Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published August 27th 2012
Get as bare as you dare
Section 9 of the 2005 Queensland Summary Offences Act prohibits "wilful exposure", with a penalty of twelve months' imprisonment. However, unlike other states, there's a loophole. If you've got a "reasonable excuse", the law says, you can't be charged. These laws are targeted at the lone pervert: the man in the dirty trenchcoat who hangs around in the alleyways behind high schools. If you're going to get naked in a public place, there's probably safety (or at least a reasonable excuse) in numbers. One nude person marching up a main street is a dangerous freak; a hundred nude people is a protest. A hundred nude people on bicycles is – well, something else entirely.
The World Naked Bike Ride started in 2001 in Spain, and quickly spread to over fifty cities in twenty countries. While the biggest enthusiasm comes from North America and Europe, with some cities getting over five thousand participants in the ride, there's a growing Australian movement to join in. Melbourne scrounges a few hundred every year for the March ride, and around twenty brave souls brave the cold weather for the Winter Wonderland naked ride two months earlier. It's kind of a hippy, save-the-environment atmosphere, and you can roughly predict the turnout based on that (high in Byron Bay, for instance, and low in Sydney) but everybody's welcome.
You don't even have to be totally naked. The motto is "as bare as you dare". Feel free to wear underwear, or pants, or a bikini, or just show up in your normal cycling gear to lend moral support. Or ride in the nude, with a flower necklace around your neck and several tubs' worth of body paint sweating off your back.
The organisers of the event have adopted a grab-bag approach to theme and purpose: like the Occupy movement, they've thrown a hundred different causes at the wall to see what sticks. They're concerned about raising the profile of nudism and naturism, protecting the environment, world peace, protesting nuclear energy, anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism, supporting good health and active lifestyles, making it safer for cyclists in cities, and so on. You might think that some of these causes contradict other causes, but that's almost the point. The World Naked Bike Ride is what you make of it – a sort of pre-packaged protest, event or rally that can fit almost any purpose.
Australians have tended to play down the more anarchic aspects of the ride, focusing instead on raising driver awareness of cyclists on the road. If you squint and hold your head just so, it makes sense: inadequate bike lanes, a hostile cultural atmosphere and insufficient legal protection are things that make cyclists feel exposed and vulnerable. Stripping down and riding naked makes that vulnerability obvious. Too obvious, according to some city police departments. Sydney cops have broken up attempts to hold a Naked Bike Ride in Sydney, even forcing participants to construct makeshift underwear out of duct tape and strips of bark.
Because of the questionably-legal (read: illegal) status of the Brisbane Naked Bike Ride, the organisation is always going to be flexible. You can check out the Australian section of the official website for general information, or the Facebook page for more info. It's a community-run thing, so there's no official Naked Bike Ride Leader – if you're interested, and nobody else is speaking up, why not step up and run it yourself? Participating in the Brisbane Naked Bike Ride could be the experience of a lifetime.
I am planning this event up here in Townsville, with the local cycling community and Townsville Bicycle Users Group. Any ideas, support, recommendations and tips would be appreciated for next year's event (or we can stage one before!). Please email me at email@example.com (remove the full stops).