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Naked ambition

As bare as you dare 

It was the biggest cycling weekend of the year. Cyclists in their scores descended on Cape Town. Serious cyclists, enthusiastic amateurs, and first-timers alike, cheered on by passers-by and onlookers who shouted, smiled and photographed, who crowded outside shop fronts to get a glimpse of the decorated cyclists as they passed by, in the peloton, skin to skin, people in fancy dress, people with make-up…all…semi or completely naked. Nude. In the buff. Starkers. Stripped. Un-protected.

Did you think I was talking about the Argus?

Slightly less well-known, slightly fewer riders (maybe 300 compared to the Argus’s 30,000), but just as entertaining, the unofficial pre-event to the Argus took place on Saturday 9th March in the form of the Cape Town contingent of the World Naked Bicycle Ride.

Skin solidarity at the naked bike ride

Skin solidarity at the naked bike ride

This wasn’t only a celebration of the human form. Behind the sight of wobbly bits and flesh was a serious message: cyclists on the road are vulnerable, and need to be protected. The naked bike ride, taking place in over 50 cities each year and in its third edition in Cape Town, aims to raise awareness of greener lifestyles, climate change and cyclist safety.

The timing of this year’s event was significant. In recent months the safety of cyclists on the streets of South Africa has been brought sharply into focus. In January the 25 year-old two-time Olympic mountain bike cyclist, Burry Stander, was tragically killed by a taxi while on a training ride near his home on the KZN South Coast. National memorial and protest rides rode out in cities across the country. Closer to home, in Cape Town, a cycling commuter was crushed and instantly killed by an overtaking Golden Arrow bus in October 2012. The death sparked an outcry and Cape Town city government responded by holding a cycling safety summit with cycling groups in November.

This ride was less protest, more celebration, with the colourful and carefully placed body paint of the energetic participants extolling their messages “safer cycling”, “one less car”, or “less carbon, more ass.” A petition to include cyclist awareness as a compulsory component of motorist driving tests, organised by the Pedal Power Association, was handed round.

Colourful costumes on Long Street

Colourful costumes on Long Street

It’s not clear if the Capetonians and tourists who happened to cross paths with this peloton of skin realised quite what it was about, bewildered as they all appeared to be. Perhaps the highlight of the event was the child-like, mirthful glee and happiness the sight of bobbly bits brought out in onlookers. Even a worker in an adult store on Long Street stood in the doorway giggling and gaping at the sight of body parts. The police took the event very seriously, addressing the cyclists through their tannoy system with serious law and order messages such as “Take it off. Take it all off.”

Happy onlookers at the Naked bike ride 2013

Happy onlookers at the Naked bike ride 2013

And so after more than an hour of riding through the City Centre, the organisers congratulated the brave souls, reinforced their message to protect cyclists on the road and reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and then slowly, one by one, the skin disappeared, the clothes went on, and the cyclists trickled away in one’s and two’s onto the roads, probably hoping it won’t require nakedness every day for them to be seen and respected on the roads of Cape Town.

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Steven Bland

Steven works with local governments across Sub-Saharan Africa on urban sustainability issues, but writes in a personal capacity.
He is new to Cape Town and sees the city through the spokes of his bicycle.
Likes: geography, natural wonders, apple crumble
Dislikes: smoking, inequality, nuts

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