by Paul H
There is something indefinably wonderful about being able to exercise a glorious freedom, cycling with the sun and the wind against your body, in a city as beautiful as London. A pure celebration of all that is good and respectful towards others and towards yourself. Whizzing down the Mall, surrounded by happy, laughing naked riders encapsulated that positivity beautifully – this is what great memories are made of!
It would be honest to say that it was with some degree of fear and trepidation that I first investigated marshalling at this year’s naked bike ride in London. I’d taken part in many rides before, mainly Brighton, as both a steward and a rider, and I’d taken part in the early London rides. But this sounded more like a challenge with lots of potential for being tripped up by the unknown.
I’m a happy, “transportational” cyclist, almost a born-again one since taking part in the WNBRs. I’d felt a bit nervous about cycling after my teenage years and an unpleasant crash, but taking part in the naked bike rides had rekindled my love of cycling, so much so that I sold my car some years ago and became a cycling advocate. Anyway, back to the ride… !
The planning for the 2021 ride, on Zoom, introduced me to a keen and eclectic team of willing volunteers. Many were seasoned veterans with long years’ experience organising the ride; some, like me, were pretty new to the London experience. In January, the prospect of the ride seemed like a distant notion, and a lot of our energy was spent organising “#NotTheWorldNakedBikeRide” events, which marked the original planned date for the ride. When I say “organising”, I hasten to add that I played a very minor role, but the exercise showed me what an enthusiastic, well-motivated and creative team could do, and the resulting #NotTheWorldNakedBikeRide Zoom-Ins on 12th June filled me with renewed enthusiasm for the “real” ride that finally went ahead on the 14th of August.
On the day, I turned up embarrassingly early at Tower Hill. Before the ride, when we agreed which location we’d help out at, I’d asked to help at Tower Hill because I knew it was a good start in terms of participants, and was well-organised, led by Nat. It was a happy coincidence that it was also the easiest start for me to get to. I was worried I might not recognise the other marshals, having only seen them on Zoom, but this fear was unfounded. As soon as I arrived, there was Nat sitting in the sun. We were soon joined by Esther and Steve who led the ride with style – Steve in bronze paint like a Greek god and Esther in a rainbow splash of colour. Steve published an excellent blog about the ride (https://steveritterlife.com/2021/09/02/lnbr2021/) – well worth reading.
More riders and photographers (some respectful and some less so) turned up, along with some well-known faces from previous rides like Lucy Muse and Ben, who have made an excellent video of the ride (https://youtu.be/LBajePv1wFw). After an interlude spent getting naked, socialising, laughing and doing some body painting, it was time to start. I had to organise riders to move towards the exit. The magical yellow marshal armband was a great help. People courteously and excitedly listened to directions, mounted up, and soon a very long queue formed.
I had a brief moment of excitement when a rider asked me if I could adjust his calliper brakes just as we were trying to move off into the busy London streets! I checked that they were safe enough and advised that a Fettle bike maintenance team would be at one of our stops. The queue stretched down the road. The tail end was still in the square when we were joined by a band of colourful and happy riders from Deptford. As we moved off, confidently led by Steve, the first challenge took place: corking, or blocking, roads so that the stream of riders could pass through unbroken and with safety. Never has my fat backside been put to better use as it amply blocked the first of many side streets before I moved aside with a wave and a smile to let the surprisingly patient drivers continue on their way.
The ride became a series of ever more efficient corks, interspersed with stops where I had to make sure my riders went the right way. Sprinting to the next cork, whilst having a laugh with other riders, was an unforgettable experience. The spectacular tourist sights of London were enhanced by a wonderful procession of happy naked bodies – the perfect Saturday! A particularly fantastic moment was arriving at Trafalgar Square to witness a convergence of rides from different start points. Seeing the huge number from Hyde Park whizz by was brilliant. You couldn’t ask for a more uplifting experience. We headed through Admiralty Arch, down along the Mall, a place where I’d once marched in big boots in an almost forgotten other life. This was a better way to do it!
The ride ended all too soon, as we formed a wonderful sun-tinged throng of naked bodies around Buckingham Palace. What had started with nervousness and a fear that I wouldn’t be able to do this, had turned into one of the most uplifting and life-affirming experiences that I can ever remember. It was memorable for so many positive reasons. I felt personally responsible for getting my cohort through the ride safely and with big smiles on their faces. All of us felt the positive vibes and warmth of the vast majority of the spectators, and we had shown that body and personal positivity can really help to drive away the doldrums of the last couple of years.
If you are wondering if you could help out, if you can add any value, and if you can marshal, I would honestly and whole-heartedly say do it! Get involved and help to ensure the future of the ride. You will come away with a feeling of positivity that you’ll never forget!