Portland, Oregon is a major bicycle city. And accordingly, Portland’s version of the World Naked Bike Ride was a major event with an estimated several thousand riders as well as support from Portland’s Mayor Sam Adams and escort help from Portland’s motorcycle police. The event was supposed to send several messages including one of environmentalism and an opposition to oil, however the event was plagued with a number of accidents and alcohol use by riders. A number of businesses reported brisk alcohol purchases by persons who said that they intended to ride in the event. Merchants warned bicyclists to ride safely and not to use alcohol before the ride. However, such alcohol sales are legal as long as the person is of legal age and not intoxicated at the time of purchase. However, riding a bicycle intoxicated is an offense under the law in Oregon and most other places these days. In some places, such as New Zealand, the World Naked Bike Ride had to be canceled before because of growing problems with riders riding under the influence of alcohol and involved in crashes.
Several factors may have contributed to the number of accidents this year, some of which required ambulances due to serious injuries. Many of the riders ride pretty fast, and many are too closely grouped in packs as this is a sort of parade event. And the use of alcohol by some riders adds another threat. In addition, some riders dropped their helmets or other items during the ride, but could not safely stop to get the item, creating a hazard. This year, within just a few blocks of Hawthorne Avenue, one big crash took place near the Bagdad Theater around 37th, and another serious crash involving an ambulance took place only a few blocks away near S.E. 24th and Hawthorne. Some riders also did dangerous stunts on their bikes such as standing up or other acts of “hot dogging” meant to show off.
One ambulance driver had to repeatedly warn bicyclists to slow down as the crew responded to the crash near S.E. 24th, yet many riders just continued to whiz by at a good clip of speed, creating additional risk for the ambulance crew as well as the injured riders.
Increased accidents and alcohol use by the riders could force a few new safety rules for future events of this type, such as more spacing between riders, less stunts while riding, and refraining from all alcohol use until after the ride is over. Bicycle riders could learn a few tips from motorcyclists who rarely have crashes during their numerous ride events. Maintaining a safe distance from other riders and riding at a comfortable, but safe speed in case emergency braking is needed, as well as refraining from alcohol use during the ride are important factors in safe motorcycle ride events.
The organizers of the event need to take a long look at the safety issues involved with this event and do a much better job educating their ride participants on safer operation of bicycles to reduce the likelihood of accidents. What was mostly a fun event for most riders, didn’t need to end in serious injuries to a few riders. An event that was supposed to somehow promote bicycles in a positive light instead reflected poorly on the shortcomings of some bicyclists as operators instead.