Software engineers aren’t typically known for their ripped physiques, but Saturday night Maryland Heights resident Nicholas Iffrig will be proudly cycling with little more than a smile at the World Naked Bike Ride.
This is Iffrig’s third year participating. He laughed at the idea software engineers aren’t typically proud of their bodies. “I feel it’s really important to be balanced in mind and body. That’s kind of like the second message of the ride. Be comfortable being who you are. There’s no reason to be ashamed.”
Officially, the World Naked Bike Ride is a protest to raise awareness of the world's dependence on oil and raise car driver’s awareness of cyclists on the road. The nudity is a fun bonus that many riders also hope will promote body acceptance for people of all shapes and races. Unofficially, it’s one heck of a party.
Naked is a loose term. People are encouraged to come “as bare as they dare.” At 7 p.m. Saturday, some people will show up in quirky, revealing costumes. Others will strip down, slap some pasties over their nipples, and help one another with body paint.
The total effect is a surreal parade with a man dressed as a slice of bacon. He rollerblades alongside a copper-painted man riding an art bike decorated to look like a camel—all while he chats with a woman wearing a pair of pasties and painted on wings.
Last year, Iffrig’s bike blew a tire. He said the spectacle of watching the cacophony of colors and costumes while he repaired his bike made the blowout worth it. While most participants are cyclists, the ride welcomes any human-powered transportation from roller blades to rickshaws.
As an avid cyclist, Iffrig said the World Naked Bike Ride is the most unusual cycling event he participates in all year. “First, it’s at night, which is pretty different as far as the riding itself goes. Instead of a race, it’s a leisure ride. Then there’s the obvious. There are a lot of people in various states of undress. It has a carnival atmosphere. There are costumes, art bikes, body painters. Everybody is just there to have fun,” he said.
Numbers range from 300 to 500 riders, but Iffrig said due to the sheer quantity of people, he’s never felt any sense of danger or had any safety concerns. “Everyone’s super friendly. You don’t have any sourpusses in a group like that.”
Iffrig describes the World Naked Bike Ride as a slightly more organized flash mob. “There’s no fundraising, no resources. We have some great organizers here, but internationally it’s really a headless organization,” he said.
In fact, until 2004, two of the world’s largest annual naked bike rides were completely unaware of one another: Artists for Peace was based in Canada and Manifestación Ciclonudista was based in Spain. The banded together to form the World Naked Bike Ride website. More than 141 cities worldwide participate. This year, the ride is June 11 in the northern hemisphere and June 12 in the southern hemisphere.
The St. Louis ride launches at 9 p.m., but people start gathering hours earlier. This year, “Buck the Trend” will play live acoustic music from 7-9 p.m. and Yelp will have a booth giving away free nipple pasties. People are encouraged to bring body paint and brushes to both use and share.
“Tip the body painters,” Iffrig said. “Some people think a company is supplying the paint and paying these guys, but it’s a community thing. These people donate time and supplies in the name of fun. If it’s your first year, bring something to the table to help. Bring a costume, bring some paint, bring fun.”
St. Louis has a stodgy reputation as a conservative city in a red state, but there’s a surprising amount of interesting underground activity if one knows where to look.
“You’d expect a lot of people in St. Louis to be too conservative for this kind of shenanigans, but when we ride by, people wave, they honk their horns, everybody is smiling. In fact, we’ve had people join in. Sometimes people at bars will strip down and wave. It’s interesting when that happenes. The whole thing catches people by surprise, but not in a bad way. You can’t help but think you’ve brightened someone’s day,” he said.
Iffrig said joining the World Naked Bike Ride introduced him to unexpected groups across the metro area, including a huge Art Bike circuit in St. Louis and the Gateway Burners (a regional Burning Man group).
“The most incredible part is that people seem OK with it. You think you’re going to turn the world on its head by doing something silly, but people are cool. They want to have fun. There’s a message about reducing our dependence on oil, but we’re not going to do that with a bike ride," he said. "Maybe people will see us and think hey, riding a bike is fun. Maybe they’ll ride their bike more instead of driving. You don’t know, but you can hope.”
The World Naked Bike Ride starts on South Grand Boulevard at the corner of Hartford Street and Arkansas Avenue. It ends at The Atomic Cowboy, which will host a joint celebration, “Chaplin for Joplin” where they will screen outdoor Charlie Chaplin movies plus provide more live music and an outdoor photo booth. All funds raised will go toward Joplin tornado relief.
Iffrig said he wouldn't be surprised to find other Maryland Heights cyclists there. “People think it’s a sleepy bedroom community, but people do a lot of fun things in their bedrooms,” he said.