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Sunday, June 13, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nude biker protest catches some attention

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Wearing little more than helmets, sunscreen and body paint, about 50 naked people cycled through the city yesterday to protest the country's dependency on oil and, organizers said, to empower people to feel more comfortable with their bodies.

Seattle was one of 22 cities around the world, including Olympia and Bellingham, where protesters took to their bikes for World Naked Bike Ride Day.

The Seattle route looped from Gas Works Park in Wallingford to the International Fountain at Seattle Center, through downtown, the International District and Capitol Hill before returning to Gas Works Park.

A crowd of about 100 cyclists and onlookers gathered at the park shortly before noon.

A tent served as a staging area for bicyclists to check gear and apply body paint. A sign nearby offered "free fig leafs."

The event attracted people from all walks of life, though the majority of riders were men.

"Everybody's a cameraman," said cyclist and "card-carrying nudist" Bob, 60, as he surveyed the sizable group of photographers and videographers. He asked that his last name not be used so his employer wouldn't find out he'd participated. Though Bob said he's visited nudist resorts, he traveled from Eastern Washington to attend this, his first nude rally.

"I believe in nudity as a form of protest, and also as a fun thing to do," he said, as he adjusted his fingerless gloves and red bike helmet. "And in a way, I like to tweak the government, too."

Kathleen Calhoun, 21, came from Kitsap County.

"This has been on my calendar for months," said Calhoun, an avid bicyclist and nudist who was decked out in painted-on blue and orange vertical racing stripes and a furry, animal-head bike helmet. "I just feel more natural this way."

The cyclists gathered for group photos before pedaling away to cheers and applause.

Seattle police monitored the protest yesterday; spokesman Sean Whitcomb said there were no complaints and no arrests.

But not everyone agreed with that hands-off approach. Walking around Seattle Center, John Sullivan, 41, and his girlfriend Melissa Bare, 36, said the nudity disturbed them, but not as much as the fact that children were exposed to the sight and that none of the protesters was arrested.

"It shouldn't be up to the police to choose which laws they enforce," Sullivan said, adding that the nude protest was an ineffective way to change opinions.

"We saw a lot of swaying, but it wasn't of minds," he said.

Resting at the edge of the International Fountain after the first leg of their ride, 20-year-old cyclists Ryan Cruse and Phill Westen acknowledged that some passers-by might be offended. But the two said they'd received a mostly positive response, with many drivers honking and smiling at them.

People seemed to get a kick out of the cyclists, agreed James Lee, 30, as he relaxed with his wife and 2-year-old daughter at the fountain. He and his wife, Shawn, were surprised but not offended when the bicyclists first arrived — and his daughter was too young to have noticed, he said.

"I think it's great," Lee said. "It's a good way of expressing your First Amendment rights."

He pointed to cigarette butts littering the ground and people smoking around the fountain. "At least nudity isn't hurting anyone."

Several of the bicyclists said they planned to participate in next weekend's Fremont Solstice Parade, which typically features a few unclothed bicyclists.

Bystander Eileen Kutscha, 30, said she might participate next week, and hoped to get inspiration for her own body art after seeing the bicyclists. While she admitted that she was still trying to work up her nerve and hoped to remain anonymous through creative use of body paint, Kutscha said it would be a chance to express herself artistically.

"It's just one of those things you have to do at least once in your life," she said.

Jessica Blanchard: 206-464-3896 or jblanchard@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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