The Solstice Cyclists (also known as The Painted [Naked] Cyclists of the Solstice Parade, or The Painted Cyclists) is an artistic, non-political, clothing-optional bike ride celebrating the spirit of the Summer Solstice, and which constitutes an unofficial start for the Summer Solstice Parade & Pageant, an event produced by the Fremont Arts Council in the Fremont district of Seattle.
The loosely organized event was originally started by streakers who crashed the parade, but has changed over the years, as participants decided to emphasize bodypainting and other forms of creative artistry done in the spirit of the host event. The group is now the largest and fastest growing ensemble associated with the parade. The parade, which is put on by the Fremont Arts Council, starts at noon on the third Saturday in June (which is the Saturday before or on the actual Solstice); the painted cyclists typically arrive at around 11:45 a.m. and ride for a little over an hour.
Art bikes are also common during the event, and many different types of human-powered cycles have also been used including BMX bikes, cycle rickshaws, unicycles, clown bicycles, tall bikes, lowrider bicycles, tandem bicycles and tricycles. People have come from all over the country to ride, and all over the world to see the ensemble. Full and partial (especially topfree) nudity is popular, but not mandatory, on all rides.
While the cyclists open the parade by tradition, they are not officially in the parade line-up (with the exception of 2003 when they had a float). Despite this apparent disconnect, there is a considerable amount of collaboration between many local arts groups. Parade participants who want to be bodypainted are often referred to pre-ride bodypainting parties, and some of the cyclists also work in the FAC's Solstice Parade Workshop on their art bikes or on other parade entries.
Participants are expected to abide by the FAC's Parade rules that state "any printed communications, written words, recognizable logos, signage, leaf-letting, or advertising in any form are prohibited on the parade route."
In recent years the event includes three major components: a pre-ride bodypainting party (disclosed only to participants and potential riders), an extended party ride (often indirect) through the city, and then the parade itself starting at noon. Cyclists wishing to get involved in the group who haven't heard about the bodypainting party often meet up at the beginning of the parade route.
Sentiments like the above frustrated the cyclists, who were at that time getting bodypainted. They also did not like being labeled nudists, as most of them were not.
"Per tradition, there also were naked bicycle riders. They zoomed by so quickly it was hard to tell, um, the type of bike they were riding. 'I wish they had sort of stopped and waved,' said Blue Hesik Lan.
"Crowds booed when last year's naked riders were arrested and handcuffed."
"Bicyclists riding au naturel is nothing new to the quirky parade, which is known for participants in outlandish and sometimes risque costumes. But police say yesterday's arrests were made primarily for safety: The nude bicyclists typically dash quickly in and out of the parade audience."
"So, why is the only focus on the nude bikers? They were only a part of the parade for a few minutes. I did not see them.
"And, of course, there were the infamous and crowd-pleasing nude bikers, a regular attraction eagerly awaited by the parade watchers. ... 'This is not authorized by the organizers,' said Steve Lynch, one of the volunteers responsible for safety and order during the event. 'But it's just for fun, so no interventions.'
"Here in the self-anointed center of the universe, where the Waiting for the Interurban sculptures wear more clothing than the nude cyclists who grace the annual Solstice Parade, high-tech is moving in.
"Meanwhile, Hadrann says the scent of rebellion is in the air in Fremont - or maybe it's just another rumor. 'Some people in the community are going to get nude if he (Sidran) starts arresting the cyclists,' he says. ... 'First, there was 50, now there's like 100 people. . . . Who knows what kind of chain reaction this is going to bring.' This article also includes Seattle Police Department Lt. Mark Kuehn's suggestions for safety for nude cyclists such as: "Refrain from trying out saddles in the nude, for obvious sanitary reasons. Hadrann suggests shoppers take along a few pairs of Chinese disposable underwear (made of paper) for saddle-buying expeditions."
In 2001, the city threatened to withdraw the event permit for the Fremont Arts Council because of the nudity. Signs were actually made warning naked cyclists that they may be subject to arrest. The city ended up backing off before the event day. Fremont Arts Council parade organizers urged riders to participate within the artistic spirit of the event. Many locals were very upset that the city would threaten to arrest one of the parade's most popular and creative ensembles. The blowback effect, as predicted by Seattle City Council Chair Nick Licata, ended up being more publicity and popularity for the cyclists which, in turn, led to more cyclists wanting to join the ensemble.
In efforts to combat this effect, the Seattle City Council was invited by the Fremont Arts Council to participate in the parade. Nick Licata was the only one who agreed and ended up cycling through as the "un-naked cyclist". After jeers of "Take your clothes off" he was met by a parade monitor who told him to get off the parade route, stating "Yeh? We still don't have bike riding in the parade. If one person rides then others will and then the whole parade will have bikes riding all over the place. Licata later lamented in a Seattle Times article, "I was waving to the photographer - smack in the middle of a pack of painted, naked bicyclists.
"There was no better illustration of the fair's quirkiness than in its parade - with its wild costumes, floats and giant puppets - and nude bicyclists, which led to a flap over the permit for this year's parade. ... Before the city issued this year's parade permit, police said they have gotten numerous complaints about the nude cyclists every year. They asked the Fremont Arts Council to post signs along the parade route warning cyclists, who are not a sanctioned part of the parade, about laws against indecent exposure. The council said no, even though members discouraged the nudity. ... In 1998, two bikers in the buff were arrested. None were arrested this year.
"As has been the tradition, a number of unauthorized naked bicycle riders start the parade. Last year there were 50 — most in body paint."
Also in 2003, much publicity was focused on David Zaitzeff's determination to walk naked through the Solstice Parade. Zaitzeff sued Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske in a federal lawsuit because he "desires to go nude at the Fremont Solstice Parade without fear of unjust arrest". U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik said that because Zaitzeff had not been arrested for indecent exposure, the court couldn't make a prospective ruling on the matter.
Much later in the year there was a suggestion to have the group become part of a larger international naked bike ride, later known as the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR). The idea was unpopular because the Solstice Parade, unlike WNBR, is a non-political arts event. Secondary reasons for not liking the idea included that WNBR would not be as spontaneous of an event and some may not be as inclined to participate in an artistic way.
A week prior to the event, on June 12, was the first annual World Naked Bike Ride event in Seattle and was the first time a major naked cycling event has crossed the channel into downtown Seattle. This ride featured a pre-ride bodypainting party at Gas Works Park, where the end of the painted cyclists ride traditionally took place.
The parade took place on June 18, 2005. Approximately 138 cyclists leave bodypainting party on the south side of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and once joined by those waiting at the parade, the numbers probably grew to around 160 cyclists. Part of the ride included going down the Ballard Bridge on 15th Avenue and turning again on NW Market Street. About five cyclists broke off from the group after the end of the parade ride and rode around Green Lake and came back to Fremont.
One of the big controversies in 2005 was the Fremont Arts Council excluding People Undergoing Real Experiences (PURE) (now known as Pure cirkus) from dressing "up as pirates with two people suspended on a pirate ship float from hooks in their skin" as they go through the parade. Much of the media noted that while the naked cyclists are tolerated and widely popular, this has become the new controversial area for the council.
A week later, a third painted ride, called the Body Pride Ride, was started by one of the painted cyclists, and took place for the first time in the Seattle Gay Pride Parade on Capitol Hill. A WNBR mini-ride in September marked 2005 as a record-setting year not only for the number of painted cyclists participating, but also for doubling the number of painted naked rides in Seattle to a total of four.
"If bike riders rode nude in a Los Angeles summer solstice celebration, the LAPD would shoot them dead, after a 'slow speed' chase televised on all 28 local channels.
"Really, that's just the crazy naked bicyclists who precede the parade every year. They get all the press, all the hype, all the lasting impressions. People who work on the parade openly despise them. ... The nude bikers take away from all the legitimate art that volunteers spend countless hours creating. With one exhibitional blow, months of hard work by solstice parade artists is knocked from our collective conscious.