As a new Portlander, I’ve been eager to embrace the local culture in all its fabulous forms – great food, craft beer, mellow vibes, politeness, and celebration of being alive. No one does the latter like Portland. No matter what your thing is, you can be loud and proud and still be really polite and mellow about it.
That pretty much sums up the world famous Naked Bike Ride on June 8, 2013. Thousands of naked people, on bikes, late at night, being really polite. I thought for sure the crowd would be rowdy and out of control. How could it not be? I assumed there would be lots of drunken display, general A-holeness, and some creepy awkward interaction. But no, Portland really is a different kind of place. Where else could thousands of naked people cram into a few city blocks and wait calmly, peacefully for a bike ride to start without getting agitated, belligerent, and stupid?
I wondered what it would be like to be in a sea of naked people. Riding into downtown at 9:30 pm across the Broadway bridge, I followed several other pedalers, all fully clothed, headed to the Portland Art Museum for the start of the ride. There was already a huge crowd of mostly naked people when I arrived, but it was dark and I tried not to look at anyone too closely because I didn’t want to seem pervy. I spotted the line for the portapottys — it was already at least 50 naked people long. Just then, a totally naked guy on roller blades burst out of a portapotty and my jaw fell open. He was right in front of me, naked except for the roller blades. Wow. Gotta admit, I wasn’t counting on how nice that sight would be!
It only took about 3 minutes until it seemed 100% normal to be naked in public. In fact, why wear clothes at all? Even though it was cool outside, with all of those people crammed so closely together getting naked was the most practical option as far as staying comfortable was concerned.
Until the Burnside bridge, that is. While the ride itself didn’t start till nearly 10:30 pm, it got off to a really slow start with so many riders and so many onlookers lining the bike route, high fiving and shaking hands. While I thought it was a little off putting for some of the ride spectators to take pictures of us naked riders when we were only an arm’s length from them, the prevalence of photos on the bikeportland.org blog shows that there are plenty of people who are just fine with being naked and easily recognizable on the internet. I would rather not show up on Facebook without clothing, but that’s just me.
The ride itself was fun. There were all kinds of bikes, including lots of double decker tall bikes. Riders got all tricked out with crazy lights, weird hats, sound systems, glittery things, and random stuff. The temperature had dropped about 5 degrees from the cozy wait at the Art Museum to the beginning of the ride. Once we hit the Burnside bridge and the wind whipped my bare back, my naked escapades came to a close. Flannel to the rescue.
The rest of the ride was still fun, even with a shirt on. There was such a convivial spirit. Lots of soccer chants. Skateboarders weaving along. I was most impressed with the riders on those high bikes. It must have been really cold up there!
achromatic lens The ride, which I’ve heard was anywhere from 7 to 12 miles in length and included more than 8,000 riders, took me about an hour to complete. At the end point, somewhere in SE (maybe on 2nd Ave?) a lot of people hung around ready to enjoy all the after-ride festivities while the rest of the riders (what looked like miles of them) continued to pour in for probably an hour or more. While there was a mystery ride to a “secret” all night party somewhere, there were lots of other options for after-ride thrills. I cranked by Crush on the way back to NoPo but it was already packed. Velocult had a party too. My route along 10th Ave was pretty quiet until I hit N Williams. Plenty of naked riders heading north well after midnight.
All in all, it was a really interesting experience. It’s just something you might want to do if you’re the kind of person who never thought you’d be comfortable being naked with thousands of other people on a chilly night on your bike. And it’s just so Portland. In a good way!