Last year, for the first time as an (almost completely) unclothed participant, I did the Manchester World Naked Bike Ride.

And it was pretty marvellous.

If you can’t extrapolate from the name, the World Naked Bike Ride is a naked bike ride that happens in different cities across the world. (Not a naked bike ride round the world, which would also be cool.) While some organisers call it a peaceful protest with aims “to deliver a vision of a cleaner, safer, body-positive world”, in my experience it’s a lot more chaotic and amorphous. It’s better to think of it as an anarchic coming together of people with intersecting personal politics, rather than an event with a cohesive message. Which is one of the things that makes it awesome.

This time last last year I was deep in post-long-cycle-tour slump, and taking part forced me to challenge a general negativity I was feeling towards cycling and my body. In general, as long as it’s safe and consensual, I think occasionally doing things which are outside your comfort zone is good for you.

So, if you are curious in the slightest about “baring as you dare” and cycling about a city, I’d highly recommend it.

However, I can’t pretend taking part in the WNBR is neither daunting or comes without drawbacks.

One drawback: The weather in Manchester.

I’ve marshalled the WNBR a few times over the years. This involved riding along, fully clothed, with the pack of naked people, asking motorists to wait, explaining to confused tourists what was going on, and generally keeping this yearly event flowing and chill for the participants. So last year I knew what to expect and came up with some strategies to keep the event fun for me.

I’m writing this as a fat cis woman, but think most of these tactics will be useful for anyone living with the insecurities which often come with living in a body which falls outside the tiny margins of “acceptable”.

Keep your friends close, but keep your clothes closer

A squad is a great thing. Your nana might think you have no morals for riding the WNBR, but some moral support is always good.

If you know people who are going, you could arrange to meet them beforehand. If you don’t know anyone, remember what the Mad Hatter — “We’re all mad here” — and make some friends. If you are into body painting, getting someone to daub you is probably a great ice breaker. (I hate face paint and body paint, it totally squicks me out, so don’t really know about this one.) You could also find the inevitable facebook group and see if there is another waif and stray to buddy up with.

You and your new WNBR buddies at the pub afterwards.

Having some effective way to carry your kit is high at the top of essentials for WNBR. I’m a full on cycle touring dickhead, so had a saddlebag to carry my stuff in. A basket is ideal, as you can pop some bevvies in with your knickers, but a Deliveroo backpack will do just as well. This means if you get separated from the group, for example if you get a puncture, or just change your mind (which is totally fine), you can chuck some kit on and disappear into the clothed world like Keyser Söze at the end of The Usual Suspects.

Check your damn bike (and don’t be *that* nudist)

It’s easy to spot the people who go on the WNBR because they love bikes and those who just love being naked in public. You can normally hear the latter coming, their squealing bikes dragged out of the shed for the yearly parade. While, strictly speaking, there’s nothing wrong with that… you don’t want to be the participant with the easily preventable mechanical. I know from first hand experience there are often competent mechanics among the marshals, who will help if they can. However, why risk interrupting your ride? Find the time to check your bike over; pump tyres (correctly inflated tyres are less likely to puncture), oil your chain and check your brakes work. If you have the money, maybe even book your bike in with your local bike shop for a service.

Again, the dedicated nudies are great, no shade. It’s all fine and dandy, until a naked person who doesn’t know how to handle their bike bumps you off yours. You don’t need to be able to ride like Kevin Bacon in Quicksilver (*vintage cycle courier movie reference*) but having a half decent sense of how to handle your bike is essential. If you are as rusty as you bike (was before you followed the suggestions in the previous paragraph), head to your local park and remind yourself what it brakes like and make sure you can do things like check over your shoulder before making a manoeuvre. The slowness of the WNBR mass offers its own cycle handling challenges, so being confident you can ride it with without crashing will make everyone’s lives a lot easier.

So few GIFs of this film. Whhhhy? Kevin Bacon bike races Laurence Fishburne for gods sake!

In general, take some time to think, and act, practically about your bike, how you’ll ride it and how you’ll carry your stuff. If you’ve got an outfit idea, at least try it out sitting on your bike in the privacy of your own home first. You’ll see people make some fairly impractical decisions, like not wearing shoes or socks (presumably in order to be totally naked) and putting socks on their pedals. Let me assure you, that doesn’t really work, results in much faffing and a ruined pair of socks.

Prepare to be surprised and chill the fuck out

If normality is your watchword, the WNBR will be disconcerting. In it nudists, environmentalists, body positivity advocates, the kink world and the “fuckit” thrill seekers congregate in a way which is both awesome and, yup, a bit bloody odd. You’ll see things you never imagined, such as a gimp bunny with a bicycle helmet perched precariously on the back of their head so as to not crush their ears. So safe!

Seeing all kinds of bodies, and being part of that diversity of bodies, is one of the most uplifting aspects of the WNBR. But, I found at least, I needed to actively silence my inner critic, which wanted to compare myself negatively to other people. I found actively focusing on other things helped me get over this, like thinking about how damn happy other participants looked, or how delightfully flabbergasted passers-by were, or the how the fresh air (and Manchester drizzle) felt on my naked body.

My inner critic and I.

While I personally avoid looking at most photos of the WNBR, I think Flickr might be the best place to get a sense of what you’ll see on a ride. It’s also where I’ve found photos of myself from last year, an unusual chance to see how my fat naked body really looks. Hello!

Perv-mitigation

To me, the pervs are the single worst thing about the WNBR.

A world away from the stunned and excited foreign students who grab their camera phones to send “Look at what the fuck these weirdos are doing?!” dispatches home, every year these assholes turn up with their grubby polo shirts and oversized cameras. I’m not certain what they do with the photos, though I believe it’s mostly for “naturist” photo sharing sites and personal “use”. Either way…. Shudder.

Urgh. When did you last wash that polo shirt?

While I want to be all chill and cool and YKINMKBYKIOK, if someone takes a photo of you without your consent with a massive fuck off camera and seedy intentions, they deserve to be kicked squarely in the nuts. While it may be legal to take anyone’s photo in a public place — as some asshole smugly told me one year when I asked him, as a marshall, to stop taking photos of people he was making uncomfortable — it’s entirely unethical.

Last year I mitigated exposure (LOL!) to the pervs. This was more about keeping away from creepy dudes that might harsh my buzz, rather than due to worries about having my photo taken by said creeps. The practicalities of this involved riding to the start line in a comfortable stretchy dress without a bra (another first for me), hiding out with friends and a drink round the corner, then stripping off at the very last minute at the start of the ride and putting my dress back on again before the end.

Hey pervs with the big camera. Yes you.

Also, don’t forget, you might be naked in public, but that doesn’t mean you sign away your ethical or legal rights. If anyone does or says anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, get away from them and tell someone. The marshalls are there to help with just this kinda thing. WNBRs are not illegal in the UK — whatever the online Gammonheads might type with one hand each year when the rides are covering in the press — and happen with full Police knowledge and consent.

If you want to keep outta the tabloids, don’t ride at the front

If you really don’t want people to take photos of your wobbly bits — whether they end up on social media, the national press or someone’s personal wank bank — don’t do the World Naked Bike Ride. Full stop.

But one good way to keep outta the limelight is to avoid riding at the front or back. For example, without fail the Manchester Evening News photo gallery about the WNBR will feature at least one photo from in front of the ride on Oxford Road. Another thing to bare (sorry!) in mind is that if you are not that typically attractive, you are unlikely to feature in the the photo galleries that crop up online after each ride. A friend who has been doing the WNBR for years can track her ageing body through the decline of it featuring in tabloid image galleries.

Bystanders begone

Woah, people can be so careless and mean. You probably know this already, but if not ask anyone who looks different to the non-existent norm. And, surprisingly based on what white van men yell at me, they don’t get any nicer when you get your tits out for the lads.

As marshal I’ve heard the judgemental shit Kayleigh and Jody shriek about the bodies of passing WNBR participants, desperately attempting to validate each other’s closed-off, moribund, mindset. Bear them no mind.

Humans are crap. Don’t listen to them. Listen to Janelle Monae and Beyonce instead.

Last year I helped create my own happy bubble around myself with music, strapping a bluetooth speaker onto my handlebars. There will be a few loud AF sound systems, but even a small £20 speaker (I got mine from Aldi) will be loud enough to be heard by you, and only you, which is enough.

(A few tins of G&T might have also helped.)

Still fancy baring as you dare and taking part in a World Naked Bike Ride?

Awesome! Gather your good knickers and feel good tunes, check your bike over and figure out how you’re going to carry your clothes, charge your bluetooth speaker and prepare to have an scary, exciting, uplifting World Naked Bike Ride experience. Because life is too short to not and getting your pasty bits out in public (in a legal and non-pervy way) is so much fun!

2018 Dates for UK rides:

  • Southampton: 1 June 2018
  • Portsmouth: 2 June 2018
  • Hastings, East Sussex: Sun 3 June 2018
  • Manchester: 8 June 2018
  • London: 9 June 2018
  • Brighton & Hove: 10 June 2018
  • Cardiff (Caerdydd): 16 June 2018
  • Bristol: 17 June 2018
  • York: 23 June 2018
  • Folkestone Sat 30 June 2018
  • Exeter: 07 July 2018