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By Dan Cook

PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - It was a typical early summer evening in Portland: cloudy skies threatening rain, temperatures in the mid-60s, and thousands of naked bicyclists gathered near the city's waterfront for a clothing-free night ride.

The Portland version of the World Naked Bike Ride was about to begin.

"It is the most liberating, natural feeling possible," said Brooklyn Jay, who came all the way from Phoenix for the ride.

World Naked Bike Ride is a globally observed event among hard-core bikers designed, at least ostensibly, to promote the use of the bicycle for transportation. But Portland cyclists have been especially adamant about making it another of the Pacific Northwest city's quirky traditions.

"This is just a way of drawing attention to the need to be more green and replace fossil fuels with natural power," said Ken Johnson, who was completely nude and body-painted grey.

"I am going all the way" nude, said Xandi Silvaggi, adding, "it is all about saving the environment."

Since the World Naked Bike Ride started in 2004, only four other cities -- San Francisco, Seattle, and Boulder and Black Rock City in Colorado -- have celebrated it every year.

The Portland nudist/cyclists have turned the event into a festival, with a pre-ride event and post-ride parties featuring both clothed and naked partying which lasts well into the night.

They even have an official and rather corporate sponsor: Bridgeport Brewing, maker of Portland's first craft beer.

The local group that sponsors the event, SHIFT, describes itself as "a loose-knit and informal bunch of bike-loving folks."

The purpose of the naked rides, SHIFT says, is "a light-hearted protest against fossil fuel. ... A comment on the vulnerability of cyclists. Choose your message, ride with us! As bare as you dare."

Portland Police don't arrest the naked riders. They cite the city's extremely tolerant public indecency code as permitting such activities as mass nude cycling.

(Editing by Teresa Carson and Jerry Norton)

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