What’s the skinny: Pittsburghers strip for Underwear Bike Ride


As nearly-nude bikers began to fill the sidewalk near John (Baldy) McGrane Memorial Field for the Pittsburgh Underwear Bike Ride, onlooking children shouted, “Put some clothes on!”

Roughly 400 bikers in their drawers gathered near John McGrane Memorial Field in Lawrenceville last Thursday night for the Pittsburgh Underwear Bike Ride. Riders arrived in everything from bathing suits to boxer shorts and briefs, with some bikers sporting lingerie and other types of underwear, to celebrate the event’s theme of promoting a positive self-body image. Around 9 p.m., the rest of the riders arrived and cycled off for this year’s first ride, a 10-mile route that will take place the last Thursday of every month in the summer, as the event’s founder determined.

In addition to promoting positive self-body image, the Pittsburgh Underwear Bike Ride is about “having fun, and building a stronger bike community in Pittsburgh,” according to the event’s Facebook page.

Four years ago, the bike ride’s founder, who wished to remain anonymous because the event does not have official permits to operate, participated in the Milwaukee Underwear Bike Ride. The Milwaukee ride, which served as inspiration for the first Pittsburgh ride in May 2012, began in 2010 and is largely similar to the Pittsburgh’s ride in its promotion of a positive self-image.

“I had never seen such a large group of cyclists having so much fun,” the event’s founder said. “The best part about this ride is the multitude of cyclists that come out for it. It really helps bring the biking community together.”

Before the event began, early arrivers listened to a DJ riding in a pedicab and socialized while waiting for the rest of the riders to arrive at 9 p.m.

Bikers took photos and tuned up bikes before pedaling down Penn Avenue through the Strip District, across the Smithfield Bridge and along East Carson Street through South Side. Then, they snaked back across the 10th Street Bridge to Market Square, where they took a group photo. After going to the North Side across the Roberto Clemente Bridge, they ended their ride at Penn Brewery.

As the bicyclists pedaled nearly-nude down the streets of Pittsburgh, onlookers gazed, pointed and usually smiled, while kids laughed loudly. Before the bicyclists began the ride, a police car pulled up next to the park and the officers began taking pictures with the scantily clad cyclists before the event began.

Many of the ride’s participants thought that the bike ride sounded exciting and risqué, and supported the message of the ride.

Tim Mackie, a first-time rider and graduate student at Pitt studying biology, said the bike ride seemed like a fresh way to explore the city.

“It seemed like a funky way to do something I’m passionate about,” Mackie said.

After the 10-mile ride ended, the participants relaxed and celebrated with beers at Penn Brewery. While marshals were happy to help and received free beer, other participants had to pay. Rather than storing their wallets in the elastic bands of their undergarments, most riders opted to carry their valuables in backpacks.

Recent initiatives have made it more convenient to be a biker in Pittsburgh, including the launch of Pittsburgh’s bike share program.

Healthy Ride, a bike sharing system with 50 different stations spread among 11 neighborhoods, including Downtown, Oakland, South Side and Shadyside, launched May 31. The program allows people to rent bikes by the half hour at 24/7 self-service kiosks. Riders can then return the bikes to any kiosk in the city.

Not only have bikes become more available to Pittsburgh residents, but riding them has become easier too, with more bike lanes being installed throughout the city. According to the Oakland Transportation Management Association (OTMA), plans are currently being proposed to improve bike infrastructure in Oakland, including the installation of additional bike lanes on Bigelow Boulevard and Roberto Clemente Drive, and sharrows, which are pavement markings that direct drivers to share the lane with bicyclists on Atwood Street and Meyran Avenue.

Mayor Bill Peduto announced in a release on April 10 that he adopted a complete streets policy, like in other major cities like New York and Cleveland, which sets up guidelines for urban design. The policy mandates that all forms of transportation, especially bikes, pedestrians and public transit, are properly accommodated when redesigning a street or avenue. In the release, Peduto added that the goal of the policy is to prevent new road design from being too car-oriented and isolating pedestrians and bicyclists.

Pittsburgh’s active biking community is growing and gaining support by the day. Bike to Work Day, sponsored by Bike Pittsburgh, aims to make communities safer and more accessible by bicyclists and pedestrians. At Open Streets Pittsburgh, which is scheduled throughout the summer, stretches of road from Downtown to Lawrenceville are closed to vehicular traffic for events like bike races and other types of exercise.

For rider Allie Wynands of Highland Park, the Underwear Bike Ride marked the beginning of a month full of fun events in Pittsburgh.

“With this, Pride [in the Street] and the Three Rivers Arts Festival, it’s a great time to be in Pittsburgh,” Wynands said.

Many supporters of Pittsburgh’s biking community participated in the underwear ride to support the growing cycling culture, including Carl Bloss, also from Highland Park.

 “There’s an awesome and inclusive bike culture in Pittsburgh, and it’s nice to be a part of it.” Bloss said.