclists but, no, not a sign, so I sat down on the grass and waited. Duly a few people arrived with bikes; at 2:30pm, some began undressing; by 3pm I’d done likewise; come half-past three we were lined up, naked, ready to hit the streets.

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Arriving at Hyde Park – these people don’t look like naked cyclists

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Moving to the start – that red bob would become a familiar sight at future rides

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Lining up in Hyde Park, ready to go

I had no idea whether I was towards the front or back of the group, who was doing the organising, or what would be the signal to start. While we waited, voyeurs surrounded us and feasted greedily with their cameras. This was a time before I’d stopped caring about being photographed naked, so I wore a camouflage hat with a scarf tied around my face. How times change! With a tingling thrill we started along Piccadilly.

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And we’re off – leaving Hyde Park on my first naked bike ride

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Briefly northbound on Park Lane before turning right onto Achilles Way

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Leaving Piccadilly Circus via Coventry Street and Haymarket

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Passing Earl Haig’s memorial on Whitehall

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Naked bike riders on Whitehall

In sensuous spring sunshine, our surreal spectacle crossed Westminster Bridge for a short sojourn south of the river. This was where my day had started, as I hired my two wheel transport, plus a pannier for clothes, from the London Bicycle Tour Company at Gabriel’s Wharf on the south bank. The ride never made it that far east, however, as we returned to the north side via the very next crossing – Waterloo Bridge.

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South of the river on York Road, waving to crowds overhead

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Unicyclists on the slip road up to Waterloo Bridge

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Back north we go

I was having a wonderful time. All around me were hundreds of people either wholly or partially naked; some with bits of costume, others in body paint, some playing music, others blowing whistles. It felt like utter freedom – except I’d chosen to cower under a disguise. How I wish I could have my time again and be fearless from the start. North of the river we continued on The Strand, Chancery Lane and Holborn to Oxford Circus.

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Starting the arc around Aldwych

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Outside The Law Society on Chancery Lane

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In Maddox Street, passing through Mayfair

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Yes, that really is me on Grosvenor Street

We completed our circuit via Grosvenor Street, Upper Grosvenor Street then back to Hyde Park, where we veered south along Park Lane and finished triumphantly below Wellington Arch. More cameras awaited our return; organisers and police alike were keen for us to get dressed quickly, and the seething scrum of damp-palmed voyeurs gave many of us greater inclination to do so. Others, of course, revelled in it.

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“Oil spoils” on Upper Grosvenor Street – protesting against oil dependency

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Down Park Lane…

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…nearly there

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Wellington Arch – our final destination

Such glorious, hedonistic madness. I knew it couldn’t end here, that this would not be the last time I took part, but how little I sensed when departing Hyde Park a few hours earlier, that I was embarking on a profound personal journey destined to transform my life in unimaginable ways. A group photo shoot the next day at Prested Hall became the very first nude art project in which I participated. The rest – this blog – is history.

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