Every year, around 1,000 cyclists take to the streets of Chicago in various states of undress for the World Naked Bike Ride, a clothing-optional, 14-mile nighttime ride meant to call attention to the world's dependence on oil and cyclist safety. The cheeky display is also intended to champion the low-carbon impact of bicycling as a mode of transportation: “Less gas, more ass,” as the saying goes.
RECOMMENDED: See coverage of past World Naked Bike Ride Chicago events
Ordinarily, the event—which is celebrated worldwide—falls on the second Saturday in June in the northern hemisphere; for obvious reasons, organizers canceled the ride in 2020. Now it's returning to Chicago for a belated celebration on August 14 with a host of pandemic-era precautions, which include nixing the huge party that's normally thrown after the ride concludes.
“For the sake of COVID, we're really focusing on the demonstration itself,” says Elizabeth Tieri, the lead organizer for the Chicago ride for the past several years. Participating cyclists are encouraged to celebrate at the pre-ride registration and rally, where they can “get pumped up” among other riders for an hour and a half while also receiving briefings on other safety precautions, Tieri says. Vaccines, social distancing and masking (when social distancing isn't possible) are recommended, and don't think about showing up if you feel sick: “We're committed to being pretty strict with people and keeping to those policies,” Tieri says.
This year's iteration of the ride also emphasizes the importance of consent and body positivity. Though it's non-sexual in nature, the ride's nudity sometimes draws unwanted attention from passersby (viewing locations usually aren't revealed until a few days before the event, in an effort to stave off leering spectators). Tieri, who's served as the ride's lead organizer for several years, has led an effort to get more women involved in the organization process and to establish firm rules about consent, especially regarding photography and interacting with other riders. A few body positivity and sexual identity-centric community organizations will also have booths set up during the registration rally to spread awareness of those values ahead of the ride.
“We want to make sure that everyone feels really safe in the space,” Tieri explains. “And if there's anything that makes them feel unsafe in the space, that they feel comfortable shouting that out”
Want to cheer on the cyclists this weekend? The ride usually snakes through central downtown thoroughfares, and viewing locations will be announced on Facebook in the coming days. (It should go without saying, but make sure you're going for non-creepy reasons.) Full-frontal nudity is illegal in Chicago, so some riders forgo going completely au naturel in favor of undies or fanciful costumes; event organizers also require riders to have a set of clothes available to them at all times. Nonetheless, despite its idealistic goals, the ride often elicits a certain pearl-clutching kind of attitude—it's a bunch of naked (or nearly-naked) people on bikes, after all. Tieri, a longtime cyclist and advocate for cyclist safety in Chicago, has a few words for those who feel scandalized by the spectacle:
“I would tell them that I am scandalized by my treatment on the road as a cyclist,” she says. “And if it takes something shocking for them to notice that I'm a human being—doing and being exactly what I'm supposed to be—then I'm all for that shock approach.”