The cycling I’m doing during the COVID-19 lockdown

There are countries where the distancing and isolating measures enacted include a total prohibition on cycling. But Canada isn't one of them. And until Theresa Tam or Vera Etches tells me not to, I'm going to ride outside.

I reckon there are enough things we’re being asked to do, and, since we’re in this for months, not days, we’ve got to look at it like a Granfondo, not a Crit.

So I’ve continued to ride outdoors. There are countries where the distancing and isolating measures enacted include a total prohibition on cycling. But Canada isn’t one of them. And until Theresa Tam or Vera Etches tells me not to, I’m going to ride outside. Here’s Ottawa Public Health on the who and how of exercising outside during the pandemic.

Stylish jersey pocket hankie
Stylish jersey-pocket hankie

You probably know the reasons. Patricide avoidance is my main one. I love my partner and my daughter beyond words but if I don’t get out of the house, they are going to kill me in my sleep.

I am, however, making some changes to the how and the where of my rides.

No group rides ever

This is no big for me as I rarely ride with others. If I approach another rider I overtake them (wide) and pick up the pace to get past them. If someone takes my wheel I immediately peel off and let them pass. Or I ride them off my wheel.

Take a handkerchief

My nose runs when I ride. Especially in cold weather. To clear my nasal passages normally I do a snot rocket (block one nostril, close mouth, exhale sharply). Now I carry a bandana to use to blow my nose normally, like a normal human. I have no idea if this is an epidemiologically sound practice. I expect, though, snot rockets gross people out and I can easily picture it raising the anxiety levels of someone imagining I’ve just dumped a COVID-19 cocktail into their path. Along the same lines, no spitting.

Avoid multi-use paths

There’s a lot of chit chat around this. I am one of those cyclists that rides too fast on the multi-use paths at the best of times. I slow to safe speeds at the first sign of congestion. But if I just have to overtake one pedestrian or a slower cyclist, and the oncoming lane is clear, I give them all the space and pass them at pace. But on MUPs, that’s not two metres usually.

So I know Ottawa Public Health is still saying passing someone with less than two metres is safe. But I’m a lycra-clad speed demon and doing so is bad optics and tactically unsound. The more tension I put in someone’s day, the more likely it is that the next round of restrictions is going to feature me as the poster child for prohibition.

Plus I’m smoothing my journey by making someone else’s rougher. Which strikes me as unacceptable when I can…

Alter routes to take hitherto unsafe roads

I ride a lot. Like 17,000km per year. Of my outside kilometres, most of that is on roads. Lots of roads. But there are some that scare me. So I ride some MUPs to avoid those I consider unsafe. These roads are much less scary now that there are fewer people making car trips on them. So I’ve changed up some of my routes to ride the roads instead, or I’m not riding some routes where there’s no road equivalent and a stretch on an MUP is necessary.

Give walkers all the space

This mostly finds me in suburban, semi-rural or rural settings where there are a lot more people out walking these days. When I overtake them I shoulder-check then swing out to the middle of the road and ride the yellow line until I’m well past them. I always do something like this because no one is comfortable with someone passing them at 33km/h just 1 metre away. Now I exaggerate it. And I wave. I want to be a friendly encouraging face, not one more thing about their world that’s closing in on them.

Ride from home

I generally hate the hassle of setting up my bike on the car and driving somewhere just to get on my bike and ride. But now that I might look like someone driving to a park or other closed area, the bike rack is in the basement for the duration. I don’t want to be the dude who inspires someone to say “See, other people are doing it so why shouldn’t I?”

No bakery stops

Riding from home also means I don’t have to stop. I will miss the butter tart and cinnamon bun raids, but they’re not necessary if I carry food. And if I’m an asymptomatic carrier, not nipping into the bakery or convenience store might be the difference between life and death.

Not falling for meme science and click bait.

Or trying not to. So there was this Medium article that was all dressed up all science-y about droplet spray patterns concluding that you need 20 metres of separation to avoid contracting COVID-19 from a passing cyclist. The author’s ‘safety zone’ doesn’t look like a 20 metre circle, but when you consider that a two lane street is generally 7.3 metres wide, the article suggests it’s impossible to safely ride past someone walking.

Only the article is not actually talking about a real, study that concludes anything about viral transmission. It’s about droplets in the air. Nothing about the viability of the virus, real world conditions (with wind, humidity etc etc.)

Apparently the author wanted the concept out there among the epidemiologists so that they could consider it and study it properly. But someone got it and put on Medium and kaboom. Cycling magazine was quick to find a virologist to point out the holes in the hypothesis. And an aerodynamic engineer. They also point to the WHO’s research that points out that airborne transmission is not the same as droplet transmission and that the circumstances where the virus spreads through just air are quite limited. Vice.com chimed in too.

2 Comments

  1. I’m managing to ride solo well enough and appreciate the quieter roads, but riding with my wife I realize a sexist effect of our current circumstances.

    Public washrooms basically don’t exist anymore. If you’re not comfortable peeing at the side of the road, the bladder is a huge limiting factor.

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