World Naked Bike Ride – LA, 2019
Every year there is this bike ride, the World Naked Bike Ride. It happens in cities across the world. Officially it is a protest against (fill in the blank). This year we demonstrated carbon emissions, Guantanamo Bay, LGBTQ+ issues, body freedom and of course, bicycle safety awareness. The “rule” is to be “bare as you dare”.
Almost by accident, the City of LA never passed a law against nudity, (neither did the county) so here we can theoretically be bare. City (and County) Parks and Rec have their own rules. We are not welcome there. Yet.
There is a state law against lewd behavior. Back when CA was actually somewhat progressive, the state courts ruled that “nude is not lewd”. So unless you are getting aroused or trying to arouse someone else (admittedly a subjective call) you can’t be tried for a felony or as a sex offender no matter where in the state you are. That’s a big relief. Where nudity is illegal it is often just a $100 ticket.
This doesn’t mean you can just disrobe and walk down Main Street at lunch hour and not be hassled. If (when) someone makes a complaint there are other ways to legally bedevil you, starting from simply ordering you to get dressed, to citing you for disturbing the peace or causing a traffic hazard, to pulling you in for a nonjudicial mental health check.
But if you give notice – and make it a free speech issue – you can do it. If you have watched this blog for a while, you have a good idea of what is coming up next. NSFW stuff.
You see them popping up in many cities across the world. Europe, Canada, Latin America, Australia, and a number of American cities. Not many in authoritarian regimes tho. Freedom is too revolutionary.
For today, my wife joined me on the ride and took photos. She kept her clothes on. But it isn’t about making people get naked. It is about allowing people to dress as they please.
What is the point of this exercise in nonconformity? For one thing, a demonstration that such a thing can happen without the world collapsing. It didn’t, any more than it collapsed when gays won the right to marry or schools were integrated. Autos didn’t careen off the road as people looked either at us or away from us. Children did not run away screaming and traumatized.
This is from the 2018 LA ride.
Only a few dogs barked. OTOH maybe parents were coaxed into discussions they had been avoiding. Perhaps a good thing?
Another is desensitization. You’re driving down the street and see naked bicyclists. The next time you see something similar it will have less effect on you. Do it enough times and it would become unremarkable. And the police escort tells everyone it is legal. There is an almost universal assumption that is isn’t.
I would have a naked bike ride every week if I could. Eventually, open nudity would become a ho-hum thing. No big court cases, no painful struggle. Nudies could “win” and nobody would need to “lose”. It would become a fashion statement. (At least in LA. Burbank might take a lot longer.)
There is also a powerful element of self-actualization here. Why do we have gay pride parades? Hell, why have a St. Patrick Day parade? It is a political and social assertion of one’s existence. It is a celebration of ourselves. The Irish have long been deeply incorporated into society. Gays are a more recent addition to the fold and still not accepted in some areas. Nudies? Well, our path to acceptance and incorporation into the broader fabric of society has only begun.
Still, you gotta start somewhere. We need to celebrate being us and being ok. Not hiding in the closet.
Most riders do nothing to hide their identities. You’re going down major streets in the heart of LA and being covered by news crews. Pictures of you are almost certain to be plastered all over the internet. What if your friends see you? Which ones will you lose? What if your employer sees you? You could be fired. Your pastor? Your parents? How about that creepy guy next door? What might happen?
To be vulnerable is to take a risk. Bad things can happen. Unlike other groups, a nudie has no legal recourse against discrimination.
There were two runs. The morning run was about 6-7 miles and basically looped around downtown LA.
The afternoon run was 7 miles out to the Spoke Bicycle Cafe near Glassel Park and 6 miles back. Since most of the riders aren’t in particularly good bike riding shape, a lot of effort went into minimizing the hills that had to be traversed. Tough to do with the morning ride. Downtown LA has a lot of hills. Right and left turns and traffic lights slowed progress to about 5 mph. The slow speed and frequent stops made for a bit of frustration.
The cafe’s clientele didn’t jump up and leave when hundreds of nude riders showed up. However, there were a couple of small warning signs up and maybe the staff had mentioned it. About all I can say there.
The return was quicker. A couple miles on the LA River bike path. Delicious afternoon breezes and intermittent shade. A short stint on Riverside and then straight down Mission. Lots of red lights but shorter and more direct. But I understand the circuitous route. You want to “show the flag” as much as you can in town.
I studied the responses in the public. It was mostly “OMG!” and laughter with a lot of horn honking. A few times at stoplights people asked us what the ride was for. I remember a woman with a couple of young children on the LA Bike path laughing and saying, “Wait until you tell Daddy what you saw today!”
We ended up on all the local news stations. No negativity there.
I don’t consider amusement to be a negative reaction. Certainly not horn honks, nor shouts of encouragement nor thumbs up as people passed by nor videoing on their ubiquitous smartphones.
What I didn’t see was anyone vocally and obviously unhappy. Now, it could well be that people who were displeased simply turned away or ignored it without a visible reaction. It wasn’t always that way in earlier rides. That in itself is a sign of progress.
About half-past 5pm we finished up. 13 miles in 3.5 hours, including that stop at the cafe. Some of the fair-skinned riders were red from sunburn. (Summer solstice is probably the worst day of the year for that.) That’s a good argument for sunscreen but not for clothing.