After growing into Portland’s biggest free bike event, the World Naked Bike Ride wants to get back to its roots. Organizers of this year’s edition — which will embark from Peninsula Park Saturday night — say they want the ride to evolve from a massive party to a more manageable protest.
Started with humble intentions in 2004 as part of a global protest against fossil fuels, Portland’s first WNBR had less than 200 participants. Four years later it grew to 2,000. Then it was around 7,000 in 2010 before hitting a peak of over 10,000 riders in 2014.
But the novelty of growing the event and reveling in its size and influence has worn off for many of its fans and organizers. While it was exhilarating for advocates to see so many people riding bikes and they worked hard to stoke interest and attention on the event, there were also downsides.
This year it will feel different. “It’s going to be much more back-to-the-roots,” one of the organizers told me in an interview Thursday.
“For so many years the ride was getting bigger and bigger and people outside the core bike community were showing up. That was really exciting, but this year we are trying to remind folks that this isn’t Bridge Pedal [a large annual organized ride with corporate sponsors]… This is a protest,” they said.
Organizers aren’t promoting the ride as aggressively as they used to. To dilute interest and dampen attendance at tomorrow’s ride, they’ve encouraged other naked rides throughout this year’s Pedalpalooza.
Don’t get it wrong: Seeing a lot of newbies and new faces on the ride is a great thing, but what organizers are getting at is that in recent years the WNBR became a major destination event with hundreds of people driving cars to the venue. “I get a lot of emails from people asking where to park their cars,” they said. “The last thing WNBR needs to do is flood a neighborhood with a bunch of parked cars. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
In addition to a demonstration against oil dependency and fossil fuels, the ride is also about body positivity. But as WNBR has grown, many complaints have surfaced from people who don’t feel safe on the ride. The vulnerability of bicycling is one thing, but being naked around thousands of strangers adds another layer which can be very unwelcome and even unsafe for some people.
Organizers of the ride are putting a lot more energy into rider safety this year. Instead of selling merchandise, live music and having 100s of porta-potties at the start location, they’re urging folks to plan ahead and be more self-sufficient. That doesn’t mean you’ll be left hanging. There is more focus this year on making sure there are ample course marshalls, medics, and mechanics along the route in case anyone needs help.
WNBR organizers know they can’t control what happens Saturday night; but there are forces beyond their control that could lead to a smaller turnout. Many people are rightfully concerned about the ongoing spread of Covid, the heat could keep people away, as could fear of interactions with Portland police or aggressive car users (there’s been an uptick in people driving through group rides this summer). Then there’s the looming monkeypox virus — which is primarily transmitted through skin-to-skin contact in close quarters
“There’s a lot of reasons having a smaller ride is probably to the benefit of the community,” the organizer said.
Please keep all this in mind as you make your plans. For more information, read the WNBR FAQ. And don’t forget the two afterparties! On the ride, follow Diablo and his Tiki Bike to one of them. For the other party, check out the details and follow PopCartPDX on IG.