On the surface, the World Naked Bike Ride Portland seems like a quintessential “Keep Portland Weird” quirk. Every June, as Pedalpalooza comes to a close, thousands of local cyclists meet up, strip down, and hit the streets for one of the largest (and most exuberant) organized rides in the city; it's also one of about 70 WNBR events around the country. About 8,000 cyclists took part in 2013, and 9,000 rode in 2014, making it the second-largest organized ride in Portland, behind the Providence Bridge Pedal.
This year's event is scheduled for Saturday, June 27. But there’s plenty more to the ride than the clothing-optional dress code, according to Stephen Upchurch, one of the ride’s lead organizers. Where some naysayers and neighbors have criticized the ride in recent years, Upchurch and other supporters see a joyous celebration of Portland’s vibrant cycling scene.
“The culture around here is really, really into it,” Upchurch says. “People love the ride, whether they're coming out just to have a good time or get more down into the weeds about the ride. It's all good, because we're out there making a statement and just experiencing what it's like to be in this mass of people.”
This year’s World Naked Bike Ride leaves at about 9 pm from Colonel Summers Park in southeast Portland; the route isn’t released beforehand, but cyclists won’t have a difficult time keeping up. Thinking about joining in? Here, a few things to know beforehand.
1. It’s not sexual.
Seriously! Instead, it's all about cyclists' rights, as well as bringing awareness to society's reliance on oil-based transit.
The ride does a respectable job highlighting the vulnerability of cyclists. Several collisions between cyclists and automobiles have dominated headlines over the past few months, laying, ahem, bare the problems that continue to plague Portland’s cycling infrastructure. The Portland City Council recently adopted the Vision Zero resolution, which aims to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2025. That's a great start, but cyclists remain vulnerable on city streets.
“When you're riding a bike out on the streets that have been historically primarily designed for automobiles, you're vulnerable,” Upchurch says. “Being naked outside also brings up some vulnerable things. It's analogous to the vulnerability of cyclists.”
In recent years, the ride has taken a stance against body-shaming while championing positive body image. “This is a celebration of people being in their body, being happy about that, and feeling good about their body,” Upchurch says.
2. It’s not illegal.
The Oregon Constitution is especially protective of free speech (even more so than the First Amendment), which means that public nudity can be protected as a form of protest. The World Naked Bike Ride is considered a protest, making it a wholly legal event. Organizers partner with the City of Portland to acquire the necessary permits, and the Portland Police Bureau to close streets throughout the ride.
That's not to say anything goes, either. Far from it: Nudity as a form of protest might be protected, but lewd or obscene behavior remains an offense that you can be arrested for.
3. You don’t have to get completely naked.
Organizers promote a “bare as you dare” dress code, which means that riders should be only as nude as they’re comfortable with. Many riders arrive at the start line at least mostly clothed and gradually disrobe as the ride draws near.
“If you're not down with being totally naked, that's not a problem, and that's not what the ride is all about,” Upchurch says. “We want people to feel comfortable and safe, and that's our main priority. Some people wear lingerie, bathrobes, costumes, or body paint; that’s important to making the ride a good, comfortable space for everybody.”
Upchurch does recommend two pieces of attire: Shoes and a helmet should be worn for safety reasons.
Everything else? Purely optional.
4. Don't plan on driving to the starting point.
The ride started in 2005 as a lighthearted protest of society’s reliance on oil-based transportation. For that reason, organizers discourage riders from driving to—and parking near—the starting spot. If you must drive in, organizers encourage cyclists to take the MAX light rail (the nearest stop is at Lloyd Center, about 1.5 miles north), catch the bus, or park at a friend’s house and ride in together.
Besides, you'll be one of nearly 10,000 cyclists jammed into the area; do you really want to drive through that?
5. Have fun—just not too much fun.
Sure, it's only natural to imbibe a bit at one of the largest parties in Portland. But be aware that alcohol is not allowed at or near the meet-up spot. And with such a large crowd (including many cyclists who aren't used to large group rides), cruising while boozing (and buck-naked, mind you) isn't a good idea for anyone.
It should go without saying that, as organizers emphasize, riders should stay sober and celebrate accordingly after the ride. There are plenty of after-parties all around the city; just follow the bare skin.