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World Naked Bike Ride, returning to L.A., is garbed in a cause

SportsColumnDodger StadiumLos Angeles Police Department
World Naked Bike Ride calls attention to cyclists' vulnerability on roads
Los Angeles' ride starts outside Dodger Stadium
Fan of the House columnist Chris Erskine reports on Portland event

One of the fine ensemble pieces of this weekend, one of the great team efforts, will be the bike ride starting outside Dodger Stadium, winding its way downtown, through Chinatown and back to Chavez Ravine, a valiant effort. Sweat and sore muscles will be readily apparent during the 15-mile ride.

Because the 300 or so participants will be — most of them, anyway — completely unclothed.

"Be as bare as you dare," goes the World Naked Bike Ride rallying cry.

Part of a worldwide grass-roots movement to draw attention to sports cyclists' vulnerability on the roads, a similar event last week in Portland, Ore., drew nearly 10,000 riders, some with body paint, some in G-strings, but for the most part completely and full frontally committed to the cause.

It was two parts protest, one part party. In the oddly odd town of Portland, where it is said young people go to retire, the ride was surprisingly civil and only slightly bawdy. Some residents protested, "What about the kids?" But the whole thing started late, at 9 p.m., the cloak of darkness being the best clothing of all.

An inappropriate public display? Or a savvy way to call attention to alternative transportation? You be the judge, but I'm here to tell you that I happened to be in Portland to witness last week's ride and found it to be about as erotic as a tractor pull. (How I happened to be in Portland during the world's biggest nude bike race is another story. Chalk it up as another triumph in the twins arts of journalism and debauchery).

Yet, there I was, in an east-side residential park packed with cyclists of all ages and shapes, and wheels of every conceivable design — racers, cruisers, recumbents, unicycles, even roller blades and skateboards. Once the parade began, it took two hours just to funnel everyone out of the park. Well, it's not technically a "parade." But really, how can such a thing not be?

I'd like to think I've seen it all, but now I really have seen it all. The Portland Naked Bike Ride was more whimsical than sexy and not at all creepy, save for the naked old coot dancing madly atop his van. That I could've done without. Like they say, there are some things you can't un-see.

Still, it was amazing to see so many folks without their socks. Though the turnout was mostly male, there was a sizable segment of women. The men, minus that part of the brain that triggers shame, seemed to have an easier time with shedding their duds. But the women, about a third of the participants, showed plenty of courage — in addition to everything else.

"We decided at lunch," said Melissa Letzer, participating in her first naked bike race.

Her biggest concern?

"If I fall, I've got a lot more skin to skid than usual," she said.

Another rider, Jon Smeenge, explained: "I finally got the wife to let me do it. I don't think she likes that I do it ... but she put the sign on my back for me."

In black lettering on his back: "NOTE TO SELF ... BUY NEW BIKE SEAT TOMORROW."

Now it's L.A's turn, the eighth year in a row the city has held a naked bike ride.

The Los Angeles Police Department doesn't endorse it, but neither does the department stop it. City ordinances ban nudity on beaches and in parks, but are more relaxed about other places, as long as there is no lewd behavior involved.

So with the cooperation of organizer Michael Beals, police say they will accompany the riders along the course.

The riders will gather Saturday at noon, at the corner of Elysian Park and Stadium Way, near Dodger Stadium's Sunset Gate, to go over a few logistics, then pedal off about 2 p.m. It's all free, and info can be found at worldnakedbikeride-la.org.

What to bring?

• Sunscreen

• Water

• A sense of humility

• More sunscreen

Let me just assure you that, after my Portland experience, the human body, in toto, isn't quite as beautiful as some claim — a little too beefy in the wrong places and a little too skinny in others. Most folks should never be naked, except at birth — and even then only till the nurse brings a blanket.

There I go getting all judgmental, which I promised I wouldn't.

If nothing else, watching this ride will make you feel a little more comfortable in your own skin. More important, the next time a cyclist blasts past your front fender, you just might give him or her a little extra breathing room.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter: @erskinetimes

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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