Brighton played host to the annual Naked Bike Ride yesterday. It’s a mass participation event that’s a cheeky (pardon the pun) protest against car culture and oil dependency. It’s a celebration of the bicycle and the ‘power and individuality of the human body’. They obviously haven’t seen my body which looks like the bastard child of Christopher Hoy and Christopher Biggins. It also highlights the vulnerability of cyclists in traffic.
It should come as no surprise that Brighton & Hove hosts such an event. It’s a city that likes to tout itself as ‘alternative’ because it contains a higher than average gay & student population along with artists and a 45% higher ratio of ‘street performers’. Alright, I made that last bit up but on a sunny day or any day containing a protest these people appear eating fire, juggling with fire or strumming a guitar as they connect with the fire that burns within. It’s basically everyone I’ve ever wanted to set on fire whilst giggling like a maniac at every party I’ve been to.
Today’s sermon is based on my humble opinion that events like this do not help the cause of cycling at all. The Naked Bike Ride is a massive turn off to cycling for the general public in every possible way and plays straight to the Jeremy Clarkson cyclist stereotype of tree hugging, Guardian reading, lentil eating, sandal wearing tosspot. I’m no prude, despite living in Worthing. I just feel that if the motoring lobby (or indeed any lobby) can present itself professionally than so can cycling.
I used to cringe when I attended cycle forum meetings. These were usually hosted by a council in a room containing above average coffee and biscuits where we would express the views of cyclists to council engineers who would listen and then totally ignore what we said. They would then carry on painting bicycle symbols on pavements and calling it ‘infrastructure’ (but that’s another ramble). All council officials were wearing suits and looking very professional. All the cycle campaigners were wearing tired old lycra with smug scruffiness and generally looking as though they have a bath when they accidentally trip into one. They thought that just being a cyclist was enough. They thought wrong. I have found in a cycle campaigning capacity that I gain greater respect from non-cyclists and they listen when I’m dressed in a suit as suddenly I look like one of them making an effort.
The fact is that, sadly, these are times of soundbite and spin. Where image counts over competence. British politics is lurching toward the right wing and I believe that cycle campaigners and lobbyists should do the same with rampant smart dressing. I would like to see an extremist wing of cycle campaigning formed where cyclists of all creeds, colours and ages say a resounding ‘No!’ to pointless nudity, ‘No!’ to cycle campaigners speaking to officials in clapped out lycra, ‘No!’ to bloody scruffy fire-eating hippies thinking that cycling is just about saving the environment. ‘No!’ to cycling organisations sending representatives out in branded polo shirts. Not in our name! Dressing smartly and presenting yourself professionally as a campaigner is easy to do, it’s playing the Government and the motoring lobby at its own game and is also more effective than wearing nothing.
In any case, if we tried a Naked Bike Ride here in Worthing, it would look like a pornographic ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.