Frank Ames, 47, strode around Markey Park in the Bywater on Saturday clad in a T-shirt and little else.
In front, a strategically placed bandana looped through a perfectly placed piercing provided a modern-day fig leaf, keeping kept Ames within the confines of the law as he peeled off his shirt.
At 5 p.m., he pedaled off as part of the sea of naked, bicycling buttocks that ride through town annually as part of the World Naked Bike Ride.
The clothing-optional event is intended to spotlight the fragility of human bodies when confronted with car drivers who too often hit bicyclists or push them into harm’s way.
“This shows we’re naked against cars,” Ames said.
It was the eighth annual such ride in New Orleans, and organizers encouraged riders to be as “bare as you dare” with full or partial nudity, though they also emphasized that riders should cover an offending area if requested to do so by one of their New Orleans Police Department escorts.
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Ames said he also appreciates the “First Amendment aspect” of his nearly nude protest ride.
In 2008, inspired by the Naked Bike Ride, a man in Oregon pedaled through Portland wearing only his bike helmet in protest of “car culture.” A county court there ruled that his ride was a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.
In New Orleans, the number of clothed cyclists who decorate their bikes with colored lights and gather for weekly evening rides across the city has grown sharply in recent years, and many participants from those rides ended up at Saturday’s naked ride.
Christopher Rhodes, 29, said he likes NOLA Social Ride on Thursday nights, while Louis Perkins, also 29, likes Get Up and Ride on Tuesday nights.
Rhodes said he was participating in Saturday’s ride because he sees all the social rides as similar. “I’m an all-around guy. I ride with everybody,” he said.
But the naked ride had been on Perkins’ to-do list. “For the last three years, I’ve seen the naked ride go through the French Quarter, and I’ve always wanted to do it,” he said.
Though more women may have joined the ride along the way, the crowd at Markey Park largely was male. Over in one corner, the largest group of almost-nude men, visitors who’d flown in from Los Angeles for a bachelor party, posed for photos with their rental bicycles.
As a group of young men scanned the fleshy crowd, looking for women, they said it felt like a game of “I spy.” Appropriately enough, a few minutes later, a topless young woman walked in accompanied by a young man dressed in a “Where’s Waldo” stocking cap and scanty underwear
As riders moved from the park to the street, Brandon McCafferty, 24, a friend of Perkins and Rhodes, began to strip until only his cowboy hat and a makeshift black G-string remained.
Rhodes said he likely would take off only his shirt because his wife and child were going to be in the audience at some point.
Perkins planned to go a bit further, down to his turquoise boxers. But not completely naked. “I got a little pride,” he said.
Rhodes shook his head and gulped the rest of his beer, causing Perkins to chuckle. “Looks like he’s trying to drink away his pride,” Perkins said.
Not far away, Ames talked with a friend. Though he appreciated the social aspect of the event, he said, he also hoped that the political message, about the fragility of bicyclists versus cars, was eminently clear.
A 10-year resident of New Orleans, Ames said he also has lived in Boston, where he found that drivers were fairly hostile toward bicyclists who tried to share the roadway, and in Seattle, where the city aggressively ticketed cars that veered into bike lanes.
Ames would like to see similar enforcement here, to protect bicyclists like him who ride alongside cars on New Orleans streets all year, often feeling defenseless.
“I guess you could say we feel exposed,” he said, wryly.