Ron Ashworth thinks too much is made of the naked human body.
“I enjoy the open comfort, the relaxed attitudes [of being naked in public],” says the South Philadelphia cyclist, recalling his first nude beach trip in the mid-80s, and his brief tenure as a male exotic dancer around the same time. “The Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride is just another venue for that openness and liberation.”
Ashworth, 59, is a volunteer at this year’s Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride, an event that locally brings together around 3,000-5,000 cyclists each year to ride as “bare as you dare.”
But why do Philadelphians come out, year after year, for something regularly deemed a freakshow by media and emotional Internet trolls?
“People don’t get why we do this,” says 33-year-old PNBR organizer and Fishtown resident Maria Lily. “They don’t get the purposes of desexualization of nudity, or the cycling advocacy for our safety, and how a couple thousand naked cyclists might call attention and make people slow down or maybe even stop.”
Yeah, the Naked Bike Ride (and the World Naked Bike Ride, taking place in more than 120 cities around the world each year) is about much more than the surprised looks on peoples’ faces when the sea of flesh glides by on a late Saturday afternoon; it’s about positive body image, safe cycling advocacy, and, really, whatever cause the rider deems worthy.
That said, the confused looks, and worse, persist. Lily notes that a former female co-worker once told her that if she simply saw the Naked Bike Ride going by, she’d steer her car into the crowd.
“They don’t get that Philly has a growing cycling community,” she says. “And if people cared to treat us in a safer manner, that more people would be willing to bike around instead of driving.”
As irrational as some people might find nude bike riding, the Naked Bike Ride attempts to reverse that thinking and show how irrational city driving can be.
Philadelphia has been named one of the most walkable, and bikeable, cities in the United States numerous times, yet people still use their car to drive to the local corner store, helping to kill the environment and clog up the streets. It’s a wasted opportunity to get in some old fashioned exercise—and you don’t need to get dressed up for it, either.
“I love anything that shows that you don't need flashy gear or elaborate clothing to enjoy cycling,” says Alexandria Schneider, 29, of Horsham, Pa. “If people see that they can bike wearing whatever you feel comfortable in, it may help them get out there.”
But due to a lack of political will and an apparent fear of change from some residents, Philly has been slower than some other cities in installing 21st Century bicycle infrastructure.
So empowerment, both political and personal, is a large reason people join the Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride.
“I think it’s helpful that we embrace our bodies without the constant sexualization,” says Sarah Goreiki, 30, of West Philadelphia. “I’m concerned as a woman with how I am objectified and I think the ride helps to place my body off of a pedestal and into the rest of humanity.”
So, there are a lot of reasons for being naked, says Ron Ashworth, the volunteer from South Philly, and “isn't that what the ride is all about? Be comfortable in your own skin, don't worry about what the person next to you is wearing; [worry about] are they interesting as a person. Because we are all beautiful, in our own special way.”
The Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride is September 10, 2016, at 5:00 pm. The location is still to be determined.
Randy LoBasso is the communications manager of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. The organization does not openly endorse the Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride. Randy is on Twitter: @RandyLoBasso