It happened somewhere in the middle of the ride, somewhere around S.E. Hawthorne and 42nd, just as the World Naked Bike Ride was really gaining steam through Portland on Saturday night.

“Wow,” I remarked. “Everybody here is naked.”

As a spectator, that fact is apparent, but in the midst of the pack, some 10,000 strong, the nudity seems to vanish – it suddenly becomes so normal.

For the people of Portland, the event has been normalizing itself. People have mounted bikes naked every year since 2004, when the World Naked Bike Ride – a global protest against oil and for cyclist rights – first came to town.

Every year since then, more people have joined the ride, growing it from a niche event into a mass gathering, one of the largest Naked Bike Rides in the world.

I was one of this year’s rookies, riding for the first time with my girlfriend, Lindsey, both of us cruising through the city completely in the buff.

We had spent the weeks before the event stressing out over small things. Would it be hard to ride with so many other people? What if we fell? Would the bike seat be uncomfortable? 

Hours before we left Saturday we stripped down and rode our bikes in circles around the garage. We prayed our housemate didn’t pick that moment to come home.

We arrived at Colonel Summers Park, the meet-up spot for the ride, with ample time to steel ourselves for the experience, but as it turned out, there was little to steel ourselves for.

Our bikes propped up against a tree, crowds of people all around us, we looked at each other and grinned.

“It’s already hot,” Lindsey said.

“Then let’s get naked,” I told her.

With that, we stripped. Our hitherto-unseen skin touched the warm summer evening. Nobody so much as batted an eye.

Organizers of the ride encouraged people to focus on the protest aspect this year, selling stickers that proclaim one of their three primary causes: our dependency on oil, cyclist safety and body positivity.

Some people had their own causes painted onto their backs: “Stop HIV,” “Free Love,” “Am I odd or extraordinary?”

Lindsey and I talked about what we were riding for. After much debate we landed on “desexualizing the naked body.” We didn’t paint it on our backs, but we agreed to keep it in the backs of our minds.

A trio of Christian counter-protesters set up on the sidewalk outside the park. A man with a portable speaker started preaching to the crowd.

“God is angry with all of you!” he bellowed. “Everybody here is going to die and go straight to hell!”

The riders responded by whooping and yelling. A guy brought over a portable speaker of his own and started playing music. A makeshift dance party broke out. Their message was lost on the crowd.

By a quarter after nine, an exodus had begun. People began fleeing the park to get in line for the ride. We joined the pack and stood unmoving for what felt like half an hour.

Soon enough we were out on the road, the pack headed east down S.E. Belmont. People began lining the streets, their faces bewildered or else amused. A few clapped and hollered, but most bystanders simply stood there in silence, watching in awe at the naked parade.

One woman stood at a street corner tugging sheepishly at her top. Some riders told her to take it off. She whipped it off with a huge smile, everybody applauding her as they passed.  

The support we all received was incredible. For all the vitriol some Portlanders spit about the Naked Bike Ride and the people who participate (look no further than the comment sections on our stories about it here), nary a negative word came from the people who came out of restaurants and bars to watch.

A few people stripped down naked on the sidewalk in solidarity. Some with bikes promptly joined up with the crowd.

We biked down Cesar Chavez Blvd., turned east onto Hawthorne, headed south down S.E. 50th to Division, and rode past Pok Pok and Salt and Straw down to the Willamette.

The breeze whipped cool across our backs as our bikes sped downhill toward the river, Tillikum Crossing illuminated yellow and blue in the distance. I suddenly realized I had a huge grin on my face. I looked over at Lindsey – she had one too.

When I told people I was going to participate in the World Naked Bike Ride, most of them shook their heads.

“Good luck,” they’d say. “I could never do that.”

I get it – used to think the same thing. But as the crowd of 10,000 smiling faces reached the end of the ride Saturday night, I felt like a fresh convert into the religion of naked cycling.

It was an incredible experience, and as it turns out, the bike seat feels just fine.

–Jamie Hale | [email protected] | @HaleJamesB

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