*Warning this blog may contain nuts and nudity.
I am nearly killed several times a day. I’m not being melodramatic, this is the reality of being a cycle commuter. I swear that my helmet has magical powers and renders me invisible. (Strangely, Audi drivers seem especially susceptible to this phenomenon.)
The World Naked Bike Ride is a series of organised events to highlight the vulnerability of bike users on the roads. “Can you see us now?” it screams. “We’re only human after all.” And there’s nothing like a few hundred butt-naked pedal-pushers parading through a city to bring the traffic to a halt.
So, at the age of 40, with a body that has carried 4 babies, (and has the stretch marks to prove it,) I decided that I was going to attend my first protest. Manchester, birthplace of the Suffragettes and the trade unions movement seemed a fitting backdrop to my emergent militancy.
So, let’s talk body confidence; some might say that this is just that aeroplane woman showing off again. Well, whilst I’m not turning all the lights off to undress; I’m far from being a closet naturist. I know about my muffin top, chunky thighs, saggy boobs and generously padded backside and I usually dress accordingly. I have your regular, non-extreme body issues, you might say. If it’s flabby, don’t flaunt it.
Oh, and while we are at it, I long to be a liberal free-thinking vegan but I have conservative, prudish tendencies and love cheese.
Fast-forward to me pushing my bike around a cordoned-off corner of a park trying not to look abashed or goggle-eyed at a load of blokes who have no clothes on! My husband, press-ganged into being my taxi driver/chaperone for the evening, had classic closed body language with arms tightly folded across his chest and was generally avoiding making eye contact with anyone, (me included.) “What did you expect?” was the level of support in that direction.
In confusing situations it is always reassuring to see a man in a hi-viz vest, even if that is all he has on. “Excuse me,” I stuttered with feigned nonchalance, “where are all the women?” He assured me that there were plenty of ladies around but that the fairer sex were hiding their modesty till the last minute. I glanced furtively around. Nope, still just dangling willies as far as the eye can see.
Damn! Make your mind up time. Slink away from a truly, awkward, weird situation and make a tactical retreat to the Pizza Hut across the road or get on with it? Deep breath. Eyes down. Strip quickly down to nude knickers and stretchy vest. Look around. No still all men. Eek! Top off.
Now that I had set the ball rolling, other women emerged from wherever they had been hiding. As we waited to start there were lots of smiling ladies and I quietly tucked myself in next to a particularly jolly looking lady with rainbow striped knickers and a lime green BMX helmet. The instructions had specified to bear as you dare and for most of the women this seemed to be pants on; whereas the chaps seemed to be comprehensively hanging free.
Once we were off, the nudity seemed less of an issue. The view from the saddle was mostly saggy bottoms. It was a revelation to me how hairy a man’s bum crack can be and I suspect some hardly need padded cycling shorts at all.
Naked people are a noisy bunch too. The constant ringing, honking and hollering made me a little sad I’d broken my bike bell just the day before. Definitely a cow bell event next time. One fella pulled a trailer with a boom box pumping out tunes. As far as bizarre, yet awesome, experiences go, sitting starkers on Deansgate clapping along to Candi Statton is up there!
We cycled around the city centre for an hour and a half, a loopy course that pretty much covered every street on a busy Friday evening. The speed was slow, which is difficult when you have cleats, and I had to stay on my brakes. (Whilst everyone’s first reaction is to question the comfort of the saddle in a naked bike ride, I found that lack of bra whilst riding a carbon road bike made things decidedly pendulous.)
The streets were packed as punters from bars spilled out to cheer, clap and film us. Yes, I suspect there is now video of me naked on the internet somewhere. (Sorry Mum.) I don’t think it counts as pornography if you’ve got a OMM rucksack on though.
Funny how quickly your perspective on a situation can change. “I know you’re naked but I can’t help admiring your beautiful…Bianchi,” were my opening words to Alexei, a Liverpool Deliveroo rider from Talin with a gorgeous vintage bike. We rode chatting together about cycling and life in general. He even offered to swap for a while so I could have a go on my dream ride, (at which point I remembered the lack of coverage in the saddle area and politely declined!)
It was a tad nippy by the end and after a final glorious ride through drag queen lined Canal Street we headed to the finish. Our farewells were brief as we quickly dressed, warned by the organisers that we had to be clothed within the next 30 minutes; presumably after this time we were no longer political activists in the eyes of the law but became a load of pervs?
Retreating to the comfort of the kebab shop across the road; I watched as very conservatively dressed, boring looking cyclists exited through the gates and marvelled at the change. Incredible to think that these mild-mannered pedal pushers where so gregarious just minutes ago.
I wish I could say that getting all jiggly with it would mean that I am safer on the roads. I’m not that naive. It’s sad that cycling is so dangerous in this country, that many are too nervous to cycle in traffic and tragic accidents are frequent. But perhaps, next time a driver is stuck behind a cyclist there might be a moment when they remember that beneath the awful, garish lycra there is flesh and bone and that might be enough to give us a bit of extra road space. And that’s why I got naked.