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Folkestone Naked Bike Ride 2021 – Deluge

21 Aug 2021

It’s 2021 and the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) is back! After global cancellations due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic last year, appetites were strong to take out bikes, take off clothes, and bring the ‘protestival’ back to UK streets. Spring came and went with restrictions still in place, but by early summer we had the green light.

Decisions

I’d originally planned to join a couple of rides during the first weekend of August. This had the potential to turn into an overdose of train travel, however, so as a last-minute switch of plan I looked to the weekend before. The Folkestone ride was taking place on Saturday 31 July. I hadn’t participated in Folkestone before, but always fancied it.

Forecast

All eyes were now on the weather. Rain was forecast but, like everyone else, I simply hoped to wish it away. On the Friday before, Folkestone WNBR posted: ‘According to the local Met Office it’s not looking too bad tomorrow. There may be a shower risk but so what? We’ve done WNBR rides in the pouring rain in the past so lets ride.

The weather forecasts I had seen were not quite so optimistic; heavier rain seemed a distinct possibility, yet it never crossed my mind to drop out. I have a tendency to look around for the most positive prediction then try to believe that. Miraculously, come the morning of the ride, the local Met Office soothsayers had indeed turned positive…

With a shade more confidence I made my way to London Bridge station and boarded the 10:49 train, scheduled to reach Folkestone West at 12:19. From there it would be just a 6-minute cycle ride to Pent Road, on the west side of The Green, by Shearway Road. Everything went smoothly to plan. And still there was no rain. Yet.


10:48am on the train bound for Folkestone

Gathering

The call-out had said gather from 1pm to start riding at 2pm. I was well early even for the gathering – it’s my contingency in case of train cancellation – but already a dozen or so cyclists were on the scene. Simon, the ride organiser, was there with his mobile sound system, and there were even body painters busily at work. And dark clouds.


12:44pm on Pent Road: more cloud than crowd

Over the next ninety minutes, our numbers increased very slowly. The area is located within a business park that sees very little traffic at the weekend, so some people had stripped immediately. I remained patiently clothed, however. We saw glimpses of sun, but there was still a slightly chilled edge on the breeze.


1:53pm on Pent Road: our time approaches

Away from the huge rides around London and Brighton, participant numbers are a lot lower, but faces become familiar. I recognised Gabriela and her companion who both took part in the last full ride I’d joined, pre-pandemic: Clacton in 2019. Also joining us was Michael, our fully-kitted medic on a motorbike – with much of his kit off.


1:54pm on Pent Road: one last pose – © Gabriela Pliant

Rolling

During the last minutes before 2pm, a Spitfire soared overhead. Behind it, the clouds were looking thicker, darker, more ominous. The sun had long since been smothered but there was no question of us not doing this. Simon shouted for everyone to get on their bikes, rallied us on to Pent Road, and slowly led us out.


1:56pm on Pent Road: Simon prepares to lead…


1:57pm on Pent Road: …and off we go

No sooner had we turned the corner on to Shearway Road than two latecomers went zooming past, braked and removed as many clothes as they could manage whilst we waited for them to join us – very welcome additions. By my estimate they swelled our ranks to about 30 riders in total, all set to hit the town.


1:58pm on Shearway Road: pausing for latecomers


2:01pm on Shearway Road: away we go again

Drips

The 7th annual Folkestone WNBR was underway. A lone photographer awaited us on Cherry Garden Lane. I presumed he was working on behalf of the local media, but we were not destined to make the papers. We continued along Tile Kiln Lane and left into Ashley Avenue, entering a residential area, although few witnessed our passing.


2:02pm on Cherry Garden Lane: our media presence


2:04pm on Tile Kiln Lane: left into Ashley Avenue

It was here that I felt the first drips of rain on my naked skin. I redoubled my efforts to wish it away, but in my heart I knew it was going to get worse. How much worse, only time would tell. Laughably, when we halted briefly, I mounted the pavement to shelter in the doorway of ‘Yummy’ Chinese takeaway – still kidding myself I could stay dry.


2:05pm on Ashley Avenue: a brief halt


2:06pm on Ashley Avenue: I can feel it… rain’s coming

Downpour

Previous times I’d rode my bike at WNBR events, I’d also rode my luck with regard to the weather. Not so on this occasion. By the time we’d turned left on to Cheriton High Street, we were well and truly the midst of a downpour. Mercifully the rain wasn’t cold and pedalling warmed my muscles, but rain is still rain. My hands were soon shaking.


2:10pm on Cheriton High Street: the clouds open


2:13pm on Station Road: when it rains, it pours

Some riders were better prepared than others. One couple quickly put on transparent plastic raincoats whereas someone else remained in a woolly cardigan. Intricate body paint that had taken so long to apply, slowly began to wash away, in one case leaving poignant streams of glitter where once words of positivity had stood.


2:14pm on Station Road: body paint begins washing away


2:17pm on Shorncliffe Road: a deceptive easing

We’d been riding for twenty minutes and the last ten had been like a monsoon. When we stopped at traffic lights I tried sheltering under a tree but it was pointless. My main concern now was for my camera. I could no longer shield it from the water that ran as unstoppable rivulets down my arms, around my hands and between my fingers.


2:18pm on Shorncliffe Road: the great washed

Drenched

At some time around now, CheritonWeather CT19 tweeted: “A torrent of rain coming down in Folkestone. 10.8mm in less than 15 minutes with a rain rate of 79.1mm/hr.” It was serious stuff. Folkestone’s average rainfall for the entire month of August is only 2.2mm. We’d had almost five times that amount in just a quarter of an hour!


2:23pm, God knows where: last photo before my camera died

Inevitably my camera died completely. It went through spasms of the lens opening or half-opening, locking, withdrawing and ultimately not responding at all. Meanwhile by now I’d lost all track of where we were, or what way we were going. We had deviated from the planned route but I just had my head down, pushing through a wall of water.

Emergence

I guess some time around 2:30pm, the rain must have relented. The sun’s rays broke through and brought huge relief. I recall we passed cheering customers at Rosemont Restaurant and Cocktail Bar as we entered Sandgate Road. Down West Terrace and back along The Leas, we got more cheers from the colourful Charivari Day crowd.


Emerging on Beach Street: by the Harbour Fountains – © The Wendstar

We looped back to Sandgate Road, eliciting more cheers at the Rosemont, then from West Terrace, went down the Road of Remembrance to the harbour area. We looped from The Stade to Beach Street to Fish Market and passed by the Harbour Fountains down to Harbour Approach Road, then turned right into Marine Parade.


3:01pm at Lower Leas Coastal Park: in glorious sunshine

I didn’t realise at the time, but this was our home straight. We carried on along Lower Sandgate Road and soon entered Lower Leas Coastal Park. At first I thought it might be a rest stop, but it turned out to be the end of the line. With such atrocious weather, Simon had cut out several roads from the planned route. It was the right decision.


3:02pm at Lower Leas Coastal Park: time to dismount


3:03pm at Lower Leas Coastal Park: still smiling

Weathered

Not being permitted to tarry naked in the park, we dismounted and filed down a slope to the beach front where we’d always intended to stop. Our total riding time had been just 65 minutes, making it my shortest ever WNBR – but what an intense one! For me this had been an experience without precedent. Looking back, I’m so glad I did it.


3:06pm by Folkestone Beach: end of the line

There had been plans for a skinny dip at the beach but the coastguard on duty asked no-one to enter the sea as it was too dangerous – a final spoiler for those who’d been looking forward to it. A couple of women went for it anyway. I got dressed and walked back to town, chatting with our two latecomers, who’d at least ended the ride nude.


4:05pm on Sandgate Road: hot tea at The Chambers

Killing time till my train home, I warmed up with a pot of hot tea followed by a glass of red wine. I basked in sunshine at a pavement café table, spreading out my wet things to dry. The camera’s condition was terminal but it died a noble death. And my train? it arrived late: ‘due to speed restrictions made necessary by bad weather‘. What a ride!

Our route from the green to the beach

More on WNBR Folkestone 2021

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

One Comment
  1. boykog permalink

    Oh boy, I laughed as I read your experiences. Dramatic and intense. Worth the cause though. Well done Steve.

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