Vancouver cyclists ride naked to promote health, protest car fumes, growing oil consumption

Vancouver cyclists ride naked to promote health, protest car fumes, growing oil consumption

About 400 Vancouver cyclists took to local streets au natural Saturday afternoon as part of World Naked Bike Day, a global movement protesting the growing dependency on oil consumption and the increasing exposure of the public to auto emissions, Xinhua reported.

As part of a global network where rides are organized in about 30 countries and regions involving more than 100 cities, the Vancouver riders were largely made up of young hipsters and old hippies, with few families taking part. Not surprisingly, hundreds of fully-clothed onlookers, many of them brandishing cameras, were in attendance at the starting point at a local beach.

Sporting a top-hat and tassels on her nipples and little else, Jessica Mason-Paull, spokesperson for the Vancouver chapter of the ride that is now in its eighth year, said about 100 more riders were taking part this year, many of them upset by the British Petroleum oil spill disaster that has been polluting the Gulf of Mexico for nearly two months.

"Quite a few people are upset by that, cyclist and non-cyclists alike. How could that happen," asked the native of Bath, England. "The world's dependency on oil is a trend that is definitely increasing. We would like to see more money go into (public) transit and more money to go into bike lanes to encourage people to use their bike. People need to have that choice."

Mason-Paul, who used to be a model in her teens and then suffered from a severe eating disorder causing her to gain weight, said the organization also promoted cycling as a form of healthy living for improved body awareness/self-esteem. It was also good as a form of community building in creating more public space and promoting street life.

"I'm sure I speak for millions of people, because it's really tough to get naked whether you are male or female in our society because there are so many stereotypes around about what is beautiful and what is acceptable. To get naked like this in public is really an empowering thing for a lot of people."

Despite being a city where it can rain up to 200 days annually, cycling has become increasingly popular in Vancouver in recent years. With a pro-cycling civic government in city hall where Mayor Gregor Robertson is an avid cyclist, the city is spending 25 million Canadian dollars over a two-year period to add 55 kilometers of designated bike lanes to the landscape of Vancouver proper.

Vancouver, which has a goal of becoming the greenest city on Earth by 2020, is aiming for a target of 10 percent of all urban trips to be made by bicycle, up from the current four percent. In Greater Vancouver, the rate is slightly more than two percent at present.

"The city of Vancouver is quite compact, especially in comparison to a city like Toronto. We think it is totally do-able, especially when you have designated bike lanes," said Mason-Paull. "The downside of having to wear neopropolyene or wet jackets when it is raining is outweighed by the fact that you have a sexier body, so you can show off more when you take that thing off."

After opening a separate lane for bicycles over Burrard Street Bridge and into the downtown core in the western part of the city last July, the program is set to expand Tuesday. A designated bike lane coming from East Vancouver will opened over the Dunsmuir viaduct into downtown on a trial basis of at least six months.

While the designated lanes have been good for two-wheel commuters, they have increasingly led to conflict between cyclists and motorists. Irate motorists, in a city where the car is king, have been upset at the loss at driving lanes. Taxi owners, for one, say fares will ultimately be higher with the mounting bottlenecks and traffic jams that occur to accommodate the cyclists.

Bruce Allen has been a vocal opponent of the cycling lanes. On his daily rant on a local radio station, the high-profile manager of such singers as Bryan Adams and Michael Buble, has dubbed cyclists "the loony bicycle brigade," suggesting they will revert back to their cars at the first sign of rain.

"There's a little bit more tension and aggression. I got chased by someone in a truck yesterday, there's a bit of hostility," said cyclist Garth Wright, 26, who commutes from North Vancouver. " Sometimes they (motorists) just buzz you too close."

"When I'm downtown I'm faster than most cars so I don't really need bicycle lanes. I think they are kind of useless," he added.

Derek Brownbridge, 38, said he cycled for enjoyment and fitness. If it wasn't for his work in construction where he needs to transport materials, he would cycle otherwise.

"It makes sense. I've been in other cities where they don't have enough (cycling lanes) or not at all. There should be more of it or dedicated pathways for cyclists to ride on," he said.

"There seems to be a lot of hostility just between motorists in general, sometimes that hostility is taken out on cyclists. It is not so bad here. I found people are a little bit more aware of what's going on, maybe tolerate it."

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