I’m an awful cyclist. So when I get on my bike, I usually concentrate on things like balance and not cracking my head open — not on how my butt looks.
But last weekend, I added the latter to my list as I stripped down and pedalled — in my underpants and a tiny tee — around the busiest part of the city with other cyclists in the fourth annual Ottawa World Naked Bike Ride.
First, let me make clear that public nudity’s not usually my thing. Maybe it’s something that my old-fashioned Asian parents instilled in me, but normally, I’m the kind of girl who balks at baring even the thinnest slice of midriff.
The name of the ride is a bit misleading, said Paul Thompson, one of the event organizers. “If you don’t want to go naked, you don’t have to,” he assured me as I fretted before doing the ride. “You can wear what you’re comfortable with. We just want people to come out.
“The purpose of the ride is to protest oil dependency and to get people out of their cars and on bikes, on rollerblades.”
It’s also about accepting our bodies, he added. Dressed in a helmet covered in tinfoil and cycling shoes — and nothing else — Thompson’s wearing a lot less than I am, but somehow manages to look more at ease. I make it a point to keep my eyes glued to his face as I’m speaking to him.
The local ride has been growing since it first began in 2005, when seven people came out. Or maybe it just seems that way — about 50 people actually participated in this year’s ride, but hundreds more, including media and gawkers, were there to greet us at Confederation Park. I couldn’t believe how many perverts with point-and-shoot cameras were in the crowd.
Dan Parkinson, who dared to bare all, said being naked is “a demonstration of having the least possible impact and consumption.”
For a topless Carolyn Lecorre, riding naked shows the vulnerability of cyclists on the road. “You can’t be more vulnerable than when you’re naked,” she said.
I wasn’t nude, but I might as well have been as I pedalled my near-naked bottom up Elgin Street. I was so embarrassed, my cheeks (both sets) burned with shame.
We took the ride at a leisurely pace, which was actually worse since it afforded bystanders more time to look. And, I can tell you, A LOT of people dine outside in the ByWard Market on a sunny June Saturday.
“I don’t care if anyone sees,” said Devin Murphy, a first-time participant who took it all off. “I think it’s liberating.”
The longer I rode, the more I found myself seeing his point.
I’m still doubtful as to how much a naked ride illustrates the problem of oil dependency, but the event didn’t hurt anyone. Most people along the route were amused, looking up from their patio lunches to laugh, stare and take pictures with their cellphone cameras.
It’s silly, something the world could definitely use more of. In spite of myself, I had fun.
Besides, I was able to tan some pretty hard to reach places.