Riding the rainbow

Riding the rainbow, by John Burfitt - 1st February 2007
(Credit: Sydney Star Observer)

The Sydney Mody Art Bike Ride weaves a human rainbow through the streets of Sydney of Eastern Sydney for Mardia Gras.

It is a sight Jake Lloyd-Jones will never forget. After spending months organising the first Body Art Ride in 2005, he often wondered whether his efforts would lead to anything.

But on that inaugural ride, as the pack of 250 brightly painted cyclists finally took off from the University of NSW and headed for South Maroubra Beach, Jake paused as he reached the crest of a hill to look at the sight behind him.

That’s when the tears began to flow.

“I always remember getting to the top of that hill, looking back and seeing these hundreds of painted people coming up behind me. That’s when I just cried,” he recalls.

“It was the most amazing sight and there is something quite magic about it – quite unreal actually. It had all paid off and come together. I also think there might have been some nervous exhaustion in there, but I was glad it had begun.”

Jake, who is a producer on the satirical ABC TV series The Chaser, said the idea for the ride first came to him when he was previously working on The7.30 Report.

Jake calls himself a “cycling advocate” and recalls the day, during a production meeting on the current affairs program, he suggested painting a group of cyclists and then letting them ride down to the beach as part of a story.

“I was joking, but they liked the idea and it seemed to take off,” he says. “I then also looked at it as an experiment to see if one person with the internet and some media contacts could make it all happen.”

The Sydney Body Art Ride has now become one of the biggest annual cycling days in the city, and one of the most colourful events on the Mardi Gras calendar.

Last year’s ride attracted 360 riders and raised over $11,000 for children’s cancer research.

Cyclists either turn up in outfits in the colours of the rainbow, or have their bodies coloured by a team of painters. Riders are then separated into various colour groups before the pack takes off in rainbow formation.

“This is a bit like a religious procession for secular people, as it’s like the tradition of taking the idol down to the water,” Jake says. “For us, we are taking our rainbow down to the water and then we wash it in the ocean.

“The rainbow represents everything people love – unity, diversity and hope. It is all about humanity, and the fact it is for sick children is part of the open-hearted compassion. That becomes the symbolism of the art work.”

A straight man and the father of two young girls, Jake adds it has always been important for him that the Body Art Ride be included in the Mardi Gras season.

“Mardi Gras is one of the things that makes me proud of Sydney. Whenever I go to Mardi Gras, I have a huge swelling heart about what a wonderful city we have.

“I also hate prejudice and bigots and, anything that upsets them, I will do. That is half the reason we do the Sydney Body Art Ride – to upset the wowsers on their way to church on a Sunday morning. But it is also quite a magic sight.”

Sydney Body Art Ride is on Sunday 11 February at 10am, assembling at the Physics Lawn of the UNSW. Details at www.sydneybodyartride.org


The Sydney Body Art Bike Ride

Jake Lloyd-Jones