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London Naked Bike Ride 2017 – New Bridges

10 Nov 2017

I arrived at Trinity Square Gardens a tad before 2pm and found Esther already there, fresh from life modelling in Aldgate. People with bikes were loitering about, bathing in warm sunshine on park benches or lounging on well manicured grass. We applied our sun cream and waited for friends. Cy and Natansky appeared first, then Adrian, Chas, Paula, and many more familiar faces – all veterans of the London Naked Bike Ride.

As in the last three years, Nat was instrumental to organising the start at Tower Hill, but this year Cy took the lead in promoting it and devising some new twists and turns for the route. He even sweet-talked Esther, me and Chas into acting as ride marshals. We accepted the trappings of officialdom: insurance documents, letters of notification, directions, maps, fluorescent armbands… even branded saddle covers and whistles.


Natansky gets the paramedics on side

Next consideration: when to undress? Paula took the initiative, so Esther and I found a hidden corner of the gardens in which to start our own preparations. Esther painted herself green cycle shorts with silver body and legs, topped off with an all-green face, whilst I made my top half gold and went bright orange from the waist down. When we re-emerged, naked and dazzling, it was to the gratifying sound of oohs and aahs.

Ready to roll

At ten-to-three Nat decided it was time for us to line-up in readiness to depart. Cy led us out, followed by Esther, then me. Chas brought up the rear with a walkie-talkie link to Cy, whilst Nat roved between, trying to impose a semblance of organisation on 200 naked or semi-naked cyclists. Regular marshal, Simon rocked up with sound system in tow, while another veteran – non-nude, fluorescent-clad – was ready to halt traffic.


Cy and Esther show the way

Lots of non-participants with cameras surrounded us, but unlike previous years when their voyeuristic tendencies had been irksome or even unpleasant, perhaps word had got around that civility costs nothing. The vibe was good and everybody played nicely. Tourists drifted over from the Tower of London and people spilled out of restaurants to join in photographing us. We were pure street theatre.


Ready…

Steady…

The conditions were gorgeous – sunny but lightly cool – some of the best weather we have ever had on a ride. At 3pm we were due to move out. We heard the church bells of All Hallows by the Tower but a message from the rear said that people were still massing. It was five past when Nat joined us on the front line to oversee traffic control and, at last, gave us the all-clear to go.


Wait for it… – © keiththfc


GO! – © keiththfc

As usual from Trinity Square, we turned right into Byward Street then continued along Lower Thames Street and Upper Thames Street. New for 2017, however, was an early switch south of the river via Queen Street Place and over Southwark Bridge. Originally the intention was to cross via London Bridge but plans were changed after a terrorist attack both there and at Borough Market, killed eight people just seven days before.

Respectful distance

Esther and I paused the ride on Southwark Bridge as a mark of quiet respect. London Bridge had reopened, so in theory we could have done this at the scene, but we felt it was too soon. No matter how well intentioned we were, our presence would feel like a frivolous intrusion on the grief of relatives mourning there. Each year we remember the many cyclists killed on London’s roads – now this new awfulness.


Give peace a chance

Upon restarting, boisterous spirits were soon rediscovered as we ventured into wholly uncharted territory for a London Naked Bike Ride: down Southwark Bridge Road for a right into Sumner Street, then round the southern side of Tate Modern and right again into Southwark Street. One last right at the traffic lights took us into Blackfriars Road. This novel deviation had been very much Cy’s baby. Round of applause for Cy!


Making sure we’re seen at the back of Tate Modern


Hitting the north on Blackfriars Bridge

North, south, north, south

Once across Blackfriars Bridge, the manoeuvres required to get us down onto Victoria Embankment proved far more fiddly than I think anybody had imagined. A tight narrow dogleg and traffic lights conspired to make sure it took an age for us all to get through. Those of us at the front simply parked our bikes and waited for the strung-out masses to regroup. Only whilst watching this did I appreciate how many of us there were.


Waiting for the pack to catch up

Victoria Embankment carried us deep into tourist country. Encouraging cheers came from all sides as we made leisurely progress around its gentle curve, pedalling below Hungerford Bridge then sweeping right into Northumberland Avenue. Magic happened as we encountered a wedding party posing for their photographer – we made sure the happy couple were left with a very special set of memories.


On Northumberland Avenue – all you need is…

Groups of naked cyclists from across London should all converge on Trafalgar Square simultaneously and continue onwards together. That’s the idea. From Northumberland Avenue we could see other riders ahead, but had no idea if this was some or all of the number expected. We just joined the pack and carried on left into Whitehall and down Parliament Street, into Bridge Street and along Westminster Bridge Road.


Flaunting our colours on Whitehall


Crossing Westminster Bridge at 4pm, according to the big clock

Led astray

We crossed Westminster Bridge with minimal hesitation and a momentum that swung us round onto York Road with greater ease than in bygone years. The trouble was that we weren’t supposed to be on York Road – we should have been pursuing a new route along Lower Marsh, Baylis Road, Waterloo Road on to Waterloo Bridge. Esther yelled to those in front but they were too many and too far. We had little choice but to follow.


Nooooo… not that way, the other way!

Inadvertently then, we crowded into Forum Magnum Square, our old mustering space south of the Thames. At least it meant we could socialise. We found our friend Paula, and I also managed to catch up with Nat. She told me that riders from two other start points were already waiting for us way ahead at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Enthusiasm had clearly gotten the better of them. Personally, I was happy to take my time.


Hey, it’s Paula!


Riders at Forum Magnum Square… those who hadn’t raced ahead

So: half the ride was in the wrong place, at Forum Magnum Square, and the other half had the wrong timing, being at Lincoln’s Inn Fields way too soon… but apart from that, the sun was still shining and smiles were the predominant feature. After a short break, we were back on our bikes and continued with the ancient version of our route, exiting via Belvedere Road and then taking Concert Hall Approach up to Waterloo Bridge.


Exiting the square – © Mark Nolan


Sightseeing on Belvedere Road


On Waterloo Bridge – © D.Ski

Convergence at last

Riders often linger for photos on the relatively clear pavements of Waterloo Bridge, but this year we rolled on. A surprise awaited us at the north end as a familiar voice called out. It was our friend, Cova, taking part for the first time. We chatted while stuck traffic at Lancaster Place, then burst forth on to Strand, around Aldwych – where weirdly our numbers always seem to thin out – then Strand again, and left into Chancery Lane.


Before the law, at the Royal Courts of Justice on Strand

We had almost caught up with the groups ahead of us. On Chancery Lane, we cycled between The Law Society to the left and King’s College to the right, before swinging a left into Carey Street. Here we passed venerable legal chambers such as The Knights Templar and The Seven Stars before of a right turn into Serle Street. Directly ahead of us lay Lincoln’s Inn Fields and an encouraging crowd of naked folk.


The greeting party at Lincoln’s Inn Fields

Now at last we could have an official rest break. We dismounted from our bikes, used the loos, caught up with various friends and indulged numerous people who wanted to photograph us or be photographed with us. Agents from The Coconut Collaborative even dared entering the mêlée to give out free pots of yoghurt – greatly appreciated. It was good to get moving again, however, as a chill wind had begun to make itself felt.


All the fun of unexpectedly meeting a friend


Natansky and…? – © Zac

Hifi Psy and me – © Hifi Psy

To the finish

Esther and I were near the back when the ride got underway again, but it didn’t matter as our marshalling duties were long since over. As usual, we completed a double loop of Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Newman’s Row, Lincoln’s Inn Fields – then exited via Remnant Street across Kingsway into Great Queen Street. From there: Long Acre, Bow Street, Wellington Street, Tavistock Street and Southampton Street… to Covent Garden.


Our adoring public on Wellington Street


About to hit the cob-b-b-b-b-les of Covent Garden

From Covent Garden the next major milestone is Trafalgar Square. Around this time, I suddenly remembered I hadn’t taken my traditional ‘reflection selfie’ in a shop window. Despite a couple of belated attempts, I couldn’t find a clear opportunity… Never mind! On to Henrietta Street, Bedford Street, Chandos Place, William IV Street, St Martin’s Place, around Trafalgar Square – huge cheers – and beneath Admiralty Arch.


Facing down the National Portrait Gallery


Nelson’s Column, a red bus and hoards of tourists


In the pack at Trafalgar Square – © Richard


Underneath the arches, Admiralty-style


Reflections? Pah! Proper selfie

No apologies for saying it every year: the long cycle up the Mall remains a highlight of the London Naked Bike Ride. To be naked and carefree on this pristine flag-bedecked highway at the heart of monarchy and government, for me, encapsulates the essence of body freedom that we celebrate. After a bit of lingering outside Buckingham Palace, we rode up Constitution Hill and, finally, were shepherded to our finish at Green Park.


On the Mall


Trooping the Colour – © Les Bo


A pause and the palace – © Edward Allen


Made it to Green Park – all credit to the organisers

Woo! Yeah!

We left our Tower Hill start at 3:05pm and had crossed the finishing line in Green Park at 5:20pm – but of course one never truly wants it to end. Slowly we pushed our bikes along the pavement towards Wellington Arch, looking for some celebratory last hurrah before reluctantly getting back into our clothes. And we found the very thing!! A crowd gathered round a ghetto blaster that was pumping out ‘Jump Around‘! Jump! Jump!


Jump around! – © keiththfc


Jump up, jump up… – © keiththfc

…and get down! – © keiththfc

Perfection. After getting our groove on for a while we managed to catch up with friends too – Richard, a fellow life model; Chas; Cy; and non-participants, Peter and Raid who were taking it all in from the sidelines. Even when we said our goodbyes, had dressed and were cycling back through south London, we still didn’t feel quite ready to call it a day. A celebratory drink was needed, so we popped into The Montague Arms.


Repose at last

Bar staff were commendably unperturbed by the silver and green woman with her gold and red man ordering glasses of wine. We washed our hands and took care not to get paint on the sofa into which we slumped. This pub has sentimental significance for us, so it was a doubly refreshing way to end the day. Prolonged showering still lay ahead, but not before we’d relaxed. Mmmm. Now, let’s relive the whole ride in Cy’s video…

World Naked Bike Ride

The ride demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists and is a protest against car culture. WNBR is a worldwide campaign with a number of linked themes. Its objectives are:

  1. protest against the global dependency on oil
  2. curb car culture
  3. obtain real rights for cyclists
  4. demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on city streets
  5. celebrate body freedom

From → Causes

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