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Photos: World Naked Bike Ride Chicago 2013 (NSFW)

By aaroncynic in News on Jun 10, 2013 5:00PM

“Are you guys...naked,” I could hear several unsuspecting passers-by ask with slightly slacked jaws and open mouths, half-grinning, as nearly 1,000 people massed on bicycles and other modes of human-powered transportation slid through the streets. There were plenty of cheers and hoots, clapping and chants of “less gas more ass,” and countless gawkers frantically reaching for their camera phones. This was the tenth annual World Naked Bike Ride in Chicago.

Chicago’s ride, like similar rides in cities across the globe, billed itself as:

“(A) fun and conspicuous event celebrating the end of the oil era and promoting positive body image. The ride's atmosphere is extremely joyful and transcendently fun. Bicycles constitute the best solution to reducing America's petroleum addiction and improving public health.”

Much like a critical mass ride, the World Naked Bike Ride makes a statement in simply existing, while being a fairly fun time and not terribly preachy. No one’s attempting to jam a flyer in someone's hand while they whiz by, but the high fives to onlookers were plentiful and the message, like many of the riders, was plain for all to see.

After departing from an undisclosed meetup location, we first rode straight downtown as the last bits of dusk turned to darkness. The ride was led by a man called Steve, dubbed “the steering wheel,” who was flanked by several volunteer security personnel clad in bright green vests and volunteers from the National Lawyers Guild. Behind Steve, hundreds of people in various forms of undress, some painted and costumed, rode mostly on bikes, but also longboards and rollerblades, and at least one brave man on a unicycle.

After passing through the northeast edge of the loop, we breezed down Michigan Avenue through the Gold Coast and then began to crawl through the Viagra Triangle. Rush Street on a Saturday is normally jam packed, and since the Blackhawks were tied up 3 to 3, the bars were packed to the gills. Fortunately, most of the patrons gawking from the sidewalk kept their hands and bodies to themselves, but a courteous security team kept a close eye on the sidelines to help the ride slide through without incident.

We eventually made our way to a BP station in the Clybourn corridor, where organizers told the public we would ride a circle around the station before moving on to Wicker Park. We were greeted by a small crowd of photographers and onlookers, and as we slowly crawled around the station the chants of “less gas more ass” became deafening, and a few folks unsuccessfully attempted to stir the mass into a chorus of “less petrol more pussy.”

By the time we arrived to Wicker Park, Chicago’s hipster mecca, hundreds of people were lined up along the six-corner intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee Avenues. The roar from the onlookers was as loud as the roar of the mass, and a handful of folks passing the other direction on bikes joined us after repeated invitations from riders.

Two years ago, a couple good friends of mine got married at the start of the ride. At the time, many a misgiving kept me from riding along and I ended up staying behind. As we made our way to the final rally point—I reflected that and realized I missed out on one of the most unique, celebratory and fun rides I could have participated in. We made our way through some of Chicago’s most crowded night spots without much incident while getting plenty of laughs, joyful shouts and smiles from onlookers. Folks in big cities like Chicago get used to mass bike rides and generally can let one pass without batting much of an eye, but the World Naked Ride still manages to turn plenty of heads. Hopefully next year, some of them might think about riding along.