Bicycle riders get naked to promote cause
By PETER HIRSCHFELD VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | June 15,2009
MONTPELIER – Naked cyclists brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of sidewalk spectators Saturday as free-spirited riders spread a message of bike and body love.
No fewer than 42 men and women (and two appropriately clothed children) spun a well-watched path down Main Street early Saturday afternoon en route to the Statehouse. Aside from some body paint preaching the ills of oil dependency and the beauty of the bicycle, the crew for the most part bared all.
"It's definitely an important issue, but it's all in good fun," said co-organizer Will Roberts.
The Montpelier event, part of World Naked Bike Ride, sought to promote bicyclists' rights as a means of mitigating the nation's fossil-fuel dependency. Roberts said the event is also about "healthy body awareness."
"We're promoting all these ideas in a completely absurd, ridiculous way," he said.
Literally hundreds of spectators, some aware the event was happening and others most definitely not, couldn't stop smiling as the naked cyclists, in-line skaters and skateboarder passed by. Nudity is perfectly legal in Vermont, however disrobing in public is not. The participants met at a Barre Street bike shop before the ride to change into their birthday suits before taking to the streets.
"It's more nonconfrontational when you're naked," said Montpelier resident and co-organizer Jill Cichoski. "When you're naked, people can't get angry at you when you're telling them what to do."
Cichoski said the event is for all comers.
"We want all ages, all body types," she said.
Among the more senior riders was Ross Stevenson, a Poultney man who spent time in the staging area painting an anti-car sign on his belly.
"Basically, I'm a nudist," the 77-year-old Stevenson said.
His wife, Nancy, is not.
"I will be seeing him off and then watching from the street," she said.
The couple was celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary.
Benjamin Degenhart, a 22-year-old German man in town for a three-week visit, said the event combined a number of his favorite pastimes.
"I like to be naked. I like to ride my bike. I like the community aspect of it," Degenhart said. "… Naked bike riding brings me to people I feel connected with. It's an intersection of people with interests that resonate with me."
Longtime City Councilor Jim Sheridan captured the ride for posterity on his digital Nikon. He'll be including the photograph in a grant-funded publication that includes pictures documenting life in the capital city.
"Every photo is going to say 'Montpelier' in some way," Sheridan said.
The Montpelier event is something of a happy accident. In 2007, Roberts, Cichoski and co-organizer Jen Dole ventured to Burlington, then the only place in Vermont with an official naked bike ride. They got the start time wrong, though, and ended missing the group.
"We said, 'Let's just go to Montpelier and have our own damn ride,'" Roberts said.
The three of them rode naked through the streets, attracting an appreciative crowd along the way. The pioneering trio's courage has spawned an increasingly popular summer tradition. And Roberts hopes the event will cement bikers' rights in Montpelier and beyond.
"If I can get up on my bike and ride naked," Roberts said, "then anybody else should be able to do it clothed."