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Chelmsford Naked Bike Ride 2019 – The Few

10 Aug 2019

Having participated in ten London Naked Bike Rides and two Brighton Naked Bike Rides – both of which attract many hundreds of cyclists – I felt it was time I supported one the UK’s smaller World Naked Bike Rides (WNBRs). I’d read that just 30 people took part in Chelmsford last year, so I set my sights on the county town of Essex.

Poster for the fifth annual Chelmsford World Naked Bike Ride.

Is that it?

Gather from 2pm, ride at 3pm. Cycling from Chelmsford station, I reached the Market Square assembly point not long after half-past two and found a dozen guys present. I figured these were organisers and that over the next 20 minutes perhaps another two, three or four dozen riders would turn up. I took a seat in the nearby park and waited.

2:53pm on Market Square: more to come?

With just a couple of minutes left until our scheduled start, still no-one else had come. I’d assumed naively that if 30 took part in 2018, the number would be even higher this year. Now the realisation dawned there would merely be… 14 of us. We undressed in front of indifferent shoppers, posed for a press photo, then set-off along Bellmead.

3:00pm on Market Square: press photo call

3:05pm on Bellmead: the ride begins

It’s possible to be stark naked outdoors in a busy city centre yet still feel anonymous, somehow invisible, when surrounded by a thousand other bare bodies. Being one of only 14, however, is a whole new level of exposure and vulnerability. Only 14, strung out betwixt sparse traffic on the A1060 Parkway. Quite surreal.

3:05pm on A1060 Parkway: the roads open

3:09pm on Odeon roundabout: the first of three circuits

The Elm Road loop

I had sought a different kind of experience and I was certainly getting one. We circled the Odeon Roundabout for what would be the first of three times, then back-tracked a little way to a left turn into Moulsham Street. This was our first street with pedestrians, and thus a first chance to gauge the public mood.

3:10pm on A1060 Parkway: turning down Moulsham Street

3:11pm on Moulsham Street: passing The Star and Garter

As an Essex native, born and bred, I know the people are generous and supportive at their finest; many love being raucous and outrageous, yet many are conservative with a small ‘c’ – too many with a big ‘C’ – and when intolerance surfaces it can get nasty. Happily, in Moulsham Street we felt the love, even enjoying outbreaks of applause.

3:13pm on Moulsham Street: Chelmsford Tories – the big Cs

3:16pm on Elm Road: our south-west extremity

We travelled south-west almost a full kilometre along Moulsham Street before turning right into Elm Road, and right again at New London Road for a parallel return to town. Heading left at the A1060 Parkway we passed Essex County Cricket Club, glimpsing only its floodlights. At the next roundabout we swung right to Victoria Road South.

3:20pm on New London Road: back towards the city

3:21pm on A1060 Parkway: Essex County Cricket Club ahead

3:23pm on A1099 Victoria Road South: northwards

Up to Anglia Ruskin

We skirted the west and north sides of the city centre, cycling up Victoria Road South then turning right at Duke Street. Passing pubs, bars and bistros we got a few cheers and plenty of smartphone cameras pointed in our direction. Unfortunately none of our tiny band had WNBR banners so I fear the protest message did get somewhat lost.

3:25pm on Duke Street: bus stop and bus

3:26pm on Tindal Square: “I do as I been told”

Duke Street led to Tindal Square, from where we headed north on New Street, all the way up Anglia Ruskin University on Bishop Hall Lane. Here on the plaza outside Lord Ashcroft Building we took our only rest break; away from the public yet conspicuously a collection of white middle-aged men, albeit one in a long blonde wig and mini-skirt.

3:29pm on New Street: railway bridge selfie

3:31pm on Bishop Hall Lane: to Lord Ashcroft Building

It’s a pity there wasn’t more diverse representation but it’s a familiar problem, and one caused – it must be acknowledged – by the behaviour of men. Not my fellow riders on this day, but broadly; those who take close-up photos without permission, or linger too close, or stare too long. Guys, you’re wrong to think it’s not noticed. Everyone knows.

3:33pm at Anglia Ruskin University: halfway

Crossing the Chelmer

Our pause at Anglia Ruskin lasted just five minutes, after which we turned back south on New Street, then took a left on to Victoria Road and crossed the River Chelmer for a first time. Pedestrians were sparse in this area, but there was plenty of traffic. Many drivers gave us lively acknowledgement with their car horns.

3:38pm on New Street: heading back south

3:42pm on A1099 Victoria Road: nearing the River Chelmer

3:44pm on A1099 Victoria Road: Springfield Road turn

A right turn at the end of Victoria Road put us on the A1099 Springfield Road, leading us over a roundabout and on to the A1099 High Bridge Road for a second crossing of the Chelmer. So much greenery on this side of town, bathed in such brilliant sunshine. If only it could have been this sunny and warm in Brighton two weeks before!

3:45pm on A1099 Springfield Road: supermarket sweep

3:46pm on A1099 High Bridge Road: over the high bridge

Way out north-west

We entered the Odeon Roundabout for a second time, again took the north-west exit up the A1060 Parkway, again passed the cricket ground, but now continued onwards beyond Central Park and beneath the railway bridge, until eventually we swung north at a busy intersection and started back along Rainsford Road.

3:47pm on Odeon roundabout: the second of three circuits

3:49pm on A1060 Parkway: full ahead

3:52pm on A1060 Parkway: two ends

3:55pm on A1060 Parkway: approaching Rainsford Road

Back from whence we came

We were few in number, but Chelmsford WNBR was no less properly organised than the larger UK events. Radio communication was maintained throughout between the lead and back marshal. They kept us together, shepherding us round and controlling traffic for safety at the main junctions. Respect to those responsible.

3:58pm on Duke Street: passing Chelmsford Station

3:59pm on Duke Street: crossing the mini roundabouts

4:00pm on Duke Street: back to Tindal Square

Rainsford Road led back in to Duke Street. We passed the railway station, went over two mini roundabouts and returned to Tindal Square, where this time we veered right on to Tindal Street. We were at our most public in the city centre. Some people loved us, a few vociferously didn’t, many simply ignored us – nakedness normalised.

4:01pm on Tindal Street: parallel with the High Street

4:01pm on New London Road: last turn through the centre

After Tindal Street had flowed on to New London Road, our next right turn brought us back to Bellmead, where we’d set-off an hour earlier. Here, one or two riders dropped out while others opted to ride on further to a favoured pub. I wasn’t going to stay for a drink but continued anyway, just to keep the enjoyment going a bit longer.

4:02pm on Bellmead: where we began

4:02pm on Bellmead: end here or carry on?

To the pub

It was disappointing to see here – as I had at Brighton – people ending their ride then immediately loading their bikes in the back of cars. This is partly a protest against car culture, after all. The struggle continues… from Bellmead we retraced our initial route, left on A1060 Parkway then round the Odeon Roundabout for a third and final time.

4:03pm on Bellmead: we carry on

4:05pm on A1060 Parkway: third circuit of Odeon roundabout

4:08pm on Moulsham Street: our new home straight

A return to Moulsham Street confirmed this as the most rider-friendly part of the route. Some people had even left their shops and stood at the pavement’s edge to cheer us on. We reached The Bay Horse pub car park, our final destination, one hour and ten minutes after we’d started, with the sun shining brightly as it had all the way round.

4:08pm on Moulsham Street: local support

4:08pm on Moulsham Street: right turn for The Bay Horse

4:09pm at The Bay Horse car park: thus ends the ride

On reflection

A guy had loitered near our start point who I recognised from the London WNBRs. He didn’t ride and I wondered why; maybe it was the absence of naked women, maybe it was the smallness of the group, or maybe it was too close to home. I confess the last two reasons caused me to hesitate, but I’m so glad I did this. I hope others try it too.

4:09pm at The Bay Horse car park: sweet smell of success

Our route from Market Square to The Bay Horse

More on WNBR Chelmsford 2019

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

From → Causes

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