A couple of years back, a gaggle of bicyclists in various states of undress rolled past Maria Beaver’s home in a colorful blur, and she thought: I want to be a part of that.
Beaver, 30, who lives near Tower Grove Park, promptly joined the mailing list and attended planning meetings for St. Louis’ World Naked Bike Ride so that she “wouldn’t chicken out.” And last July, Beaver joined what she calls “a lot of people with the same goal: riding bikes, spreading a good message and having a good time.”
She wore a pair of glasses, a big hat and her birthday suit.
“Anybody can do the Naked Bike Ride,” Beaver says. “It’s relaxing and entertaining at the same time. It makes you happy and spreads a positive message about our city.”
And she plans to be a part of the sixth-annual event again Saturday. The route veers through neighborhoods including Benton Park, Soulard, midtown and the Central West End and attracts “watch parties” of curious and celebratory spectators.
St. Louis is one of several dozen cities around the world that hold their own version of the ride, which started in 2004 as a collaboration between activist groups that were already sponsoring naked rides.
World Naked Bike Ride’s aim is to protest oil dependency, highlight the vulnerability of cyclists on the road and advocate a positive body image, says Stephanie Co, 25, the lead organizer of the St. Louis ride.
Co, who lives in the city’s Botanical Heights neighborhood, saw Chicago’s Naked Bike Ride a few years ago, at the same time she was becoming more passionate about cycling. She and a friend, Mariah Pittman — who since has moved to Turkey — planned St. Louis’ first naked ride in 2008, when about 300 nude, costumed and painted trailblazers took part.
“It was not as mainstream as it is now,” Co says. “As the years progress, it’s less intimidating and more accepted.”
Last year’s ride drew about a thousand cyclists, with perhaps 10 percent biking in the altogether.
But Co stresses that the ride is convivial and family-friendly — participants are encouraged to cover up for the preride festival but then can shed their inhibitions on the 15-mile route.
Or not. Many cyclists come in full attire. And helmets, at least, are encouraged for all.
This year’s expanded kickoff rally, held on the South Grand Parking Lot at Hartford Street and Arkansas Avenue, will feature bands, body painting and bike decorating. Booths sponsored by biking, environmental and body-awareness organizations will help underscore the message behind the event, Co says.
The ride ends at Talmage and Manchester avenues in the Grove neighborhood, with post-ride festivities and contests sponsored by the bike-friendly HandleBar and Atomic Cowboy.
In keeping with the inclusive nature of the ride, there is no cost for cyclists and no registration required, Co says.
But she does have one recommendation for those who plan on pedaling in the buff: Be vigilant about not riding over cobblestone or bumps in the road.
What World Naked Bike Ride • When Preride festival 6-8 p.m. Saturday; ride starts at 8 p.m. Saturday • Where Ride departs from the South Grand Parking Lot, 3500 Hartford Street, and ends at Talmage and Manchester avenues • How much Free • More info wnbrstl.org
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