DISCLAIMER: There is some mild and partial nudity in the picture I have posted, including the video clip I have uploaded and Wikipedia link. I have included a link to the video on YouTube, and flagged it accordingly on that site. Discretion advised.
So I was studying in Rittenhouse Square Sunday evening, reading up for my risk management class around 5:40pm when we were ambushed literally. More than 1500 bikers, scantily clad, or not wearing anything at all, took to the streets of Center City Philadelphia (unbeknownst to me at the time) to protest in favour of cycling rights, more biker-friendly roads and streets, as well as protesting against our dependency on oil and other environmentally-related grievances.
They had paraded through Fairmount and through Old City and Washington West, and coming into Rittenhouse, they entered the west side of the square. As I was studying, I had heard screams and a loud chorus of horn-honking. As more people screamed, I packed up, certain something of consequence was happening as I noticed more people shifting towards the west side of the square.
And then I saw it: a bevy of orange flags, and cries of “bike race!”
At the pace the bikers appeared to be going, I made the assumption it was a children’s race.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Link to video here:
Philadelphia Naked Bike Ride 2011 (Rittenhouse Square)
The bikers – most of them – were naked.
I mean, men and women, just letting it hang all out. Some were in bodypaint. Others in bathing suits, some of the men in boxers, some in costume. Only a few were fully clothed.
It made no sense to me, and to many of the other bystanders, who admitted they saw more than they wanted to see. One could make the argument there were children playing in the park and they should not have had to see it. If I had a young child, I would have rushed her towards the middle of the park, away from the cyclists. However, for the informed and/or curious adult, myself being one of them, I did Google local Philadelphia articles/news outlets to see if this might have made the news – 1500-odd bikers taking Center City naked – surely it was bound to hit an outlet somewhere, even if only a small newsclip.
And sure enough I found out what a (again, discretion advised, nude pictures even in the Wiki link) “Naked Bike Ride” was, why cyclists in cities throughout the world campaign for cyclist awareness and/or environmental rights and why they chose to draw their attention through nudity (creative self-expression a la the Burning Man festival) and so forth.
I’ll admit I’m not as much a cyclist, nor would I ever parade myself naked or even in a bathing suit around Center City Philadelphia, even if others felt I looked good enough. However, I can empathize with the need for more biker-friendly roads, as Philadelphia could stand to take a few cues from NYC, DC and even some smaller and European cities to not be so car-dependent (as some people choose not to be or cannot afford to be) all the time. Understandably it is quite difficult in West Coast cities where the infrastructure is collectively less developed or far too spread out (think Los Angeles), but on the East Coast, there is hardly any excuse. And certainly not for Philadelphia, or of what I’ve seen of and lived in, for the past decade and counting.
It would be nice to see my city step it up in terms of more cyclist paths, and as a runner, seeing less constraint between cyclists and runners on Kelly Drive would be a nice welcome change.
(Additional note: Regarding the title of this post, for those of you that live in Philly, particularly downtown, should be familiar with the concept of flash mobs, particularly the more malicious ones that have attacked patrons in the city. This was a mob, alright, but it sure did what a “real” flash mob would do – draw attention from spectators gasping in shock and awe.)