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London Naked Bike Ride 2019 – Back to Bare

14 Jul 2019

2019 was: the 16th year the World Naked Bike Ride had taken place in London; the 10th anniversary of my debut participation; my 10th time taking part; my 9th year in succession; my 5th time starting from Tower Hill; my 3rd time riding as a marshal; my 2nd time coming straight from a life modelling job… it’s curiously addictive.

World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR)

WNBR is a worldwide campaign that demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists and protests against car culture. Its linked objectives are to:

  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

Also in the numbers: this year’s London Naked Bike Ride would have a 7th starting point, as Deptford joined Hyde Park (the original), Regents Park, Tower Hill, Clapham Junction, West Norwood and Kew Bridge. At first, the idea of dividing the start was to frustrate dodgy photographers; now it feels like tendrils reaching out to claim the city.

The WNBR London Collective had, as always, been very meticulous in its planning. The only aspect perennially beyond its control is, of course, the weather. Fortunately we’re almost always blessed with fine conditions, but this year appeared less certain. Rain was around in the morning and we could only hope it would blow over by 2pm.

Five, four, three, two, one…

I arrived at Trinity Square Gardens with fellow marshal, fellow life model, Natansky at around 1:30pm, in plenty of time for our 2:45pm scheduled start. Many people with bikes were already scattered about, although I doubted anyone would rush to strip off early. The threat of rain had passed but a cold wind was still giving us goosebumps.


2:28pm at Trinity Square Gardens: no hurry to undress in the cold – © Scotty H.

It wasn’t long before we were joined by our friend, Cy – nowadays a primary organiser in the Collective – plus other helpers: official photographer, Scott; my fellow front-rider from last year, Pawel; ground support, Mike; and many more familiar friendly faces. At 2:30pm, I finally bared all and headed solo through a side gate to our starting line.


2:40pm at Trinity Square Gardens: lone ranger – © Michael G Spafford


2:44pm on Trinity Square: me, Pawel and Cy – © Michael Preston/Creative19.com

For a few minutes I was conspicuously naked and alone, waiting for everyone else to snake round via the gardens’ rear exit; my job was to prevent a false start. Eventually the ride lined-up behind me and, at 2:45pm sharp, I got the nod from Cy. On a whim I yelled a countdown – 5! 4! 3! 2! 1! – and off we went into Lower Thames Street.


2:48pm on Lower Thames Street: our official photographer, Scotty H., up above


2:48pm on Lower Thames Street: his photo as we pass beneath – © Scotty H.

Cross-country at Tate Modern

Roadworks on Lower Thames Street were known to be causing congestion ahead so, instead of occupying the main highway, our protest started cynically in the cycle lane. Once past this obstacle we spread out joyously across Upper Thames Street, and on to Southwark Bridge where we halted for a first time so our tail could catch up.


2:55pm on Southwark Bridge: our first tactical stop


2:57pm on Southwark Bridge: with WNBR London dynamo, Cy

After a respectable pause we continued south of the river, turning right on to Sumner Street. I led the way and unexpectedly found myself facing a total roadblock for more work at Tate Modern. Seeing no other options, I steered us up and over a grass bank then round the pavement before pausing to regroup at the Southwark Street junction.


3:01pm on Sumner Street: an unexpected detour causing chaos behind – sorry!


3:03pm on Sumner Street: Tate Modern glares down at us

Embankment to… where?

When the time felt right, I led us on the right turn into Southwark Street and then right again at the traffic lights, over Blackfriars Bridge. The sun was out but the chill breeze could still make itself felt. At the north end of the bridge we turned left onto a slip-road then filed down onto Victoria Embankment.


3:14pm on Blackfriars Bridge: hello again, Scott! – © Scotty H.


3:16pm on Victoria Embankment: slip-road to the river

The group inevitably splits when crossing from the slip-road to the river side of Victoria Embankment, so I took the lead pack as far as Temple station and waited a long while for the back to catch up. When, at 3:23pm, I got a message from Cy saying, “Go go“, I asked: “Northumberland or WB?” – the decision was taken: Northumberland Avenue.


3:20pm on Victoria Embankment: loitering opposite Temple station


3:33pm on Northumberland Avenue: next stop, Trafalgar Square

Square to Square

Last year we cycled straight to Westminster Bridge (WB) to avoid a right-wing mob in Whitehall. This year our concern was to avoid disrupting Eid celebrations in Trafalgar Square but Mike had gone ahead (clothed) and messaged: “Eid festival all contained within Trafalgar Square. All routes busy but passable.” We were back on track.


3:38pm on Whitehall: no bother at all


3:42pm on Whitehall: seeing the sights from an open-top bus

After a few delays getting up Northumberland Avenue, we swung right on to Whitehall and Parliament Street, had a few more delays getting beyond Parliament Square, but breezed over Westminster Bridge Road, round Addington Street, into Forum Magnum Square. This year’s pathetic Nazi mob on Whitehall was well kettled by the police.


3:53pm at Forum Magnum Square: the London Eye peers down

Back to the north

As always, the riders from all seven start points coalesced as one at Forum Magnum Square. I found my friend and fellow marshal Chas suffering the indignity of having a Santander bike rather than his not-quite-ready custom-built chopper. He wasn’t joyful, but the spirit of the ride was good. Shortly after 4pm we were on the move again.


4:06pm at Forum Magnum Square: away we go


4:08pm on Belvedere Road: Mike clicks the official count – 900 riders this year

No longer duty-bound to lead the pack, I became anonymous in the peloton; more so this year as for the first time since 2013, I was cycling without any body paints – back to bare skin. No particular reason, just being myself. We proceeded: Belvedere Road, Concert Hall Approach and over cold-blown Waterloo Bridge, returning to the north.


4:11pm on Belvedere Road: angels in undies


4:13pm on Waterloo Bridge: run-up to the bridge itself


4:16pm on Waterloo Bridge: a chilly traverse


4:19pm on Lancaster Place: running between the nudes

Room at the Inn

From being tightly packed into narrow streets out of Forum Magnum Square, we were strung out as we left Waterloo Bridge and Lancaster Place to loop round Aldwych and veer east along Strand. We passed the Royal Courts of Justice and were fleetingly on Fleet Street before going left into Chancery Lane, and left again into Carey Street.


4:21pm on Aldwych: swinging round to Strand


4:22pm on Strand: before the Royal Courts of Justice


4:26pm on Chancery Lane: beginning the weave to Lincoln’s Inn


4:28pm on Carey Street: sharp right into Searle Street

From Carey Street we entered Searle Street, which brought us to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Here we would collectively rest a while. Unusually, I failed to find the friends I’d set off with so instead I sampled the dubious delight of queuing with dozens of naked men to use the public loos. I then found a nice sunny spot outside, simply to sit and relax.


4:29pm on Searle Street: welcome to Lincoln’s Inn Fields


4:37pm on Lincoln’s Inn Fields: a moment to dismount

Covent Garden, Charing Cross

The stop at Lincoln’s Inn seemed briefer than in previous years. I’d only been there a quarter of an hour when I saw Natansky hurtling along Newman’s Row from the front marshals towards the back of the pack – a sure sign we were about to leave. And so we were: a couple more sides of Lincoln’s Inn, then out via Remnant Street.


4:46pm on Newman’s Row: Natansky races to rally the masses


4:48pm on Lincoln’s Inn Fields: exit via Remnant Street


4:49pm on Remnant Street: crossing Kingsway

We were heading once more for Trafalgar Square. From Remnant Street, we crossed over Kingsway into Great Queen Street and continued to the end of Long Acre before turning left on to Bow Street, straight into Wellington Street, right on Tavistock Street, right on Southampton Street, left on Henrietta Street and left down Bedford Street.


4:51pm on Great Queen Street: First Aid, if needed


4:54pm on Southampton Street: Covent Garden ahead


4:55pm on Henrietta Street: cobblers to these cobbles

This slalom through theatreland brought us back to Strand, where a right turn sent us past Charing Cross station. I couldn’t remember us ever having gone this way before. In my mind, from Bedford Street, it’s usually Chandos Place, William IV Street and St Martin’s Place – but, hey, somewhere new is always cool.


4:58pm on Strand: an unexpected encounter with Charing Cross station


4:59pm on Strand: our return to Trafalgar Square

Home, home on The Mall

The presence of boneheaded right-wing nationalists – this nation’s disgrace – denied us our regular finish on The Mall in 2018, but this year we were back on course. After passing beneath Admiralty Arch we enjoyed a leisurely cruise up the iron oxide-tinted highway of imaginary red carpet that leads towards Buckingham Palace.


5:01pm on The Mall: passing beneath Admiralty Arch


5:05pm on The Mall: once more to the palace

After a customary selfie at the palace, my ride ended in adjacent Green Park. Those riding back to London Bridge for an Afterparty waited by the Canada Memorial while everyone else finished further along Constitution Hill. I joined the Afterparty pack, not because I was up for partying but simply because I would be heading that way home.


5:08pm on Constitution Hill: Buck House selfie


5:11pm on Constitution Hill: a weary walk across the finish line


5:34pm at Green Park: the Canada Memorial… the end

I lingered in sunshine at the Canada Memorial till almost six o’clock but there was no sign of imminent movement so I settled for a solo departure after all. Before leaving I met Cy and handed back my marshalling armband. It’s likely this was my final ride as a marshal; I depart with utmost respect for the good people who make it happen.

Thank you.

Our route from Tower Hill to Green Park

More on WNBR London 2019

Scotty H. – London 2019 is the official photo set for WNBR London 2019.

Bygone blogs

From → Causes

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