Cyclists get bare and aware

Anthony Stal is a cyclist. Sometimes he bikes naked.

“It’s quite relieving to feel a breeze between your legs,” said Stal.

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In 2004, World Naked Bike Ride was started in Vancouver by artist and social activist Conrad Schmidt. This year 70 cities in 20 countries are hosting events.

Vancouver will be hosting the ride on June 14. Free body painting and performances will begin noon at Sunset Beach. The ride starts at 2 p.m. and loops around downtown before returning to the beach for a free picnic.

The reason behind the exposure is the idea that people are increasingly exposed to a declining environment due to pollution and car culture.

Some may be intimidated at the thought of getting naked, but Saw-Mon Gharid says not to worry.

“People can take off as many layers as they want,” said Gharid, who is joining the ride for the third time. “No one is forced to go all the way. We have a saying that goes ‘Bare as you dare.’ If you want, you can come wearing scuba gear.”

Gharid mentions a friend who was intimidated by the crowd at the beach but later stripped down to nothing as the ride went on. “Everyone is really friendly and you make friends really easily.”

Gharid is a big fan of the ride. He visits bike routes to scrawl event details in chalk to promote the event.

Stal is joining for the first time this year but he isn’t new to biking nude, which is something he enjoys on summer evenings. He’s used to the reactions.

“People usually laugh when they see me,” said Stal. “They point but not in a rude way, they’re more awkwarded out.”

People who happen to be downtown during the ride have divided responses to the nudity. Many turn away, but many also like to watch.

“Some people become really happy when they see us because it’s unexpected,” said Gharib. “They go, ‘Wow. What is happening? What is this?’

A lot of people like to take pictures.”

Stal thinks Vancouverites are still shy about nudity, something he hopes will change. “It doesn’t have to be crude in a sexual way,” said Stal.

“Even when people come down to places like Wreck Beach, they become closed and unaccepting.”

“Being nude in public should be celebrated,” said Gharib. “People shouldn’t feel ashamed.”

Common concerns on the World Naked Bike Ride website are regarding accidental injury and legality. Participants are assured that biking nude is safe, though helmets are encouraged. The website says no charges have ever been pressed against nude cyclists.

Nudists on tricycles, skateboards and longboards have also joined in the events. Last year, a naked ukulele player entertained participants from the back of a truck that followed the riders.

Participants are advised to keep their clothes with them, just in case they need them after the ride.

“It’s not about forcing people to be naked,” said Stal. “The main thing is to get people together and increase awareness about the [environmental] issues.”

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