“Only in Cork,” a woman said, shaking her head as 50 naked cyclists, painted as mermaids and steam-punk robots, or with hippie-inspired flower designs, whooped their way up Patrick Street.
Car horns honked, mobile phones came out and bystanders burst into fits of giggles as the rebel pedallers waved and smiled.
Cork’s annual Naked Bike Ride, now in its eighth year and timed to mark the start of Bike Week 2016, may be the only such spectacle in Ireland but it’s actually one of hundreds taking place each year.
Thousands of cheeky cyclists bare all in World Naked Bike Rides in cities all over the world in a global protest to highlight road safety and over-reliance on cars. In London, Saturday saw hundreds of naked cyclists set off from six meeting points to converge on Hyde Park corner. Other rides took place in cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Manchester, Madrid and San Francisco.
But in the rebel county they like to do things their own way: although in most countries the cyclists simply strip off, in Cork the cycle was preceded by a body painting session that left only one or two brave souls completing the cycle fully nude.
One gentleman of 70 chose to forego the paint but donned a hat and sunglasses to provide some anonymity. So what on earth possessed him to shed all his clothes and hop on a bicycle?
“I thought it would be a bit of fun but also it shows that we are vulnerable and at risk on bicycles,” he said.
“We’re all exposed now so I hope drivers pay attention.”
A young woman in a thong and a fetching pattern of blue flowers said the cycle was liberating, if a little chilly, and that the paint definitely helped overcome any shyness or nerves. “Once the paint goes on, it’s like, whoop whoop!” she said, waving cheerfully at onlookers.
“Cork is a small place,” said Siobhan Heapes, a former participant who helped with the body painting before taking up a position on Patrick Street to cheer the cyclists on. “So I suppose the paint can provide a bit of a disguise.”
Swept up in the moment, one onlooker quickly stripped down, put his clothes in the basket of the Coke Zero bike he was cycling, and joined in. A few weren’t so impressed; on Grand Parade, a young woman pushing a buggy averted her gaze quickly. “That’s disgusting,” she said. “I don’t mind seeing myself after a shower or whatever, but no one needs to see that!”
The cyclists made a pit-stop at City Hall for Lord Mayor Chris O’Leary to present the organisers with their Centenary Award for contributions to Cork’s Civic, Voluntary and Cultural life.
Although in early years, participants fell foul of gardaí who said that they could face arrest if their nudity offended onlookers, Nikki Ffrench-Davis, one of the original organisers, who opted to collect the award clothed, said that times had changed and that the award was proof of that.
“It’s great to be acknowledged,” she said. “The first year was very small with just eight of us cycling up the Marina early in the morning, but it’s grown so much and you can really see that this is part of Cork’s cultural life and community now.”
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