Now You See Us: New Orleans Naked Bike Ride Bares a Purpose

If you were walking around the French Quarter on Saturday evening you probably saw something that even New Orleanians would call a little unusual- a lot of bikers with not a lot of clothes. Around 5 PM, the 13th annual World Naked Bike Ride took off from Mickey Markey Park, weaving through the French Quarter, inspiring delight and shock from onlookers who lined the streets. 

While the spectacle was undeniably fun, the event wasn’t created because a couple of bikers got together and decided their deepest desire was to take a casual ride through the city in the nude. Instead, the event was conceived when its founders realized that advocacy requires attention and what better way to get attention than to be nude. 

“Cyclists voluntarily come together and disrobe not for personal attention, but rather to bring attention to dangerous issues they face everyday riding on city streets.” Sebren Strother, the event’s organizer, commented. “These people are not exhibitionists as many think. They are very courageous people that are willing to ride naked to demonstrate just how vulnerable cyclist’s lives are when faced with two-ton automobiles. The message is delivered in a nonconfrontational way as opposed to very confrontational interactions that happen on the streets.”

The event’s Facebook page explains, “Our mission is to take to the streets riding nude as the best way of defending our dignity as humans on bikes. We expose just how vulnerable we are as cyclists on our own city streets. We also ride to protest the world’s oil dependency, mainly cars, that negatively impacts the environment on this planet. Cycling promotes body awareness. And by cycling naked we declare our confidence in the beauty and individuality of our bodies and the bicycle’s place as a catalyst for change in the future of sustainability, transport, community, and recreation.”

The ride was led this year by New Orleans burlesque star Bella Blue. The rainbow banner that waved in the wind behind her tied the event into this month’s Pride festivities. She commented that in past years she had always been an onlooker, “It always looked like a blast and definitely made sense to me that using your physical body to bring awareness to the vulnerabilities of cyclists would be most effective — especially in the nude… When I was asked to lead, I wasn’t totally sure what that entailed but quickly learned that in general, the attendees appreciate a strong presence with no hang-ups around nudity, activism, and where those 2 things intersect. I feel that the parade is an important part of our culture here and as New Orleans continues to grow as a more cyclist-friendly city, the parade is that much more important.”

The event asked that participants ride “as bare as you dare,” which means they could wear anything from a cloak to a tutu to, well, nothing. People arrived in various states of undress, with most riders wearing some kind of coverage, although many went completely nude. 

Slogans for the event, which were painted on participant’s bodies, included: “Kill your speed, not a person,” “Can you see me now,” “You dent I die,” and “yield to life.” Over 575 cyclists participated in the ride this year, breaking records. 

Photo Credit: Todd White.

“The World Naked Bike ride started in 2003 as an offshoot of the naked rides done by Artists for Peace/Artists Against War. The initial message of WNBR was for oil independence, but messages of cycling safety and body freedom have become equally important.” Shane Steinkamp, an organizer of New Orleans World Naked Bike Ride, explained. “In New Orleans, we are used to parades, and it’s easy to conceive of the WNBRNOLA as just another parade.  In truth, it is a parade, but it’s also a protest, a message, an odd kind of performance art, and a celebration all wrapped up together and given as a gift to the city at large. This year almost 600 people (and a few dogs) of every description came together to participate.”

Bike safety is a huge problem in New Orleans and the United States as a whole. A 2017 study found that cycling deaths were climbing faster than driving and walking deaths. In 2018, traffic deaths were down 1% while cycling deaths jumped 10% according to a preliminary projection.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that 30 percent of all bicycle accident injuries occur when a bicyclist is struck by a car. A rise in distracted driving and dangerous vehicles on the road has led to an increase in these tragic statistics. 

New Orleans, with its flat and dense structure, could be one of the best biking cities in the world if it had more bike lanes to protect cyclists. In the last decade, the city has strived to make some changes so the streets are safer for bikers. The main catalyst for these changes was the “complete streets ordinance” which was instituted in 2011. The ordinance directs the city to consider bikes, pedestrians, and public transit in all transit developments. Before the ordinance, New Orleans had 8 miles of bike lanes. Now, it has over 130 miles. 

More than 20 nations and 70 cities celebrated the World Naked Bike Ride this year on Saturday. 

A quote from Conrad Schmidt the founder of The Work Less Party, Artists for Peace, and WNBR comments, “Our message to the world is one of simplification, human harmony, and love. For a future to exist for tomorrow’s generations, we have to stop wasting the life blood energy of the Earth, stop fighting and killing in the name of consumerist wealth accumulation, and learn to love and respect all life on this planet.” 


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