Have you been following the annual World Naked Bike Ride? A moveable feast, it has been going for some years now in various cities around the fossil-fuel-consuming world. Morally sensitive bikers bare all in protest against Big Oil, the global injustices of energy dependence, the horrors of drilling, demon auto, bad driving and everything else that ravages our planet. At the same time, it strikes a blow for “body freedom” against the repressive forces of Big Clothing. Its motto: “Less gas, more ass.”
Portland’s edition of the Naked Bike Ride, now in its tenth year, is one of the largest in the world, and typically draws between 4,000-5,000 bicyclists in birthday suits. What makes 2013’s escapade notable is that the Portland Art Museum is sponsoring the ride this year. The museum invites buck naked cyclists to travel the blocks around its building on SW Park Avenue. Coincidentally, the museum plans to launch its new exhibition, “Cyclepedia: Iconic Bicycle Design” on the day of the ride, June 8th. Nice timing.
No doubt none of you are ready to drop your shmattes and hop a bike for the planet. Still, we have to admit there is a certain charm to the ride. Not to its politics, but its sense of theatre. Nakedness as a fey expression of reforming zeal has historic precedent. Lady Godiva, riding horseback in the eleventh century to protest taxation, comes straight to mind. Closer to our hearts is St. Francis. Il Poverello did not have a bike but he had a similar strain of exhibitionism. He stripped to his hair shirt to symbolize rejection of his father’s resources. He would depend on God alone—something bikers do whenever they weave through heavy traffic or take country roads after dark. Biking in all kinds of weather instead of driving—Vivaldi on the radio or an audio book in progress—is one of the rare mortifications that recommend themselves to a secular culture.
All that remains to be seen—other than the bikers themselves—is whether the Portland Art Museum will welcome unclad visitors inside as did the Leopold Museum, Vienna, during its February exhibition “Nude Men”. PAM’s patronage, a bald marketing strategy, goes some way toward illustrating Aldous Huxley’s reprove: “High art, low loins.”