Cyclists send a message on safety sans clothing

Jason Grgas, sporting a fedora on his head and a green leaf over his crotch, put the finishing touches on a pair of pink hearts he was painting on his wife’s breasts.

“Anybody else want nipple hearts?” he inquired of the horde of semi-naked bicyclists who congregated in Markey Park in the Bywater on Saturday.

Grgas and his wife, Sarah, who moved to New Orleans from Long Beach, California, two weeks ago, were among about 300 participants who rode in the World Naked Bike Ride, a clothing-optional bike parade where riders “bare as much as they dare” in an effort to raise awareness about the vulnerability of cyclists on the roads.

According to Sebren V. Strother, who said he was the event’s moderator, more than 20 countries and 74 cities take part in the ride.

This was the sixth time the ride has been held in New Orleans. Veterans of the event said it was the largest turnout yet.

While some people sported nothing but their birthday suits, others showed up scantily clad in festive costumes and body paint.

Tube socks, Crown Royal bags and an AARP fanny pack were a few of the accessories men used to maintain some semblance of modesty. Women who desired to leave a little to the imagination opted for a wide range of pasties.

Riders swilled beers and sucked down Jello shots while adorning themselves in artful accessories and peeling off their clothes.

“I’m definitely going to get topless,” said 25-year-old Brooke Trout, who was poised to shed her white tube-top. Trout, who wore a captain’s hat, said she’d probably keep on her bottom garment for sanitary reasons.

“This is beautiful and liberating, and I think it’s going to be a pretty good parade,” she said. “Why wouldn’t you want to ride your bike naked?”

Bob Hennaford, 48, wore a pair of leather shorts, a top hat and a bandolier of rum. He said he was enthused about riding through the French Quarter, where he lives.

“A little advocacy and a little nakedness never hurt anybody,” he said.

The parade route ran through the Bywater, Marigny and French Quarter before looping back toward Markey Park.

Strother said it costs about $1,200 to pay for the permits and police escorts that are required to put on the ride.

To raise funds, the group held a raffle for a bike.

The event brought out a wide range of costumes, with participants donning everything from Afros to Superman skivvies.

A leather-clad, heavily tattooed man named Chris, who declined to give his last name, rode a bicycle with a rubber alien attached to the back and two naked dolls in the front basket.

He also had a bloody prosthetic hand emerging from his jockstrap.

“I love it. It’s just unbelievable. No haste, no politics, all peace, happiness and good times,” he said before donning a skeleton mask to add to his ghoulish vibe.

Others took the opportunity to make their bodies a sounding board for political frustration.

Maria Treme, 39, had two stickers that read “Meat,” the name of a friend’s band, covering her breasts, but she also used her nudity to send a message to Louisiana’s governor, who she said has attacked women’s rights and damaged the environment with his policies.

“Bobby J, kiss this,” her backside read.