Cycling Outdoors During a Pandemic

We’ve written about the lockdown situation here in Los Angeles are where I live, and in Spain, and in Italy. Both the law and the culture surrounding this differs based on where you are. Not all stay-at-home orders are identical. In Mediterranean Europe – Italy and Spain in particular – the lockdown is tight. No cycling. In fact, no running outdoors either (depending on where you are in Italy). It's much the same in some other countries in Europe.

Joe Skipper got more notoriety than he wanted when he posted about a long ride he did outdoors. Joe broke no rules, but was taken to task for what many considered his violation of the spirit of the rules.

In the U.S., we don’t have a national policy, but in California we have a statewide lockdown, and we have a countywide lockdown and you put the two rulesets together and in every category you're to abide by the strictest among the two. I wrote about our statewide lockdown the morning it went into effect, and I interviewed the state agency tasked with its implementation, and the California Highway Patrol (who'd give me a ticket if I was violating the lockdown law). Both agencies answered back that cycling – including for exercise or pleasure – was quite fine as long as all social distancing norms were observed.

I will tell you how I come down on this, and what I consider best practices. Mind, I treat everyone as if they had the virus, and I treat everyone as if I had the virus. The sole exception to this is my wife. It does irk me how many people just don’t get social distancing practices. The UPS driver. People at the gas station. They walk into my space; I back away; they keep coming; and they just… don’t… get the point of this. I have to explain it to them why I’m backing up. It confounds me why all retail stores and public offices don’t require all those entering to wear a face covering, for the protection of their employees and their customers.

So, when I write what I’m about to write below, it’s not because I chafe against either the actual legal imperatives of a lockdown, nor because they violate the spirit of freedom that I feel I deserve. In fact, I don’t believe the lockdowns are harsh enough. But as regards cycling…

I’ll spend a moment on the legality of this, in my area, and in most or all of the U.S., at least as of today. Riding outside is legal. It’s fine. For any reason you want. As often as you want. As far as you want. I can’t find anything to the contrary and boy I’ve tried. Because I don’t want to have to keep interviewing state agencies on a daily basis, I refer to the L.A. Times, which has excellent, current and comprehensive coverage of who has the virus, where, how many, and the rules and the best practices. L.A. City has restrictions of its own, just to make double darned sure, and even these, according to the Times reporting, allow for outdoor cycling.

Best Practices for Outdoor Cycling

Let me tell you what I’ve heard, what I’ve found, and what I practice. In point of fact, I do almost all my cycling indoors. But it’s not out of legal concern; it’s not because of my fear of burdening a burdened hospital; it’s not because I feel a moral imperative. I impose my own rules and they’re as follows:

I don’t ride with groups. Not even small groups. Not even groups who agree to practice distancing. Why? Because I got roped into it once already. A 20-mile ride off the highways. Completely safe. Four cyclists (two couples). It was the most nerve-wracking experience of my week.

First, there needs to be a clear agreement on social distancing behavior among all riders and there isn’t. There just isn’t. Second, every time I pass or get passed, I’m a little freaked out, because cycling is an activity where droplets fly, and folks typically don’t cycle with masks.

Third, one of the group had a flat. Couldn’t change it. So, other members had to help. Which means handling a bike and a wheel, spares, tools, belonging to the flat victim who, of course, had the virus. Meaning, because I don’t know he didn’t have the virus, I assume he did have it. That’s how it has to be. Assume everyone’s got it. Assume you yourself have it.

About that flat: I was already home. So I got a cell phone call. Flat couldn’t be changed. I had to drive out and pick up the bike and the rider, bring him home. So, I brought a new mask. For him. I of course had mine. When we got home, I changed the flat, and washed my hands during that whole day I don’t know how many times. I felt like a complete fool, like an alcoholic who’d been on the wagon all this time only to fall off the wagon with potential bad consequence for myself and my family.

Finally, if a handful of you are meeting for a ride, do they all meet at your house? What are your hospitality expectations? Do you just tell everyone thanks when the ride is over, please leave now? If you’re to provide anything, how does all that work in this atmosphere?

You see the problems. There just is no way to do this. So, I only ride solo if I ride outside; I only ride the route that I tell my wife I’m riding; I only ride if she’s home; I tell here when and where to go to fetch me if I’m not home by the prescribed time. Otherwise, someone else has to come fetch me if I’m the one with the unpatchable flat, and that’s not fair to whomever that might be, especially because I’m not riding with a mask.

If I do cycle outside I do that about once every two weeks. Maybe. Everything else I ride is on the trainer. If and when I do ride outside the route is carefully chosen to minimize or eliminate traffic, but to be accessible to anyone who has to come looking for me.

Running? I go run. Outside. With the dogs. So sue me. Just know that all my running can be done on my property, or on the property of my 3 closest neighbors, I never see anyone when I run, and my route is known when I leave the house.

These are my rules, for me; these are my experiences; and I really do hesitate to tell anyone what I think he or she should do because my instinct tells me this is a grand opportunity for the internet virtue signalers to scratch that superiority itch. I do think appearances matter. Poor Joe Skipper’s problem was not that he rode, nor where he rode, nor how long he rode for; it’s that people discovered his ride.

I don’t believe in two truths. But I do believe in two (or more) sets of laws, cultures, circumstances, geographies, skillsets, situations. This is why I’m describing my own take on this, for me, take what you want and leave the rest. I am dead certain there will be folks who don’t agree with my libertine take on cycling outdoors and away from people, or my restrictive view of behaviors indoor and in the midst of people, I don’t mind your voicing it, and I am prepared to hear it.