MISSOULA — For Rob Braun, Sunday was an opportunity for an unusual father-son bonding experience. So he brought his young son to “Bare as You Dare,” a nude bicycle ride along the riverfront and through downtown Missoula.
Braun, who came to town for the ride from his home in Hot Springs, said earlier “experiences at Jerry Johnson Hot Springs” cured him of any self-image hangups. He had no hesitation about joining 350 others for the clothing-optional ride through town; his son, also naked, rode in a trailer pulled behind Braun’s bike.
Despite the hype and controversy leading up to the event, Sunday’s ride went smoothly. There were no protests, and the ride itself drew cheers from a scattering of onlookers on the Higgins Avenue Bridge and downtown.
Organizer Nita Maddux said she had several meetings with Missoula police leading up to the ride, to both ensure the safety of its participants and to make sure riders were clear on the legal boundaries between public nudity and indecent exposure.
While there were police officers stationed and patrolling along the route, she said they made the decision not to ride alongside the peloton of nude and partially nude riders.
“They didn’t want to be perceived as either supportive or threatening,” she said.
Police reported no incidents during the event, and no citations.
Before the ride, cyclists met in Kiwanis Park near downtown, the starting and ending points for the event. They decorated their bikes or dressed up in costumes. Tutus and animal hats were popular. Some riders opted to wear their undergarments, others stripped to bare skin.
Leo Schaefer, wearing a cape and a pair of swim briefs, was visiting Missoula from out of state. Before he came to town, he heard about the ride.
“When I heard this was happening, I threw my bike in the trunk,” he said.
Schaefer, from Portland, Oregon, said he’s ridden in several nude bike rides before Sunday’s. Among them are the naked rides that take place as part his city’s annual Pedalpalooza bike festival.
He wore a pair of sunglasses with a thick plastic panel covering his eyes that he referred to as his “anonymity shield.”
Before the ride began, Maddux spoke to the crowd.
“Let’s talk about how to stay safe, how to possibly have the most fun you’ve ever had naked,” she said.
Among her tips were to stick together, obey traffic rules, and that if the group met any protesters, the best way to handle it was to just not engage them. They are people, she said, who don’t just think being naked is wrong, but that it should be illegal.
“A world once ruled by patriarchy and strict beliefs is coming to an end,” Maddux told the crowd.
Minutes before the ride started, Schaefer peeled off his last article of clothing, but left the cape on.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., the 350 or so cyclists who had began to fill the park mounted up, and in a long line started riding down the riverside trail toward the pedestrian crossing beneath the Madison Street Bridge, where they navigated the river before turning toward downtown.
Almost all of the cyclists rode topless, with nearly a third going fully nude. Of those who decided to bare it all, the men far outnumbered the women. Maddux wore only a pair of small red shorts.
Andy Frank rode his bike to the park with three of his friends, but they had no intention in taking part in “Bare as You Dare.”
One of his friends, Travis Switzer, said their plan was to wait around for the start of the ride, then go get some beers before catching up to the race to watch the end.
“I think it’s a great event to have, though,” Switzer said.
The event was part of World Naked Bike Ride, a movement that has sponsored similar rides in 70 cities around the world to promote positive body image, protest fossil fuel consumption and bring awareness to cyclists sharing the road with motorized vehicles.
“The political aspect of the ride is supporting the idea of ‘Nude, not lewd.’ ” Maddux said.
Around 30 people stopped on the sidewalk on the Higgins Avenue Bridge to watch the procession roll past.
The cyclists stayed in a single lane as they went across the bridge and down the street until they reached the red XXXX’s statue, where they turned and began to work their way back toward Kiwanis Park on Pattee Street.
A larger group of spectators was gathered at the corner of Front and Pattee streets near the end of the route. Some held signs with slogans, including “Go Bare” and “Right to Bare Arms and Legs and Butts.”
Frank and Switzer were part of the crowd.
“I think it’s more fun to watch actually,” Switzer said, as a rickshaw rode by driven by a woman wearing a full-body, skintight black latex suit.
After the ride was over and participants met back in Kiwanis Park, Maddux said the whole day went very well.
“It was great, there were no protesters, and everyone who took part was awesome,” she said.