Philly Naked Bike Ride: What's the point?

The Philly Naked Bike Ride 's stated purpose is to "promote fuel-conscious consumption, positive body image and cycling advocacy."
The Philly Naked Bike Ride 's stated purpose is to "promote fuel-conscious consumption, positive body image and cycling advocacy." (RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: August 21, 2012

SATURDAY MARKS the return of what's becoming a tradition in these here parts: the Philly Naked Bike Ride.

The ride is part of a worldwide event that hits 70 cities in 20 countries, but it seems to have a special place in Philadelphia's heart, as evidenced by the turnout that numbers in the thousands (and the subsequent popularity of photos of the ride on philly.com. The enduring popularity of these galleries have become a punch line around the office - and the city, in general - but, hey, whatever keeps the electricity on, right?).

The what of it all is pretty simple: People ride bikes around the city for two hours in any state of undress they please. Some Philadelphians might call this a Tuesday, but for the Naked Bike Ride it becomes an Occasion.

The why is another matter. The folks who put on the ride purport to be about uniting to "promote fuel-conscious consumption, positive body image and cycling advocacy." I'm all for these things (aren't we all?). But that doesn't explain the nakedness. Nudity has nothing to do with fuel consumption, except if we're talking about the energy generated to manufacture clothing. I doubt City Council will approve more bike lanes just because a couple of thousand Philadelphians decided to hop on their bikes sans pants.

Of course, there would be considerably less attention given to the ride each year if pants were involved; most local news outlets give it the sort of coverage other advocacy groups would kill for. But the message - such as it is - rarely is part of that coverage, and stories generally amount to something that sounds like stifled giggles. It's a sideshow, the mission diluted by the medium - and it all becomes a weak protest against . . . nothing in particular.

If that sounds familiar, it should, for it pretty much sums up the problem with a lot of activism these days. When you don't have a real endgame, it's hard to actually get anything accomplished.

Look, I'm pro-nudity. I'm also pro-activism. I just don't think we should conflate quirks with a cause, personal preferences with public policy. If you want shout out kinks from the rooftops, if you want to be an exhibitionist for the day - go for it. Let's just not shroud it behind some sort of nebulous "message." If you want to be naked, go ahead and be naked. Just do me a favor: Don't tell me you're doing it to save the planet - and don't forget to wear sunscreen.

For complete coverage of the 2013 Philly Naked Bike Ride, click here.


Philly Naked Bike Ride, 5 p.m. Saturday, free; to participate, sign up for the email list at phillynakedbikeride.org.


Contact Molly Eichel at eichelm@phillynews.com or 215-854-5909. Follow her on Twitter @mollyeichel.

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