Photos by JOSH PELTA-HELLER/click HERE to see the album
When I arrived at Fairmount Park’s Glendinning Rock Garden, the starting point for Philly’s Naked Bike Ride, it looked like it was going to rain but despite that grim fact hundreds of people were still gathering— and stripping down. Heretofore, I had never seen so many breasts and flaccid dicks in my life at once. Photographers meandered around, drones hovered above, and passersby stopped to gawk.
As I descended down the hill into the crowd, I saw two men who could have been brothers lying down on a mat in the grass. Another man was spray painting their glitter covered bodies orange and blue. There was a line of people formed against the mat, waiting for their turn. A woman who already had her entire body painted white, wore pink fluff and a unicorn horn to complete her look. While some people relaxed in the grass, others did cartwheels and handstands, twerking to the sky.
But I wasn’t there just to ogle naked bodies, I was there to talk to these people. To find out why they were not just willing but eager to ride naked as the day they were born through Philly’s mean streets. An older man with a pig’s head on top of his bike helmet and what looked like bones dangling from his penis caught my eye, but when I tried to approach him, it really hit me that this man was naked, and I froze. How was I supposed to start a conversation with him?
Another man approached me first wearing just his earnest smile, and asked me if I was enjoying the festival. This was his fourth Naked Bike Ride, and he keeps coming back because he loves cycling. He often rides on trails over 100 miles long. He considers himself a professional cyclist, but unlike the other professional cyclers he knows, he’s not too prudish to enjoy riding naked. The Philly Naked Bike Ride is important to him because it promotes awareness of and respect for cyclists in a city where both are in short supply. This was a common motif among many of the riders. They shared horror stories about getting cut off in traffic and ending up in the hospital. Even in parts of the city where bike lanes exist, drivers treat the lane like another lane for cars.
After that first interview, talking to naked people became easy. The Naked Bike riders were open, friendly, and easy to talk to. They were ecstatic to be there, and to talk to someone who was interested in their cause.
Another major motivation for the riders was to promote body acceptance and desexualize nudity. They got naked, because they want others to feel comfortable doing the same. Whether you’re fat, skinny, a man, a woman, white, black, whatever— they want everyone to feel comfortable in their own skin. One rider told me that when everybody’s naked, people are less worried and less self-conscious, which is a beautiful thing. Although, I will say that occasionally the air would hit me just right, and I’d get an overwhelming whiff of balls.
Then it was time was the riders to depart from the park, and they were revved up. Police were there to help them get onto the street. The riders shouted and cheered and the cars that drove by honked their horns. With a wave goodbye to the naked riders, I set off for home. -TONY CARO