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Stay Safe While Cycling Solo: Plan Ahead

IS IT OK TO RIDE DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?

Are you ready to go nuts, yet? I was there just yesterday. The Social Distancing Quarantine had left me feeling sunken and depressed. Trapped. “Hollowed-out”, might sum it up.

Instinctively, I got my bike ready, suited up and headed out for a ride. Riding a bike – it’s all I really know how to do, to find and keep my balance – but it works. Now, instead of depression, I feel elation. I am invigorated and happy. I know that this delightful, good mood will last me through my recovery from the ride, at which point I’ll have another decision to make. Do I, again, let myself become overwhelmed by the tidal wave of COVID-19 bad news? Or, do I saddle up and celebrate life?

By now, we’ve all heard about the major risks factors if you catch the COVID-19 virus, including: COPD, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. Regular exercise – staying plugged into your active, athletic lifestyle – is one of the best things you can do to build your immune system, maintain balance in your life, and stay healthy psychologically. And, now the really good news:

Your bike is one of the best ways to do it.

SHOULD I RIDE INDOORS OR OUTDOORS?

The short answer is: whatever works for you.

If you have a fluid or magnetic trainer (or a set of rollers) that you drag out and bolt your bike to when it’s raining buckets outside – and it works for you – PERFECT! If you’ve already moved up to a more expensive “smart trainer”, that allows you to virtually ride real world courses or power your avatar to compete with other like-minded enthusiasts, you’re in luck. Or, if you reinforce your outdoor cycling experience with a spin bike like the Peloton, you (hopefully!) already have a reliable routine. In fact, in a number of European countries these are currently the only cycling options available, because it’s illegal (up to a 3,000 Euro fine!) to ride outside.

If you’re cycling indoors, there are many videos available online that you can download and play on your iPad or PC while you ride, including this one from Italy on YouTube. Look for Breathe to post more here on the blog or on our Facebook page.

When it comes to cycling outside, Northern California was recently ranked as “The Best Place in the World” for road cycling! Given the real world thrills of fresh air, beautiful surroundings, challenging hills, thrilling descents, the sense of adventure from exploring new places (need I go on?), this is the most engaging and rewarding option for most of us. And, since outdoor exercise is listed as one of the few “essential activities” that’s permissible during California’s Stay-at-Home Order, this is our best chance to get out of the house and refresh our spirit.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, ALL races, club activities, and group rides have been cancelled. There are a number of important safety considerations that you need to follow when you ride outdoors, but the most important is to RIDE SOLO.

RIDING OUTDOORS – YOUR #1 SAFETY CONSIDERATION:

Six feet of separation doesn’t work on a bike unless you’re riding with someone from your own household. Even if you’re doing your best to ride side-by-side with 6 feet of separation (I’ve tried it), you’ll eventually have to pull behind your companion to avoid some manner of traffic. Because you’ll quickly ride through the space they just vacated, you’ll likely ride through their aerosolized respiratory droplets unless you’re separated by a very significant distance. A recent Belgian-Dutch study confirmed this.

So, how much distance is enough? Two strategies have been used recently by our local cycling community, and it’s recommended that you limit the size of your “group” to just a handful when using them:

1. Riders separate themselves by around 2 minutes on the same course, then have predesignated regroups in a wide open area with at least 20’ of separation between them.

2. A slow rider starts first on a predesignated course, followed 15 minutes later by an average rider, then 15 minutes by a fast rider. The same strategy, as above, applies for regroups or after-ride socializing.

Another option to explore would be a simultaneous – but separate – ride with your cycling friends. Plan your separate rides together, connect with social media to share your experiences in real time, then post your ride photos and connect with each other to celebrate your mutual success.

If you have difficulty getting motivated to ride solo, it’s useful (critical for me!) to get connected with the more spiritual aspects of riding a bike. How does this bring you joy?

If you need more, Bicycling Magazine recently posted some helpful hints to help you get motivated to ride solo.

RIDING OUTDOORS – OTHER SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS:

1) Avoid crowded areas. Most parks have now been closed due to too many people showing up. It’s best to use streets or roads that aren’t crowded, which may mean that you have to travel (if that’s permitted) to a less crowded area. The good news is that there’s currently much less automobile traffic (although there are some reports that more drivers are now speeding).

2) Give others their space. You’ll see walkers and other cyclists out on the road. Check behind you, then swing wide and give them as much “breathing room” as you can. (I’ve even taken to holding my breathe as I pass them – pretend that you’re passing a dead skunk in the roadway!) You won’t need a mask while you’re riding if you utilize proper distancing, although carrying one in your bike bag or a jersey pocket is a good idea.

3) Be self-sufficient. Bring all the supplies you need – food, water, a multi-tool, spare tubes – with you. Most restaurants and many stores are now closed, and you probably don’t want to visit them, anyway. Unfortunately, many public restrooms are now also closed which will probably impose some limits on your route planning.

4) Ride conservatively.

It’s not a good time to be aggressively attacking the downhills or cornering sharply where there may be gravel in the roadway. The safety net that we’re all accustomed to – the critical Emergency Medical Services – may not be available when you need it. And, even if it is, first responders have bigger concerns right now and may not be too happy rescuing a fallen cyclist who could have just stayed home.

5) Stay clean.

Wash your hands before and immediately after your ride. Carry hand sanitizer and make sure it’s easily accessible. Push traffic buttons with your elbow instead of your hand. Don’t touch surfaces that you don’t need to touch and don’t touch your face.

WHAT IF I’M NOT COMFORTABLE RIDING SOLO? Read Part 2 “Stay Safe While Cycling Solo: Gain Confidence” here!

PASS IT ON:

During this nation-wide shut-down, it’s important to keep your local bike shop in business. Local bike shops are still open because they provide essential services for maintenance on bikes, which are an increasingly important part of our transportation sector. Keep in mind that most shops now require appointments to bring your bike in for service – no browsing in the store. Consider purchasing bike shop gift cards to help keep them in business or check their websites for the opportunity to do some online shopping with home deliveries.

Please let us know what successes and recommendations you have. Let’s keep this online community active so that we can all learn and thrive during this difficult time. Thank You!

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