5 things to know if you’re considering tonight’s underwear bike ride

Clothing: optional. Underwear: encouraged.

MJ Slaby

He knows it’s a spectacle.

But Scott Kowalski, the organizer of the Pittsburgh Underwear Bike Ride, said he thinks that’s part of the draw to riding with more than 200 other cyclists in their underwear — maybe more than cyclists want to admit.

It’s also a party and a “way to be part of something different,” he said.

The underwear rides happen monthly from May to October, and this month’s starts at 8:30 tonight at 46th and Butler streets and goes to the Wheel Mill.

Thinking about shedding some layers and joining? Here’s what you need to know.

You don’t HAVE to go in your underwear.

Yes, the name is the underwear bike ride, but Kowalski said you aren’t required to wear your “fancy unmentionables.”

It’s a range. Some people wear shorts and sports bras while others wear thongs. Some women go topless (which is legal in Pennsylvania, if you were curious).

If you go next month — the last ride of the season — it’s the Halloween edition, so there are prizes for the best costumes.

Plus, the forecast for tonight’s ride is in the 60s and rainy, so you can always say you’re cold as an excuse to wear more. But even though it may be a little chilly before the start, you’ll warm right up once you start pedaling, Kowalski pointed out.

It’s all about body positivity.

“It’s a challenge for a lot of people to come out here in their underwear,” Kowalski said. (Well, yeah.)

Although he’s passionate about the event — and never misses an underwear ride — Kowalski admitted the idea was odd to him at first.

“There’s 30 of us … and yes, I’ll take my shorts off,” he laughed.

But now he sees it as empowering and said others do too. People say over and over that they never thought they would do this, but feel empowered after, he said.

It’s a big group.

The ride was first organized by Virginia McGrath, a friend of Kowalski’s, in 2012, and he said it grew from about 30 people to around 100 that year. After that, the peak was about 400 riders, but the average now is around 250, Kowalski said.

Plus, it’s a mix of people of all shapes and sizes and ages.

He said he’s had to adjust the ending point to make sure there is space for more than 200 people because the cyclists wanted to stay together and hang out after the ride.

It doubles as advocacy for the cycling community.

When there is a large group of cyclists on the road, it’s hard to miss them. Kowalski said he hopes this causes drivers to be more aware of cyclists when it’s just one or two riding.

He said some drivers can be impatient and feel inconvenienced by the wait caused by the event. But the delay is only about five minutes, much shorter than the ones Steelers, Pirates and Penguins games cause, he pointed out.

Kowalski said there are lots of people who support cyclists and the ride, too. Tonight’s ride will go past a memorial in Oakland for Susan Hicks, a 34-year-old assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Russian and East European Studies, who died in October 2015 when she was struck by driver on Forbes Avenue near campus while riding her bike.

You don’t even have to cycle regularly.

The event is a mix of people who are regular cyclists and of people who only ride for this event, Kowalski said. People even come from out of town to join.

Plus, he said it’s not a fast ride — only 6 or 7 mph. (For context, he said people walk at about 3 mph.)

Regardless of your cycling expertise, don’t forget to check your tires and bike light and follow Kowalski’s underwear ride 101.