In the buff: bareback riders

Sam Noble strips down to his Speedos and joins York’s nudist cyclists in a protest against oil dependency. Would you dare to bare for the city’s naughtiest bike ride?

I am an idiot, I thought, as I waited in a queue of men and women of all shapes, sizes, and colours. All of a similar mental disposition, however – all naked. I am an idiot, I repeated to myself again.

As my friends and family will agree, I will do anything if challenged to. Even if I’m only being teased or slightly goaded, no matter how silly, I’ll be there with bells on. So my mind was caught between two polar opinions when dared to do the second annual York Naked Bike Ride. Did I really want to join the party of hippies and all those other people to whom gravity has been severely unkind as they cycled around York in their birthday suits? Or would it just be a bit of harmless fun? As I stood there in my pink Speedos, I couldn’t help thinking, once again: “I am an idiot.”

The Naked Bike Ride is a protest against our country’s oil dependency, an unfortunate consequence of our reliance on cars. The aim is to promote other means of travel, particularly cycling, public transport and walking. The cyclists’ nudity was supposed to represent the fragility of cyclists who face careless drivers everyday; lorries, four-by-fours, and cars who show disregard for us peddling, environmentally-friendly types. Whilst I basked in the sun, I thought about the issues (and my idiocy) over and over again, wondering whether it was really worth the potential humiliation.

Like most people who will be reading this, I do genuinely care about the gargantuan of cars clogging up the roads and the effect it has on dying Mother Nature. When my mum used to drive me to school, we’d cynically count the number of cars with lone drivers in the long queues of traffic. We would berate them for their wanton disregard for car pooling and the environment. As soon as I was dropped off, however, we would both avoid making eye contact as we realised with shame that we were both hypocrites. Now my mother cycles to work, and I try to walk everywhere as much as possible, which in York is completely feasible. I’m certainly not judging anyone, but it confounds me that anyone would want to pay £1.50 for a single on the number four into town when the city centre is only 20 minutes away from campus. When I lived in Derwent, I’d walk into town with like-minded thrifty gentlemen as our friends would board the bus. By the time the bus collected the many passengers from outside the library and arrived in town, we’d be waiting by the bus stop, with a smug grin and an extra pint in our bellies.

‘It was surreal. The stereo played ‘The Bare Necessities’. Everyone we passed either laughed or cheered us on’

I may still be an idiot, but this naked cycle felt like a vindicated protest against the country’s dependency on four-wheeled transport. When I asked my fellow cyclists what their motivation was for taking part in the ride, it was clear their nudity was all for fun, but that they appreciated what we were protesting against. Oil dependency is bad, they said again and again – promoting alternatives is good. I laughed at the slogans emblazoned onto people’s backs, my favourite being from an elderly gent who had ‘Nude is good’ written on his behind, while his sweaty John Thomas rested on his saddle. A bunch of tattooed bikers covered their modesty with ‘I’m only here for the crack’.

We left memorial park at 6 p.m. to the sound of a large crowd cheering and snapping away at us with their cameras. The police cyclists who escorted us looked exasperated and sweaty in black, while us naturists enjoyed the feel of the breeze on otherwise hidden parts of our bodies. The cycle took us towards the Minster, through town towards Clifford’s Tower, all the way down to Millennium Bridge, then back through Micklegate towards Coney Street and finally finishing in the Museum Gardens. The route reminded me just how beautiful York is, with its cobbled streets, Georgian terraces and lush parks. I didn’t want to be anywhere else as the sun shone on me – and I certainly didn’t want any clothes on.

To say the experience was surreal is an understatement. We cycled at a leisurely pace, accompanied by a stereo that played ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, accurately capturing the mood of us merry cyclists. We made a cacophony of noise with our bells, whistles, horns and cheering as we passed gobsmacked pedestrians and people in their cars. Every person we passed either laughed happily, clapped, smiled maniacally or cheered us on, appreciative of the silliness that we all had embraced. I felt less of an idiot and more like a hero; we were treated like astronauts in the ’60s driving through a ticker-tape parade. What an utter pleasure to do something completely ridiculous and make a group of otherwise indifferent people happy.

While in this wistful mood, I thought of the paradoxical nature of the English. On one hand, we are a moody, quiet and reserved nation. If you’ve ever tried to spark up an irreverent conversation with someone on the Tube, you’ll know what I mean. On the other hand, we are an island of characters who embrace silliness, fun and the surreal like no other, as Father Christmas on a unicycle next to me demonstrated by booming out his green politics in rhyming couplets. We may be naked idiots, yes. But I’m proud of it.

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