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Nicholas Wootton was one of the organizers of Madison’s first official World Naked Bike Ride in 2010 and has participated in the ride here every year since.

He made a five-minute documentary of last year’s ride, “Real…Live… ,” which was shown during the Wisconsin Film Festival this year, and is making a longer film about the ride to explore what type of person does a ride like this and why, he said.

(View the video by visiting

This year’s World Naked Bike Ride takes place Saturday, and as usual, it will go around the Capitol Square during the Farmers’ Market and traverse other busy areas of Madison. It’s not always easy to find out when and where the ride starts — for security reasons, Wootton said.

“The concern is if it is publicly announced that might draw a lot of curious onlookers,” he said. Riders feel more comfortable if they don’t have people watching them get undressed and getting their bodies painted, often with slogans about body image and energy independence.

“When they are on their bikes and on city streets, it’s a different matter,” Wootton said, “but during that period they would rather have some privacy.”

The working title for the longer documentary is “Why We Ride Naked,” and so far Wootton and his collaborator, Robert Lughai, have interviewed six local riders about their motivations. They also intend to interview riders in other cities, including Portland, Oregon, which is known to have the biggest ride, with typically about 8,000 riders.

The Portland ride is a major city event, and information about it is published in the local newspapers, Wootton said. Each ride has its own character, he said.

“Madison’s ride is very small,” Wooton said. “I like to call it sort of a boutique ride. It keeps a neighborhoody feel among the riders.”

With a small number of riders, people really get to know each other, he said. “If it were to get much larger it would have to go public. But I think there is a certain desire not to let it get on the scale of a place like Portland.”

Interested parties can visit the ride’s website at and sign up to get email announcements about where and when the ride starts on Saturday.

The number of people who do the ride varies, but because it’s a small group they have a pretty accurate count, Wootton said. Last year was the biggest, with 130 riders.

Lughai, the collaborator, said one of the best parts about filming is getting the reactions of people on the street. Overwhelmingly, onlookers have a positive reaction, at least in Madison, he said.

Few people seem to be offended, and the people who are shocked are shocked “in a good way,” he said. “It’s a bonding for total strangers on the street who would normally pass each other by and not say a word.

“To see a bunch of naked people riding down State Street, suddenly everybody is talking to each other and laughing and sharing whatever, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness,” Lughai added.

As an outsider, he learned a lot from interviewing the riders, Lughai said.

His first thought before he started interviewing was that they are nudists and the event allows them “to practice their craft,” he said, laughing.

But he soon found out that while some probably participate so they can get away with being nude in public, the main reason most say they do it, particularly the women they’ve interviewed, has to do with body image.

Riders talk about “accepting who they are rather than whether their body fits with whatever society says is the right way to look or not to look,” Lughai said.

Of course, there are some who do it because it’s “a fun, different thing to do,” he said. Others ride because they have a rebellious streak.

“And it’s a way,” Lughai said, “in the words of one of our people, ‘to flip off society. Hey, I can get away with this.’”

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Samara Kalk Derby covers events in and around Madison on Sundays. If you have an idea for Around Town, contact her at or 608-252-6439.


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