American as Apple Pie: The World Naked Bike Ride

June 10, 2013


By Ari Lynn

A couple of weeks ago our good friend and fearless leader of the World Naked Bike Ride, Jon Dutch, suggested enthusiastically that The Burro join up with the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR) and provide some unique documentary  coverage of this wild, annual ride. The World Naked Bike Ride has been an annual ride here in Portland since 2004, with as many as 7000 riders in recent years. The entire ride is organized by a hard-working team of coordinators, volunteers, and marshals to ensure that everything goes smoothly. We had been talking about getting involved with the ride in some capacity since late winter, but with all the demands of producing a magazine, we hadn’t quite yet found the time to hone in on what our specific focus or involvement would be. However, getting the inside scoop from Dutch would give us a significant advantage for covering the event. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last few years hanging out with Dutch, it’s that if he’s excited about an event it will be a ridiculously good time, and you don’t want to miss it!

To make things even more interesting, this year’s ride was loosely affiliated with the Portland Art Museum (PAM). For over six months, PAM had been planning an exhibit called “Cyclopedia” featuring about 40 bikes on loan from Viennese designer and architect Michael Embacher’s collection of over 200 bicycles. In years past, WNBR didn’t have an “official” meeting place or ride route but by word-of-mouth riders met up at popular parks and hang-out spots, and gradually the ride gained riders and critical mass and went swooping up and down the streets of Portland in a frenzied, naked exhibition of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly. Over the last several years, as the ride has gained popularity, official ride starting and ending locations have been established. This year, however, in coordination with Cyclopedia, PAM extended an invitation to WNBR to launch the ride practically from the museum’s  front porch—the South Park Blocks—and opened the Cyclopedia exhibit to the general public from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., charging a creative admission of one dollar per article of clothing worn. It was a partnership that our Constitution’s creators surely couldn’t have dreamed of and something only possible in this fine City of Roses.

This partnership meant that not only would we have the chance to get photo and video footage of the ride, but a rare opportunity to shoot within the museum itself. Dutch helped get us connected with some contacts at the museum. After a handful of emails with Beth Heinrich, Director of Public Relations, delineating what we would and wouldn’t be able to do, we were granted Press Passes and access to PAM’s sculpture garden where Nathan Trowbridge set up some strobes and staged a bike-themed photo shoot with Isaiah Tillman and Devon De Ville (with Dutch making a couple of noteworthy cameos). Meanwhile, wearing a pink fishnet bodysuit and rainbow Hello Kitty knee-highs, Josh the Terrible ran around like a wild man with a shoulder-mounted video camera, interviewing coordinators of the ride and riders themselves as nearly 10,000 clothing-free Portlandians descended on PAM for the ride. In order to adequately cover the pre-ride event—and the ride itself—we also brought in an additional photographer, Jeff Schneider, and videographer Micah Goldstein.

By the time the museum opened their doors to the Cyclopedia Exhibit at 8:00 p.m. a long line of naked people had gathered. It’s hard to succinctly describe the beautiful and somewhat awkward juxtaposition of a horde of naked people roaming around the museum—a place so associated with formalities and proper decorum. For at least two hours on June 8, 2013, the museum was able to shed some of its pretenses and be exposed to the bare masses. It was a rare sight to behold, indeed.

Out front, Love Bomb Marching Band played and danced away furiously—the brass instruments bobbing up and down to the beat, bells glinting in final rays of quickly-fading sun.  They kept the crowd energized and ready to ride with their original scores. Back in PAM’s Sculpture Garden, Bodypaint by Numbers worked away tirelessly at painting rider after rider who then went off into the night as living art, all while Raccoon Films captured the painting as part of their ambitious, multi-year documentary on the art of body paint. We had finished our photo shoot, packed up our gear, and were all out in front of the museum near the South Park Blocks to watch the ride launch.

At 9:30 p.m., Dutch lit up the E.L. Wire on his custom triple-stack tall bike and proceeded, to the front of the ride wearing nothing but an American flag cap and fanny pack.  Riders were instructed to line up on Ninth Avenue facing south.  After some important discussions with the Portland Police Bureau and under supervision of about two dozen police officers, Dutch mounted his triple-stack and, a few minutes after 10:00 p.m. (after a brief delay due to the Burnside Bridge being raised), got the 2013 WNBR in motion. As you can probably imagine, it takes quite some time for nearly 10,000 cyclists to get going from one location. Traffic was snarled downtown for over an hour near the South Park Blocks as more and more riders showed up for the start of the ride and the crowds spilled out on to the adjacent streets. When I left the ride launch at about 11:00 p.m. the South Park Blocks were still packed with thousands of riders, and as I crossed the river over the Morrison Bridge to meet up with the rest of The Burro team, I could see the ride making its way over the Burnside Bridge—a little less than two miles into the ride route from the ride launch.  In total, the ride covered almost seven miles, passing through downtown before crossing the Willamette River over the Burnside Bridge and heading into neighborhoods in Northeast and Southeast Portland before ending at the Vera Katz Statue on the Eastbank Esplanade—all led by a true American hero, Jon Dutch.

For more information about the Cyclopedia Exhibit please visit the Portland Art Museum’s website at portlandartmuseum.org or at embacher-collection.com. The exhibit will continue at the Portland Art Museum through September 8, 2013. More information about the World Naked Bike Ride can be found at pdxwnbr.org. Stay tuned to theburrozine.com for more coverage of the World Naked Bike Ride.  Videos, photos, and interviews will be coming soon!

 

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