Bicyclists across the world will bare it all in an event that marks a celebration of the human body, protesting oil dependency and attempting to promote less reliance on cars.
The third-annual World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is scheduled to roll through Columbus Saturday. The ride will begin at 11:59 p.m. from 400 W. Rich St., an art gallery in East Franklinton, through the downtown area for about two to three miles.
Participants generally cover their lower halves, although some riders opt to go completely nude. Women are legally allowed to be topless outside in Columbus because it is not considered indecent exposure.
Because complete public nudity is illegal, The Lantern has changed the names of one rider and one organizer in this story to protect their identities.
Thomas, who referred to himself as the chief propagandist for the ride, said WNBR is also a kick-off for the summer biking season and is a way to facilitate the biking culture.
“The No. 1 reason why this ride happens is to highlight the vulnerability of cyclists to automobiles,” Thomas said. “There was a time, in this country and in every country, really, where cars were the intruders in roads.”
Thomas said he has relied on bikes as his primary form of transportation throughout his entire adult life. He also said he doesn’t believe Columbus is doing all it can with its vibrant biking community to promote a sustainable bike culture.
The reason participants ride in the nude, Thomas said, is to make a statement about the lack of protection cyclists have from cars.
“By shedding all of the clothes, it really makes a visual and artistic point that cyclists have no, you know, 1,000, 2,000 pounds of steel wrapped around them, no seat belts. At best we have helmets,” Thomas said. “We’re vulnerable to cars.”
The bike ride is also an event to protest against oil dependency.
Kevin Henschel, incoming president of the Ohio State Cycling Club and a third-year in food science and nutrition, said cyclists are a mobile unit in the environmental movement.
“The naked ride is a fun way to promote a positive body image and to simultaneously protest oil dependency,” Henschel said.
He also said WNBR is an extreme form of “green exhibitionism.”
The ride is also designed to encourage the celebration of all genders of the human body.
Michelle, 29, said she will be participating in the ride for her second time. She said she’s riding because it empowers her on a personal level.
“I will admit as a woman, I was very focused on my vulnerability of being in the nude,” Michelle said. “I was nervous about it, but it ended up being a really good, empowering and healing experience for me. Just being out there, being who I am and getting accepted.”
The nationwide WNBR started in 2004 and has since expanded to about 20 countries. Columbus had its first ride in 2010 with about 150 participants, and the organizers expect this year to be their biggest yet, with expected amounts between 600 and 1,000 people.
“This year is different because there is so much buzz because we’ve had two years of absolutely no incidents,” Thomas said.
Thomas and Michelle said there has not been any issue with police in the past, and they hope that will continue this year.
Columbus Police Sgt. Richard Weiner agreed there haven’t been any issues, but he said people who are participating can be arrested if they don’t follow the law.
“If there is anybody who is totally nude, they can be arrested for public indecency,” Weiner said. “In the past they pretty much did what they needed to do and for the most part, they were cooperative.”
The motto for the event is “Bare as you dare,” which means riders should be aware there are risks for riding completely naked.
Anyone is allowed to participate in this free event and signing up is not necessary.
Thomas said he’s looking forward to riding down High Street in the nude again.
“People are all like ‘Why are all those people naked?'” he said, “and it starts a conversation, really.”