On one hand, I wanted to make something wildly different than the deeply troubling contents of your news feed. I wanted to make something happy, to show that joy and wonder still exists outside your home. The news and the virus hasn’t killed the trees and moss surrounding Interlaken Blvd. And you can still go bike adventuring in Seattle without getting within six feet of another person.
But I also don’t want to downplay the seriousness of what’s happening in any way. I don’t want to come off as if I’m saying, “It’s OK, you can still live your life like normal.” Because you can’t.
And during the past five days, the public health recommendations and government rules have changed dramatically. What seemed well within the guidelines just five days ago — going for a bike ride and keeping your distance from others — now feels like it is brushing up against the limits. It’s still within the guidance, but only if you are careful about where and how you bike. So let’s talk about that.
There is a decent chance that the guidance in Seattle tightens again soon, and the next step is ordering people to stay indoors. This is because people cannot be trusted to avoid gathering in groups. I mean, I saw it many times on a recent ride. We are social beings, and it’s just so hard to resist. But we need to. The Bay Area just instituted a “shelter in place” rule (PDF), and we should expect that to happen here, too. However, the Bay Area rules specifically exempt “outdoor activity” including walking, biking and running, so long as people follow the social distancing guidance.
So why go on a bike ride right now? This is an extremely stressful and anxious time. Being sedentary is not good for your health. And biking is a way to get out, blow off some steam and get some exercise while keeping a safe distance from others. It’s a chance to stop reading the news for a just a bit and take some time for yourself in the great big world outside your home. And it’s good for your mental health, which is also extremely important right now.
Of course, like any activity, you can be irresponsible while biking. It’s not magically safe. Being on a bike doesn’t make you immune. You have to be smart.
This one should be obvious, but do not go for a bike ride if you feel sick or are coughing or sneezing for any reason. Even if the coughing and sneezing isn’t from COVID-19, droplets in the air are one of the best ways for the virus to spread, and coughing and sneezing are among the best ways to spread those droplets. I am an intense seasonal allergy sufferer, so this one is tough for me. Remember that you can be contagious without showing symptoms. Assume you and everyone you encounter has it.
And for the love of god, don’t blow a snot rocket. It’s gross in the best of times, and downright irresponsible now. Bring a handkerchief or tissue or something. Stop riding and blow your nose safely if you need to.
If you are biking and you see that there is a crowd ahead, consider your options for avoiding it. The guidance is to maintain at least six feet from other people. If you can’t, then you should either wait until it clears up, find a different route, or go back.
That ties into my next point: Go on a ride for the sake of the ride, not the destination. Destinations are good motivators for a bike ride, but be ready to change your plans on the fly if it is too busy to responsibly visit. This happened to my family twice on a recent ride. We went to UW campus to see the cherry blossoms, but it was just a bit too crowded for comfort. So we turned around and left. We then biked to the Arboretum, which was also too busy. So again, we turned around and left. It’s nice that bikes make it easy to do that, and it was still a fun bike ride even without our destinations.
Likewise, this is a chance to try out some of the lesser-traveled routes around town. The Burke-Gilman Trail is of course very useful, but sections can get busy. Maybe explore some unfamiliar side streets. This incredible city never ceases to amaze and surprise me. In so many ways, this quarantine period is a way to break out of habits.
And always give people space. This is especially an issue at stop lights. I know it feels unnatural, but stop well in advance of the person in front of you and the crosswalk. Someone “shoaled” in front of us, which is where you bike to the front of a person or group stopped at a stop light so you can get out ahead of them when the light turns green. Men, especially roadie men, are notorious for this. Don’t do it in general, but especially not right now when the main concern is keeping distance.
And finally, don’t ride in groups. Not even your regular riding group. Like, maybe there’s a way to do it that is responsible and maintains a safe distance at all times, but I dunno. It seems like it would be just too easy to get in each other’s bubbles. Stick to solo rides or rides with people you already share space with.
Do you have any advice to offer to help people keep biking while also being responsible during this crisis? Did a bike ride cheer you up in recent days? Share in the comments below.
Take care of yourself and your community.
Doctors say that riding my bike outside is OK so it’s the only way I’m leaving the house, but if you do ride your bike or go for a walk, don’t stop, avoid social contact. Apologies to everyone but I won’t be stopping on my rides for selfies. Stay positive, stay safe. pic.twitter.com/WAb4h57VAZ
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) March 16, 2020