A photographer studies a posed group through the viewfinder of his camera and calls out in frustration. “You have to hide your penises, guys,” he yells to the approximately 100 naked, body-painted men and women. “Facebook is a little funny about penises!”
The group was gathered at Coronation Park on Saturday, for this year’s installment of the annual World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR), in which cyclists across the world join together to protest the world’s dependency on cars and fossil fuels by riding naked, en masse, throughout their city’s streets. Started in 2003, the ride also urges riders to pedal the streets nude to highlight the unique dangers cyclists face while riding, exposed—in one way or another—on the road.
WNBR veteran Leif Harmsen participates because he believes the time is more pressing than ever to bring awareness to people about the health of our planet and the ways in which we travel. “The ride raises awareness around oil and automobile dependency and what a disaster that is turning out to be,” he says. “The convenience [of the car] makes it almost addictive, it’s kind of like heroin. It feels good, but it leads you nowhere. You end up sitting still and destroying the environment. It’s not a strategy for long term happiness, just like drugs aren’t.”
For Harmsen, the element of nudity is especially important, as it shows people how fragile our bodies and health actually are. “We are fragile, but we can also choose to be strong,” he says. “We’re strong enough to get ourselves around by a sustainable energy mode, on a bicycle. But if we destroy our environment we’re not going to be able to breathe well enough to walk, never mind biking.”
Photo by Marlene Leung.
Shortly after arriving at Coronation Park, first-time WNBR participant Niki McKelvey sheds her clothes and has “Change” painted on her back in purple body paint. For McKelvey, 37, WNBR is the perfect opportunity to combine her two loves: biking and being naked. “Last summer I discovered naturalism, and started going to Bare Oaks, which is a naturalist park,” she says. “I’m also a big biker. I own a car, but I bike to work every single day. It’s a great way to exercise and save money.”
After the group finishes posing for pictures, they begin their ride. Together they weave through the 14 km route, passing through downtown Toronto’s busiest and poshest streets: Queen’s Park, Yorkville area, Yonge-Dundas Square, and City Hall. The sight of a hundred naked cyclists brings Toronto traffic to a standstill. The cyclists ring their bells and call out various group chants. “Burn fat, not oil!” “Pedal power! People Power!” “More ass, less gas!”
As the riders weave through the busy streets, they are met with shock, laughter, cheers, and applause. Cars and trucks honk their horns in support; pedestrians whistle and take photos with their cell phones.
At the end of their hour-long ride, the exuberant riders rally in downtown’s Grange Park. They dismount and begin to put their clothes back on, relishing the details of the ride with each other.
“I feel awesome,” says McKelvey, as she packs up her bag. “This was an energy that lit up my spirit and soul. You saw how many people smiled: old, young, big, small. I saw one little kid terrified out of her mind, tears streaming down her face, but other than that, everyone was smiling. I wish I could do this everyday,” she continues as she mounts her bike, fully clothed, ready to bike home. “I feel alive.”